Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
The Superbetter Diaries Entry #5: Extreme Self-Loathing Mode
Tuesday, October 25, 2011 - 11:16 AM
I'm now in my fourth week using Superbetter to deal with a traumatic injury I sustained in a bicycle accident, and my co-workers (or at least Brooke) have been talking about how uncharacteristically sunny my disposition is. I would say that at least part of that is due to my continued use of Superbetter.
Last week I had a ton of quests to play through, after having finally oriented myself in the rules of Superbetter. This week I have fewer quests, partly, I think, because I need to do a better job of being in touch with my allies. Since almost none of my allies (save my wife and fellow OTM Producer PJ Vogt, who's basically given up on this project) see me every day, I think it's easy for people to forget to give me quests. I'll have to gently remind everyone in the coming days.
There were a couple of big quests this week, though. The first one, assigned by Superbetter creator Jane McGonigal, was to come up with a "Power Song," some inspiring song that keeps me going. I decided upon "Nothing Ever Changes" by Braniac. I'm not much of a lyrics guy, and Braniac's vocals are mostly incomprehensible, but I must have had a subconscious notion that the lyrics of this song were pretty inspiring.
The other big quest for this week was to set up my bike in our living room. I have a device called a bicycle trainer which turns my my bike into a stationary bike, so I can ride it in the house. I've had it sitting in storage for years because, until recently, I always just rode outside. Now I've got it set up in the house with one of my bikes.
(yes, that is my bike, and yes, it is the fastest bike in the world.)
If I'm going to be riding my bike around Prospect Park, I'm going to have to do some training, and since my leg's still pretty weak and I remain skittish about riding my bike in the street, this is the next best thing. I'm going to try to ride it 10 minutes a day starting this weekend. We'll see where that takes me.
I've been thinking a lot about the way I use Superbetter, and comments from both readers and other participants have been very helpful in shaping the way I play it. I have to say that I wish there was the ability to turn on a component most people would consider completely counter-intuitive to include in a game designed to make you feel better: punishment!
This might say a lot more about me as a person than about Superbetter as a game, but I find being penalized very encouraging in gaming, at least in small doses. In the gaming world, penalizing, or at least acknowledging failure is commonplace. In role playing games, you can lose hit points, or have equipment stolen. In video games, you have a health meter that can sometimes drop to zero, or you can compare your volume of kills to your volume of deaths. In a couple of horror-based games, most recently Amnesia: The Dark Descent, they even have "sanity meters," that cause your characters to behave erratically or see hallucinations as they go insane.
In entry #1, I outlined what superbetter calls my "bad guys," things that have a detrimental effect on reaching my epic win. Included things like caffeine, playing too many video games, staying up too late, and not socializing. I honestly think that my biggest personal failure in Superbetter has been my inability to conquer nearly any of my bad guys, and I think that is partly because of the way the game treats them. Superbetter only keeps track of when I have successfully vanquished my bad guys, not when I fall prey to them. I've mentioned before that I've had a hard time understanding the utility of the "resilience" score in Superbetter, but it might make more sense to me if I could record the times I've lost to my bad guys and have it register in the form of lost resilience points.
In short, I'd like for there to be an optional "extreme self-loathing mode" that could be enabled for Superbetter. Losing resilience points or some other method of penalization would make the game more engaging for me, not less. But again, I understand I'm probably in the minority on this one.
Even though I'm still playing way to much Team Fortress, eating too much junk food and staying up too late watching Breaking Bad, at the halfway mark in my Superbetter experience, I'm finding it to be a net positive in my recovery.
One quick parting note - in my entry last Friday, I expressed my desire for a leveling system for the resilience score in Superbetter, saying it would make the score more gameful and more meaningful. Superbetter creator Jane McGonigal commented on the post letting us know that leveling was indeed in Superbetter's future:
...the good news is we're currently at work with resilience experts (scientists, doctors) to design a meaningful leveling up system. :) It will break down into areas of resilience -- social, mental, emotional, phsyical -- and we're working to correlate point totals with real outcomes :) It will take a while to make sure the science is right, but you can expect this in 2012. :)