Gaming Back to Health

Friday, September 30, 2011


After suffering a traumatic brain injury, game designer Jane McGonigal developed Superbetter, a game that creates point systems and incentives for reaching health goals. Brooke talks to McGonigal about how the game works, and OTM producer Alex Goldman asks how he might use the game on a recent traumatic physical injury.

To follow producer Alex Goldman's blogs about using Superbetter, please follow THIS LINK

Comments [23]

Dina from Connecticut

The access key is "sochofriend". It works.

Nov. 28 2011 12:44 PM

Whoops, I need the invite that Jane mentioned on the program to use the beta site...?
I remember it was socho xxxx.
Can you help?

Nov. 21 2011 04:20 PM

This was fascinating. Only thing that worries me is how much that Ender Wiggin kid enjoys the game...

Oct. 08 2011 04:07 PM
Jay M. from Portland, Oregon

I loved this report. Fascinating. Thank you!

Oct. 04 2011 04:39 PM

Thank I'd like to thank all of you for listening to this week's interview with Jane McGonigal about Superbetter. As I mentioned in this story, I will be playing the game for the next six weeks and blogging about it on the On the Media blog. If you're interested in seeing my experiences in playing the game, you can read them on our blog, at:

Or you can follow all stories on our website tagged with the term "superbetter" here:

Thank you,
Alex Goldman
Producer, On the Media

Oct. 04 2011 12:01 PM
Jo Hunter from Bluffton SC

Will the super better game help individuals who are stroke victims?

Oct. 03 2011 11:27 PM

Are there links to studies supporting this connection between thinking positive and health? I understand that being depressed and stressed can create stress hormones which could conflict with healing and it's important to stay upbeat simply for the sake of enjoying life, but I'm also skeptical of the idea - perhaps it is nothing more than a placebo effect on illness (i.e. patients and doctors are more likely to report that they are doing better when the patient is in a positive mood, even if there is no actual, objective evidence supporting that claim). If the latter is the case, then, while it might be good for quality of life, it might do little more than sell books.

McGonigal mentioned the studies linking happiness and allies with health, but I don't see any of them linked to this story. (And, I've become increasingly skeptical of claims that aren't linked to source material, since they turn out to be wrong surprisingly often.)

In the interest of full disclosure: Last year, a pastor at my former church got lung cancer (as far as I know, he never smoked), and he seemed to be using a similar method of finding allies to help him through his illness. He died earlier this year.

Oct. 03 2011 06:13 PM
Susan Kerstein from Chicago

I heard you today on "On The Media." I'm very excited about what you are doing and would love to participate in this game to share with my graduate counseling and human services students at National Louis University in Chicago.

If you want feedback and suggestions to make the game more useful, please let me know. I'd like to see how we can make games a beneficial experience to help people. Keep up the great work.


Susan E. Kerstein, Ed.D.
Counseling and Human Services

Oct. 03 2011 04:55 PM
John Mark from bklyn

Great segment! Looking forward to hearing the followup.

Oct. 03 2011 10:15 AM
Susan from Upper West Side

I loved this segment. The very next day, the speaker we had engaged for our professional organization of lactation consultants (a lawyer and a lactation consultant) did a piece on how moms are now gaining info via the internet which is different than the mommy groups of the past. It seems to me that this type of gaming approach could be used to much more effect than the simply "reflective listening" that has been used by group facilitators in the past. I really loved this concept.

Oct. 03 2011 08:29 AM
David Winn from San Diego

Hi Alex & Jane,
I am a physician who had a very similar injury to what Alex had (bike accident-broke leg x 4 places=tibia/fibula -had external fixator & then rods + screws + developed post-op infection-so rods & screws came out). My inj. was Apr 15th & I hope as a note of encouragement: I was"out" for 4 month, but am back to work full time & riding my bike (a little) + have almost gotten over ny limp. I am very intrigued w/ Jane's work & have a 16 y.o. HS senior who wants to major in Computer Eng. at Berkeley...we'll see....I am going to have him look into your (Jane's) work(s).

Oct. 03 2011 03:00 AM

Thank you for all your comments. If you are interested in learning more about superbetter, you can go to the superbetter website at Those links at the bottom are just tags that refer to other stories on the On the Media site.

Alex Goldman
Prdoucer, On the Media.

Oct. 02 2011 10:40 PM
Margaret Stanton from Urbana, Illinois

I was excited when I heard part of the segment with Jane McGonigal as she talked about the game she developed, "Superbetter." Unfortunately, I came in late so I didn't hear the first part of the segment.

Several people leaving comments thus far have wondered if there might be an application for people with mental health problems. The answer is "Yes!" and the name of the mental health recovery program is WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Planning.) WRAP was developed by a woman named Mary Ellen Copeland in Vermont with the help of a number of other people who were trying to cope with serious mental illnesses. See for more information about WRAP.

