Today piece is all about sharing insights on Jane Mcgonigal’s amazing TED talk regarding how video games can increase your life span and be an incredible source of strength. Seems like some kind of nerd-scam, doesn’t it?

No funny business - promise!
No funny business – promise!

I assure you, there is no techno babble that attempts to convince non-gamers that they’re missing out. It’s pretty simple, actually – read on to find out!

I’ll be posting a link to the TED Talk video (which I discovered during one of my many late night TED Talk binge episodes…) at the end of this post – it’s just under 20 minutes long and well worth the watch.

Mcgonigal is a video game developer, which gives her a unique view of games, how they’re built, what their intent is, and the joy and purpose that can come from them. She begins her talk explaining how she often has to defend the nature of gaming since the popular perception is that games are a waste of time. That everyone that plays video games, undoubtedly, will regret spending so much time on them come the final hour on their death bed.

She explains that – believe it or not – some science has been performed on the topic. Based on a hospice survey, the most reported regret registered by patients is not, in fact, spending too much time playing games or on recreational activities – it is working too much.

Way better than video games, right? Wrong.
Way better than video games, right? Wrong.

Here are the remaining four of the top five regrets:

“I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.”

“I wish I’d let myself be happier.”

“I wish I had the courage to express my true self.”

“I wish I led a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.”

She goes onto explain how the regret of working too much is often associated with wishing they’d had more time with their family and kids. She points out that studies have shown parents who play games with their children have much stronger real life relationships with them.

Wanting to spend more time with friends can be directly correlated to more social-based games like Words with Friends and Farmville.

She points out that studies have also shown that video games often outpace the positive results of pharmaceuticals (although I have to imagine the addictive-ness of either may be the same).

Wishing to have the courage to express your true self can be easily associated with games like World of Warcraft where you can build your truest self for all to see.

I get to be who I want to be - the power is intoxicating!
I get to be who I want to be – the power is intoxicating!

The connections Mcgonigal makes are simple but profound – what we see as a waste of time seems to be all the things we wish we’d done when we get to the end of our lives. I don’t know about you, but this made me stop and think I’d been seeing the world upside-down all this time.

What comes next is equally as thought-provoking in my mind. She explains that a head injury had her bed-ridden for 3 months of her life, and in this time – limited in what she could do – suicidal ideation began to set in.

I believe this is a concept that most of us can identify with. Many people – not just us nerds – struggle with depression and anxiety that can turn into something big, scary and seemingly insurmountable. Mcgonigal takes a fascinating approach to a way we might be able to overcome these destructive feelings.

To overcome her own feelings of depression, she decided to start playing real-world games – since video games were off limits due to her condition. Her game worked on the same principle, however – that by performing tasks or behaviors, she would gain and unlock achievements.

She called this game, “Jane the Concussion Slayer”

She recalled from studying game psychology that when we play games, we tackle problems with more creativity, optimism and determination. In addition, it makes people more likely to reach out for help.

And in the spirit of reaching out for help, she asked her sister to join in on the game she was creating. They identified the triggers for her concussion symptoms – like bright lights or crowds – and created and collected ‘power-ups’. Power-ups could be as simple as cuddling her dog for 10 minutes or walking around the block just once. Once she put parameters around it, it all seemed easy:

Adopt a secret identity

Recruit allies

Battle the bad guys

Activate the power-ups

Within days, Mcgonigal felt the fog of her depression begin to dissipate. Though the physical symptoms of her condition persisted for another year, as she says, she wasn’t ‘suffering.’

Understanding her situation was unique, but wanting to spread the concept, Mcgonigal re-branded the ‘Concussion Slayer’ to ‘SuperBetter’ with the same rules. The response was incredible as people with all kinds of conditions reported their lives improved drastically due to adopting the practices of SuperBetter.

The game was allowing these people to experience something scientists call Post-Traumatic Growth. There are four kinds of strengths that contribute to scientific growth:

  1. Physical resilience – simply not sitting still.
  2. Mental resilience – will power gained through tackling and completing a challenge (even a small one!).
  3. Emotional resilience – actively trying to experience at least three positive emotions for every one negative. It dramatically improves your health and ability to tackle challenges!
  4. Social resilience – when you get more strength from your friends, family, community, via gratitude or physical touch – even through a long handshake!
    Pro-tip: long handshakes will increase the urge to help the person you shake hands with!

Mcgonical goes on to explain when these four types of resilience are exercised; science shows your life expectancy can increase significantly. It is these four principles that her real-life game is based on, which has all kinds of phenomenal side-effects such as happiness, longer life and fewer death bed regrets.

Consider the practical application of actively seeking to install these practices in your life via a never ending game like SuperBetter. Those with anxiety could boost their score by making eye contact with their friends or colleagues – made easier because it is an achievement to be unlocked instead of an awkward, painful necessity. Those with social nervousness could unlock an achievement by standing straighter in a crowd. Depression could be alleviated by seeking out positive experience like spending time with a pet or making their favorite tea.

When I was younger and trying to get through a tough transition in my life – I recall making up and playing a similar game. I was limited by my mental resources at the time, and as we all know by now, I am a huge Star Wars nerd. I would play the ‘Jedi’ game. This game consisted of always keeping my cool in anger and anxiety situations – in grocery stores, at home, at school. The objective of the game was to always look at things from the long view – to remove myself emotionally and evaluate things objectively. The results were pretty incredible! The little game got me through the transition and onto the next part of my life.

Sage advice, Master Yoda.
Sage advice, Master Yoda.

Until I watched Mcgonigal’s TED talk, I had completely forgotten about this game I played to get me through desperate times. Listening to her explain the psychology and science behind the methodology was a welcome and pleasant experience. Her view on how games can help us develop and live full lives is a refreshing one.

Now I think about the areas I struggle with at this time in my life – my occasional anxiety in crowds and the confidence in the way I look and move – and I think about the kind of game I can play with myself and others to gain where I am lacking. Instead of being nervous around strangers, I can project confidence because in doing so, I am winning the game and can go onto the next challenge.

So the next time someone questions your video game habit or a friend or family member is in a funk they just can’t shake, you send them straight to this TED Talk and know there is a power-up out there for the both of you!


Eve2Eve is the founder of Some Nerd Girl and the author of urban fantasy novel Children of the Fallen. She has been writing since the age of 13 and has been flying her nerd flag for the past 16 years. You can visit her website at www.somenerdgirl.com and look up her works of fiction on Amazon.

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