By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - Think video games are evil? Spend some time with Jane McGonigal.
McGonigal - a designer who's queen of a genre called "Alternate Reality Games," or ARGs - believes games make us better people. They can be used to combat climate change, reduce poverty and, as she knows personally, help victims of conditions like depression, head injuries and cancer recover more quickly.
"Games are an extraordinary way to tap into the best version of yourself, the most determined, the most creative, the most resilient in the face of failure, the most likely to collaborate with other people - sort of heroic qualities," she said in a recent interview with CNN's "The Next List," which will feature McGonigal on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. "And it seems that if we play more games - games that we love - these qualities can actually spill over into our real lives."
McGonigal is no stranger to this website. We interviewed her at TED in 2010 and covered several of her subsequent games, including "Urgent Evoke," which aims to support entrepreneurship in Africa; and "Find the Future," a real-world-meets-digital scavenger hunt at a public library in New York.
One key point of McGonigal's argument is this: People spend tons of time playing games, so there must be something truly, innately compelling about them - about the way they quantify experiences, offer instant feedback and are, at their core, really fun.
She hopes to harness those qualities for good. In her recent book "Reality is Broken," McGonigal writes that about 5 million "extreme gamers" in the United States spend an average of 45 hours per week playing video games. Think about it. That's more than a full-time-job's worth of time, spent in virtual worlds. McGonigal says that means digital spaces must be providing something that's more compelling than the real world. Maybe by merging the two we can make the real world match up.
One of her recent efforts, called SuperBetter, aims to do just that.
Here's how McGonigal explained the game to "The Next List":
SuperBetter looks more like a social media platform, or a social network than a typical video game. You know, there aren’t any 3-D spaces to explore. You don’t have this avatar that you’re building up. It’s more about thinking like a gamer. It’s about looking for things to make you stronger and thinking.
I have power-ups in my real life, not just in the game.
The game aims to help people work through difficult experiences or illnesses. McGonigal developed it after she suffered from a traumatic brain injury and needed the challenge and support of a game to help move forward.
SuperBetter is really about changing how you think about yourself, and what you’re capable of. It’s exactly the kind of change that can really help you battle something like depression or anxiety ...
We’re helping you build up four different kinds of strengths. Mental strength, physical strength, emotional strength, and social strength. This is based on the idea of resilience. That’s an area of research that looks at how the body can withstand stress and heal itself. And we’re trying to translate all of that research into a game that you can play that will help you build up those traits in yourself and apply them to whatever real life challenge you might be facing.
Here's an example of one of the simple rewards that's found in the game:
My husband Kiyash started giving me achievements at the end of every day. He gave me the “you’re still human award” the first day that I took a shower and put makeup on. And I felt human. And something really interesting happened. I guess it was about a week after I started playing, and I think this fog of anxiety started to lift and this sort of constant anxiety and depression, but I was able to see what was going on more clearly.
To learn more about SuperBetter and McGonigal, watch CNN on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET. And feel free to ask questions in the comments. We'll dive in to answer as many of them as we can.
Welcome to “What’s Next” -- CNN’s hub for stories about innovation. This blog features forward-looking thinkers in the fields of tech, science and social change. It also highlights the big ideas and events that will help shape our collective future.
Each week, CNN's "The Next List" profiles innovators, visionaries and agents of change. They’re not household names just yet, but they’re movers and shakers in their own worlds. We’re introducing them to you because these individuals are steadily mapping the course to the future with their new ideas.
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