I see many parallels between Jane McGonigal's "Superbetter" and WRAP. For example, "bad guys" in Superbetter are "triggers" in WRAP; "allies" in Superbetter are supporters in WRAP; "power-ups" in Superbetter are wellness tools in WRAP. McGonigal's "Epic Wins" is another name for goals, in my opinion. The catchy names and the concept of playing a video game may attract some people who might otherwise not find out about WRAP, which, by the way, is an evidence-based practice and that is a very good thing in the world of mental health recovery!

Oct. 02 2011 04:09 PM
AnneMarie from Bear, DELAWARE

I would very much like to be a part of the clinical trials. I suffered TBI 6/8 when my car was totaled by a Drunk Driver. Like Jane depression, suicidaleideation nausea, vertigo, hopelessness. I am/was a Registered Nurse. So I am usually on the other side of this equation! Please let me know how I may participate in the trial. I am more than will to interface with physicians and monitor my status.
Please contact me so I may participate.
I know that any help for behavioral and TBI /stroke injuries would be a blessing for my patients also. Thank you.

Oct. 02 2011 03:09 PM
Diane Perkins

I am very interested in this approach, but like others could not follow the links. Does PBS have additional information about how to get in touch with SuperBetter or Jane?????

Oct. 02 2011 01:01 PM
Judith K. Dial from New Hampshire

My last comment "went away" when I was editing it. If it was saved, please use what's below instead. Thanks!

I've had PTSD since I was 3, and had a brain injury at 24. I'm in my 50s now. As someone who's had both PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, I think that any progress is progress. If something helps you deal with and get past whatever long-term condition you have, it's worthwhile.

Rather than arguing/discussing whether the game diminishes real injury or should be used for this or that, just take the progress you can get, whatever it may be in both hands and be grateful. I'm not talking about something that simply lessens the symptoms, as in self-medication, I'm talking about real progress.

If the game gives someone that, then it should be used, period, no discussion required.

Oct. 02 2011 11:36 AM

None of the links to Super-Better work.
I found the link to Jane McGonigal's website, but the links don't work from there, either. I imagine she's swamped by inquiries about SuperBetter, which apparently has now gone commercial. That's ok, but I was disappointed at not being able to find out more about it.

Oct. 02 2011 11:35 AM

I have long-standing impacts to my brain from chronic neurological Lyme disease. There seem to be similar challenges in recovering functions lost to brain damage from various sources, whether physical trauma, stroke, other infections, and I've spoken to my dr about wishing there were programs people with Lyme could access (most TBI programs aren't oriented to our needs, or simply don't consider us). Many of the techniques Ms McGonigal talked about using to help her own recovery are very similar to the things I also came up with. It would be wonderful to have such a program that Lyme patients could use to help "reset" our brains.

Oct. 02 2011 11:17 AM
Carole Schwartzbard

A good blog about games

covered this last week.

Oct. 02 2011 10:09 AM
Gene Idol from Dayton, Ohio

As a mental health therapist I too am interested in the possible application of the game in addressing MH issues. It wouldn't appear to require much reworking.

Oct. 01 2011 10:08 PM
Alyson Vega from New York City

Jane McGonigal's game sounds useful and innovative. On the other hand, her account of her experience with a traumatic brain injury belittles the severity of this condition. To use the word "heal" so lightly, minimizes the real long-term and life altering side effects of this often incurable condition. She could not read books or have coffee for a month? I lost my 22 year career as a teacher, most of my friends, and my memory and I am one of the lucky ones. Some people afflicted with TBI can't ever read again.

According to the New York State Department of Health, "TBI is an injury to the brain or skull ... Unlike other injuries such as broken legs or cut fingers that can heal, brain injuries are often permanent and disabling." OFTEN! I expect more responsible broadcasting from NPR. I would be happy to try her game and it would probably improve my mood. I highly doubt it will heal my brain.

Oct. 01 2011 01:53 PM
Leslie Tucker from New York City

I just listened to this episode, and I was also thinking SuperBetter could help those with mental illness, but specifically our U.S. soldiers suffering from war-related post traumatic stress disorder.

Oct. 01 2011 08:19 AM
Ric Helfrich from Maryland

Really interesting presentation on gaming "mind over matter". In listening to it, I was impressed with the statement that having 3 good (up, happy) thoughts for every bad (sad, depressing) thought has been shown to be more important to health and well being than stoppng smoking, loosing weight, etc,. Has Ms McGonigal thought of using the game she's created to help whose with mental illness? I'm specifically thinking of depression and bipolar desease. I've seen a lot of it in my family. It seems worth trying to overcomel the stream of depressing thoughts that take over a personality through gaming. Even the manic phase might be moderated through a "Think this, not that" aspect to the game.


Oct. 01 2011 07:17 AM

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