Book Review: SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully

This book will do a lot of people a lot of good. The psychology of games is powerful, yet, has received its share of criticism. But what if you could use the power of games to make people better. This is what Jane McGonigal set out to do when she wrote SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully. SuperBetter explored the science of healing and turned it into a game of healing. It is not only addressed games that help people physically get better but also tackles emotional, mental, and social issues.

The book SuperBetter sits on a heavy layer of research. Some of the research focused on the gameful strategy of SuperBetter, where researchers collected data from over 400,000 SuperBetter players.

Jane McGonigal is a game designer and author who relied on games to recover from a severe concussion. She noted games she developed and played helped with her recovery. SuperBetter is not the first book that she has written to focus on the use of games to address serious issues. She also wrote Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, which I have written about previously.

The purpose of the book is “about learning how to be gainful in the face of extreme stress and personal challenge” (McGonigal, 2015, p.1). McGonigal weaved science and game design together to achieve this purpose.

The book is 466 pages long and has 3 major parts:

  • Part 1 – Why games make us super better
  • Part 2 – How to be gainful
  • Part 3 – Adventures

Part one has four chapters focusing on the science behind why games are an effective way to deal with challenges. Part 2 has eight chapters focused on how to be gameful. These chapters address creating challenges, power-ups, bad guys, quests, allies, secret identities, epic wins, and keeping score. Finally, part three includes three adventures to put into practice what part two shares.

In parts one and two of the book, McGonigal has included 45 different quests to put into practice what you have read. She applied this gameful throughout her book encouraging exploration and capabilities stretching. While I was reading the book, I participated in many of these quests. Now, I have to go back and work on some of the other quests.

In part three, she added three different adventures. These adventures include elements she described in the book such as quests, power-ups, and bad guys. You can use these adventures as a model for the adventures that you will create. The first Adventure focuses on building better connections with others. Adventure two will help you transform your body. The third adventure assists you with getting more time in your life.

“Games are not just a source of entertainment. They are a model for how to become the best version of ourselves” (McGonigal, 2015, p.12).

With the guidance she provided in the Superbetter game, you can improve your life as well as add days and years to your life. You do this by working on four different areas of resilience:

  • Physical resilience
  • Mental resilience
  • Emotional resilience
  • Social resilience

According to McGonigal, you need to have a 3 to 1 ratio of positive resilient boosting activities to one negative experience. If you do this, you will add time to your life. She added that individuals who apply this science in a gameful way will also have a better life outcome.

I know many people—friends, family, and acquaintances who are facing their own challenges and bad guys. SuperBetter could help make the challenge more bearable. For that reason, I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of SuperBetter to not only help yourselves but help those around you.

Another book to consider is Level Up Your Life.