SuperBetter (Website, iOS, Android)
When 9-year old Girl Scout, Mary Previte was captured from her school in China to be imprisoned at a Japanese run concentration camp, she likely didn’t expect to play many games. Yet thanks to the ingenuity, resilience, and kindness of the teachers who were captured with her, that is exactly what she did.
To give some background, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, provoking the U.S. to fully engage in World War II. December 8, Japan twisted the exclamation mark like a dagger and seized American and British citizens who were living in China, dividing the prisoners into concentration camps. One camp was in Chefoo. There, Mary, her classmates, and teachers were contained.
What the teachers did, in spite of the brutal circumstances they were in, was to lean upon the Girl Scout code to focus the children on positivity, creativity, and development, as if they were not even prisoners. The teachers transformed catching rats, collecting coal, eating eggshells with proper table manners into badge-earning games and thus preserving the childhoods of Mary and the other students. (Read the story here or check out This American Life episode.) This is gamification.
Dictionary.com defines gamification as “the process of turning an activity or task into a game.” And there is a growing movement that claims treating difficult situations in life this way will equip an individual for greatersuccess in overcoming obstacles. Ever heard of a fitbit? Yeah, kind of like that.
“When we play a game…we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we are more likely to reach out to others for help” claims Jane McGonigal, the founder of SuperBetter, an app which takes gamification to an expert level. Instead of flailing in the opposite direction of difficulty, the app turns symptoms and struggles into “Bad Guys;” good habits and activities into “Power-Ups;” and daily challenges into “Quests,” all of which work towards your ultimate goal. A user builds resilience in four different areas: mental, emotional, physical, and social. Each activity he accomplishes gives him credit in one of those four areas and he can follow the progress with stellar tracking and statistics provided on the website.
SuperBetter also provides an easy way to talk with support circles (called “Allies”) about daily struggles by introducing a new vocabulary into a dark conversation. A lighter vocabulary strips the power from overwhelming obstacles by lending a new perspective: instead of talking about how self-doubt beat you up again after school, you give a play by play of your all-out, sweaty wrestle with the Brain Troll. It seems silly but it is surprisingly helpful.
It’s difficult to use the horrific story of Girl Scouts in Chefoo to springboard into a conversation about a website. It surely wasn’t easy for those oppressed in the concentration camps and gamifying hardships did not make everything super better. I hope not to disrespect them but to highlight them as the powerful example they are. In the midst of hardship, the use of gamification served a purpose and breathed hope into lives. In the same way, those oppressed by mental illness can find refuge in the gamification of their struggles. Though it is no cure-all, it is a unique approach to age old issues.
So, long story short: I love SuperBetter. It is top-notch application of a proven method. And if imprisoned Girls Scouts can gamify catching rats, we can gamify the obstacles in our lives.