Jane McGonigal: The game that can give you 10 extra years of life

I just finished watching this TED Talk by Jane McGonigal, game developer and author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (Penguin Press, 2011)

In this talk, Jane McGonigal tells about how she overcame a traumatic brain injury and subsequent depression by inventing a game, now named SuperBetter and available online. Here’s what Ms. McGonigal says about why she invented the game:

… I started to legitimately fear for my life, which is the time that I said to myself after 34 days –and I will never forget this moment –I said, I am either going to kill myself or I’m going to turn this into a game.

Now, why a game? I knew from researching the psychology of games for more than a decade that when we play a game — and this is in the scientific literature — we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help. And I wanted to bring these gamer traits to my real-life challenge, so I created a role-playing recovery game called Jane the Concussion Slayer.

But, can a game really help someone through a medical, or any other, crisis? Actually, yes. The game Ms. McGonical invented makes use of principles that have been shown scientifically to help people overcome traumatic experiences, a process called post-traumatic growth.

Here are the top five things that people with post-traumatic growth say: My priorities have changed. I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy. I feel closer to my friends and family. I understand myself better. I know who I really am now. I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life. I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.

What’s this got to do with education? Everything.

  • Priorities: Are you doing what makes you happy, or at the very least working toward being able to do something that will make you happy? Or, are you doing what you think will make someone else happy? Maybe your parents, or your adviser, or a teacher you admire, or your spouse, or your children, or… well, you get the point.
  • Family and Friends: Are you remembering to stay close to the people that matter? And, I don’t mean your wild-partying drinking buddies, but the people who really, really matter. You know who they are. Going to school and learning are important, but they’re not as important as staying connected to the people we love, who also love us.
  • Understanding Yourself: School is all about understanding, but what does that mean if you don’t understand yourself?
  • Meaning and Purpose: Does what you’re studying have meaning for you? Are you studying for a purpose, even if the only purpose is personal satisfaction?
  • Goals and Dreams: Are you studying something that is related to your goals and dreams? If not, why not?

Education, like life, has to be meaningful, and you are the only person who can determine what is meaningful to you. Education is all about growth, not just the growth of knowledge, but personal growth, becoming what you were meant to be, becoming more than you had ever thought possible, discovering wonderful and amazing things that you might never have even considered if you hadn’t been paying attention and reaching beyond yourself.

Here’s an idea, to get back to the gaming origins of this story, as well as tie this to potentially better grades: Why not see if you can make school and studying more like a game? Just as Ms. McGonigal invented a game that would help her to recover from her injuries, why not invent a game that will help you to get through school with the greatest success possible?

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