Last month, I posted “What Good Games Can Teach Us About Learning”. This month I picked up SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, an interesting self-help book that argues for applying game design principles to self-improvement. No, this is not about LARPing; instead, McGonigal repackages a lot of well-worn tactics of mindfulness and goal-setting and such into this game framework.
I’m not a fan of gamification nor of self-help programs, but I found SuperBetter interesting to peruse because of its overlap and elucidation of what I posted earlier. Here are McGonigal’s seven rules for getting SuperBetter:
- Challenge yourself.
- Collect and activate power-ups. (Rewards)
- Find and battle the bad guys. (Obstacles)
- Seek out and complete quests.
- Recruit your allies.
- Adopt a secret identity.
- Go for an epic win.
What she’s essentially proposing is to focus on a goal or a set of goals, and then systematically look for and determine available resources and possible obstacles towards the pursuit of that goal. In a sense, she’s showing how to design a responsive learning environment—a game environment—in real life. You are creating a strategic schedule for mastering steps to your goal, mapping out potential difficulties, and determining the support, skills, and motivation that you might need to draw from to persist.
Most important is the mental framing of this approach. By seeing this pursuit as a game, you determine a virtual identity for yourself as a “hero” or “player.” The whole endeavor is now a learning challenge, a quest of discovery that is ever-increasingly challenging, but always conquerable. You are not approaching your living passively but as an active designer and player of your experiences.
This seems to me a viable workaround for the inherent problems of gamification and extrinsic rewards. By being both the designer and user of the system, one makes indirect motivations direct and exercises tactical performance in the service of adaptive performance.