Yesterday I attended a personalized health care conference as part of my internship, called Advancing P4 Medicine Through Innovations in Science. For those of you that don’t know, the four P’s stand for preventative, predictive, personalized and participatory. P4 medicine is based on genetics, epigenetics, the different dimensions of health and how they relate to wellness and systems medicine…and how they all come together.
I wasn’t planning to write about the conference…as expected, about half of it went right over my head (especially the parts about genomes and exomes), but there were several interesting sessions that appealed to my inner psychology nerd about the effects of stress on the body, and some great info on a huge health and wellness initiative at Ohio State and how they’re working to become the healthiest college campus in the world!
However, the part that really stood out to me was the opening speaker. So that’s what I’m going to share with you guys today.
The speaker was Jane McGonigal and she’s a game designer. Like video games. I know, right? Not what you’d expect at a conference like the one described above. I was totally caught off-guard by her presentation, but I loved it! She’s written a NYT best-selling book called Reality os Broken and the basis of her talk was this game that she’s developed called SuperBetter.
Jane started out her presentation by promising us that she was going to add some extra minutes on to our lives during her presentation and told us it would be up to us to decide how to spend those extra minutes. She said if it was up to her, she would encourage us to spend them playing games. And then she went on to explain that when she tells people she’s a game designer, a lot of people ask her if she thinks that at the end of her life, she will regret wasting her time playing games? Her answer is no.
Jane showed us an article that discussed the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying as recorded by a hospice nurse. The top 5 regrets were as follows:
1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
2. I wish I’d kept in touch with my friends.
3. I wish I had let myself be happier.
4. I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self.
5. I wish I’d let a life true to my dreams, and not what everyone else expected of me.
And then she asked a question that really stuck with me: Why is it so hard to do these 5 things?
It seems simple, right?
1. Work less.
2. Reach out to friends more often.
3. Do the things that make us happy.
4. Express our true selves.
5. Spend the time and efforts to pursue our dreams, instead of what others expect of us.
Why do we get to the end of our lives without spending time on things that matter most to us?
Jane then moved on to tell us about a severe brain injury she experienced 3-4 years ago. She got a concussion and it didn’t heal properly. Her doctors told her she had to rest her brain. No reading, writing, videogames, work, emails, alcohol or caffeine….and she said what it essentially came down to was:
No reason to live.
She became suicidal, but one day she said to herself, “I’m either going to kill myself or turn this into a game.”
She chose option 2. So she created a game called Jane the Concussion Slayer. In the game, she had to find and battle bad guys (in her case things that triggered her symptoms like bright lights) and collect powerups (things she could do every day no matter how bad she felt, like cuddling her dogs). She noticed almost immediately that much of her anxiety went away. She was in pain, but she was no longer suffering.
She posted a video about her experience and the way the game helped her to youtube and it went viral. Tons of people could relate and had experienced something similar. She renamed the game SuperBetter so that it could be adapted to any health challenge. It could help people become stronger, braver, better understood or happier- even when they were in pain or facing a challenge.
Jane realized that what she experienced was Post-Traumatic Growth. Injury can help us unleash our best qualities. Many people who experience traumatic injuries say:
-My priorities changed. I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy.
-I feel closer to my friends and family.
-I understand myself better.
-I have a new sense of purpose
-I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams
If you look closely, you’ll realize that these things are, essentially, the exact opposite of the 5 regrets of dying!
So now the question is: How to we get to these things that post-traumatic growth leads us to, without experiencing the trauma?
Jane explained that SuperBetter is based on the understanding that there are 4 kids of resilience/strength that make us less likely to give into tragedy. And she invited us, as an audience, to complete the first 4 quests in the Super Better app.
We were given the following options:
Round 1: Stand up and take 3 steps OR make both hands into fists ans raise them up as high as you can for 5 seconds.
If we could complete one of those tasks, we got +1 point for physical resilience….because moving is important, even if it’s just a little bit. We can’t sit still. We must move to improve our health.
Round 2: Snap your fingers exactly 50 times OR count backwards from 100 in increments of 7.
If we did either of those we got +1 point for mental resilience. These tasks help us increase our focus and discipline.
Round 3: If you’re inside a window, look out or if you’re outside a window, look in OR do a quick google image search for your favorite baby animal.
If we did either of those we got +1 point for emotional resilience. These tasks help us evoke positive emotions that we need like love and curiosity.
Round 4: Shake someone’s hand for 6 seconds OR send someone a quick thank you via text, facebook or twitter.
If we did either of those we got +1 point for social resilience. Touch and gratitude improve our health by boosting oxytocin levels.
By completing these tasks, we increased our resilience for the next 24 hours so we should do something hard, stay up late, etc. So in the game, you collect resilience points along the way by completing tasks like the one above.
The purpose of this was to show us that games impact us at a neurological level. She described a game called Remission that was designed for Leukemia patients to help kids get more engaged in their treatment to avoid missed doses.
In a study that was done, they found that it took only 2 hours of playing the game for kids to reach a threshold, resulting in improved adherence to chemo treatment for the next 6 months AND better self efficacy…so games led to a biological and psychological effect.
They looked at patient brain activity while playing and showed that it wasn’t enough just to be watching someone play the game. You had to be playing yourself in order to activate the centers of the brain involved in motivation, learning and memory…and that brain activity lit up the most under the condition of anticipation of success. The split second between the time you aim and shoot and when you see if you hit the target. It’s the belief in your own self efficacy that gaming affects and improves…and it leads to super empowered, hopeful people.
Jane then talked a bit more about SuperBetter. In the game you can go on quests to gain new skills and abilities, complete powerpacks, fight bad guys/things and make allies. Your allies can be your friend and family members that you invite to play with you. They can create quests for you- For example if you’re using SuperBetter to deal with a running injury, and your husband is your ally, he could create a quest for you to download a new song for your next physical therapy session. There are also epic wins, which are goals that you set for yourself that you will get great satisfaction from completing.
SuperBetter has 120,000 regular players and it was launched in June. The breakdown of players is 55% female, 45% male and the average age is 33. The challenges people are fighting are things like depression, weight loss, eating better, reducing stress, sleeping more, post traumatic stress…and most are challenges they have been fighting for at least a year.
When you sign-up, you choose your challenge. I downloaded the free app to check it out. My challenge was working out.
Once you log in you’ve given all sorts of tasks for powerups, you can set your own epic wins, etc.
When you complete the power-ups, you get resilience points:
They showed us some of the data they’ve been gathering from user, ie how many start, how many stick around to complete their epic wins, etc. It was amazing to see how this simple game was helping people who have been suffering from things like depression and PTSD for years. One played said that the reason the game is so effective is because she already knows what she needs to do…the game just helped by breaking it down into tiny daily tasks that boosted her confidence and belief in herself.
So, sorry to ramble on so long…i just found this whole idea fascinating and wanted to share. Check out superbetter.com or download the free app for iphone to try a challenge of your own! (And no, i was not asked to write this review by anyone. Just sharing what I learned).
Have you ever thought about how helpful games can be to our health?
What’s the best speech you’ve ever heard?