Could videogames be good for your health?

Jane McGonigal thinks so

Two women playing video game, selective focus, space for copy, canon 1Ds mark III

Sometimes it can feel like any time videogames get mainstream attention, it’s for something negative so thankfully we’re bringing you something positive and encouraging, something that will assist you in justifying your habit of playing games for hours each night after work.

After 15 years of playing, designing, and studying videogames, Jane McGonigal is certain that playing videogames helps people develop valuable skills that can be applied to real life and real problems.

In 2009 McGonigal was recovering from a serious head injury which and found that by adopting a “gaming mindset” and coming up with playful strategies, it became easier to cope. She developed a kind of RPG idea called Jane the Concussion Slayer, which allowed her to adopt a different identity and fight through her problems. After sharing these coping mechanisms with people facing a variety of emotional and physical challenges, she found the response so positive that she turned the idea into an online game.

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This game, and the coping system it teaches, are now the subject of Jane’s new book SuperBetter: A revolutionary approach to getting stronger, happier, braver, and more resilient. Speaking at The Nantucket Project on Saturday, Time reported McGonigal as saying that we need to re-evaluate our perceptions of gaming as when people play games they’re “wholeheartedly engaged in creative challenges.”

By engaging creatively through videogames rather than passively escaping through other mediums, we get, she says, “a real sense of optimism in our abilities and our opportunities to get better and succeed, and more physical and mental energy to engage with difficult problems. And that is actually the physiological and psychological state of game play.”

This sense of optimism and motivation is not something familiar to those suffering from illnesses like depression and anxiety, and finding a way to bring it back into their lives could really help on the road to recovery. Seeing yourself as a character in a game could arguably force you to focus on your strengths, using confrontation and help sources to progress, rather than hiding. There’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck in one place in a game. Often when I go to bed stuck on a section in a video game, I wake up the next day ready to try again and this time beat it. Applying this mentality to every aspect of my life is something that could actually be beneficial in a way that never occurred to me.

The SuperBetter Method in the book has 7 simple rules: Challenge yourself; collect and activate power-ups; battle the bad guys; seek out quests; make allies; adopt a secret identity; go for epic wins. This gaming mindset seeks to empower players to bring a sense of motivation through the provision of goals. You can also access the method through an app for Android and iOS, which encourages you to use it for just 10 minutes each day.

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It seems that you don’t even have to be a part of the SuperBetter community to feel the benefit of video games, so long as you play them with purpose. When playing games you’ll feel their benefit as long as you understand why they’re helping you and what they’re teaching you, rather than using them as a means to completely escape your reality.

It’s a refreshing change to see the mindset of gamers described as optimistic and motivated, rather than violent and aggressive, it must be said.

If you’re at all interested in living “gamefully” and playing for 10 minutes a day and making your hobby a way of life, SuperBetter methods can be accessed for free on the website, through the book, or in app form available for free on Android and iOS.

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