Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
The Superbetter Diaries: Entry #1
Tuesday, October 04, 2011 - 11:37 AM
In May, I was severely injured in a bicycle accident. I heard about a game that was being designed by Jane McGonigal called Superbetter, which is specifically designed to create "gameful" incentives to help people recuperate physically and emotionally from injury. Brooke interviewed both me and Jane on our most recent episode and I pledged to try using Superbetter for six weeks, blogging about the process and how it potentially helps my convalescence.
In my accident, I sustained multiple fractures of my tibia and my fibula (the bones in my leg below the knee and above the ankle). After my first surgery, I spent three weeks in a device called an external fixator, which was drilled into the bones in my leg, pictured to the right. I had a second surgery on June 1st to remove the fixator, and then I spent about 6 weeks on crutches. I have been walking since July, but I still experience a lot of pain related to my leg. I walk with a limp, my leg swells up every afternoon, and I'm generally incapable of a lot of the activity I did prior to the accident. Worst of all, the accident just left me incredibly depressed.
When I first heard about Superbetter, I assumed that it was basically designed to help people with physical recuperation, but after talking to McGonigal and playing with the program, I've found that the game is much more open-ended, allowing users to focus on whatever part of the recovery process they think is most important to them. In that way, it's a very robust tool, allowing for incredible custimatization. But, at the same time, having so many options made the beginning of the game the most difficult aspect for me.
Establishing a baseline in Superbetter requires completing seven "missions," which are basically objectives for the game. For this blog entry, I'll detail those seven missions.
Mission 1: Identify my epic win
Strangely, I found this to be the most difficult aspect of the whole game. Your epic win is something that, ideally, can be completed in six weeks. Something, according to Superbetter that "signifies you’ve taken a huge step towards becoming 'better'." The problem, for me, is that "better" is awfully vague.
With the cajoling of my co-workers and my wife, I decided to make my goal a 3-mile ride around Brooklyn's Prospect Park. It's a far cry from the 10 miles I used to ride to and from work everyday, but you have to start somewhere, I guess.
Mission 2: Create my secret identity
As I mentioned in our interview, when asked to pick a secret identity, I automatically thought of Omar Little, the loner who robs drug dealers from the HBO show The Wire. And, hey, as Omar says, "It's all in the game."
Mission 3: Bad guys
Choosing bad guys is pretty easy. I just identified all the bad habits I'd developed in the few months since the accident. Those include being really antisocial, playing video games too much, staying up very late, drinking too much caffeine, eating too much junk food, and just generally being incredibly negative. Well, honestly, I've always been pretty negative, but since this is about being "superbetter," rather than just "better" I suppose I'll try and dial that back a bit too.
Mission 4: Power ups
Power ups are things that push me to keep going, and that make me feel good. Things I can do without a lot of effort that make me feel better. As such, I picked playing guitar, reading, and hanging out with my cats, both of whom are pretty amazing. I am also a big fan of podcasts, and I usually have about 10-15 on my iPod at any given time, so listening to those will be helpful as well.
Mission 5: Quests
Quests are essentially smaller goals that I set for myself in pursuit of my epic win. Here are the quests I've set for myself:
Go to Physical Therapy (twice a week). I hate physical therapy. It hurts, and after months it has come to feel like it isn't helping anymore. But, realistically, if I'm going to be doing things like riding my bike, I'm going to have to go regularly.
Climb my apartment stairs five times (twice a week). I live on the 3rd floor. It's a good leg strengthening exercise. I guess it couldn't hurt, right?
Walk two miles a day. This isn't as crazy as it sounds, because I walk about a mile a day to and from the subway for my work commute. I'm just going to walk to a subway stop that's further away from my house.
Go out with friends. One side effect of having leg pain all the time is that sitting still is a lot less painful than walking around, and I feel terrible about life all the time, so I never want to go anywhere. As such, I tend not to leave the house very much these days. I'm going to try to force myself to hang out with people twice a week.
Mission 6: Allies
Allies are supposed to encourage you to stay on the righteous path of convalescence. As such, I picked two allies who I see almost all day, every day. First, I picked my wife, Sarah. Second, I picked my colleague, PJ Vogt. As my allies, it's their responsibility to be ever mindful of my progress and encourage me to continue to try and reach my goals every day. And to stoically endure when I yell at them for constantly reminding me to push myself.
Mission 7: Future Boosts
According to Superbetter, futureboosts are "any two things you’re looking forward to - in the next day, the next week, or the next month." Aside from coming up with an epic win, this was the other mission I found really difficult. Strangely, when I asked Sarah for some advice for coming up with future boosts, she mostly came up with things that I could do with her that she would hate, such as watching horror or action movies, and making her eat a banana (Sarah hates bananas so much that she gets queasy just smelling them. Naturally, I've been trying to figure out a way to make her eat one for years. Who knew all that needed to happen was for me to get run over by a car?)
Eventually, I settled on a couple of much more neutral superboosts - going out to dinner, and going out to a show of some kind. But I won't rule out exploiting the banana option in the future.
Now that I've chosen my 7 missions, I'm ready to start using Superbetter. There's still plenty more to the game -- there are self monitoring components, unlockable achievements, and much more. I'll detail more of those components of the game in my next entry. If you have any questions or comments about the game, please let me know in the comments, and I'll be happy to follow up with you.