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TEDGlobal 2012

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

June 28, 2012

When game designer Jane McGonigal found herself bedridden and suicidal following a severe concussion, she had a fascinating idea for how to get better. She dove into the scientific research and created the healing game, SuperBetter. In this moving talk, McGonigal explains how a game can boost resilience -- and promises to add 7.5 minutes to your life.

Jane McGonigal - Game Designer
Reality is broken, says Jane McGonigal, and we need to make it work more like a game. Her work shows us how. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I'm a gamer, so I like to have goals.
00:15
I like special missions and secret objectives.
00:19
So here's my special mission for this talk:
00:24
I'm going to try to increase the life span
00:27
of every single person in this room
00:30
by seven and a half minutes.
00:32
Literally, you will live seven and half minutes longer
00:35
than you would have otherwise,
00:38
just because you watched this talk.
00:39
Okay, some of you are looking a little bit skeptical.
00:41
That's okay, because check it out --
00:44
I have math to prove that it is possible.
00:46
And it won't make a lot of sense now.
00:49
I'll explain it all later,
00:50
just pay attention to the number at the bottom:
00:52
plus-7.68245837 minutes
00:54
that will be my gift to you if I'm successful in my mission.
00:57
Now, you have a secret mission too.
01:01
Your mission is to figure out how you want to spend your
01:04
extra seven and a half minutes.
01:08
And I think you should do something unusual with them,
01:10
because these are bonus minutes. You weren't going to have them anyway.
01:12
Now, because I'm a game designer, you might be thinking to yourself,
01:15
I know what she wants us to do with those minutes,
01:20
she wants us to spend them playing games.
01:22
Now this is a totally reasonable assumption,
01:24
given that I have made quite a habit of encouraging people
01:27
to spend more time playing games.
01:30
For example, in my first TEDTalk,
01:31
I did propose that we should spend 21 billion hours a week
01:33
as a planet playing video games.
01:38
Now, 21 billion hours, it's a lot of time.
01:40
It's so much time, in fact, that the number one unsolicited comment
01:43
that I have heard from people all over the world
01:48
since I gave that talk, is this:
01:50
Jane, games are great and all, but on your deathbed,
01:52
are you really going to wish you spent more time playing Angry Birds?
01:56
This idea is so pervasive -- that games are a waste of time
02:00
that we will come to regret -- that I hear it literally everywhere I go.
02:04
For example, true story: Just a few weeks ago,
02:08
this cab driver, upon finding out that a friend and I were in town
02:11
for a game developer's conference,
02:15
turned around and said -- and I quote --
02:16
"I hate games. Waste of life. Imagine getting to the end of your life
02:19
and regretting all that time."
02:24
Now, I want to take this problem seriously.
02:27
I mean, I want games to be a force for good in the world.
02:30
I don't want gamers to regret the time they spent playing,
02:32
time that I encouraged them to spend.
02:35
So I have been thinking about this question a lot lately.
02:37
When we're on our deathbeds, will we regret
02:41
the time we spent playing games?
02:44
Now, this may surprise you, but it turns out
02:46
there is actually some scientific research on this question.
02:49
It's true. Hospice workers,
02:53
the people who take care of us at the end of our lives,
02:55
recently issued a report on the most frequently expressed regrets
02:58
that people say when they are literally on their deathbeds.
03:03
And that's what I want to share with you today --
03:07
the top five regrets of the dying.
03:09
Number one: I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
03:14
Number two: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
03:21
Number three: I wish I had let myself be happier.
03:27
Number four: I wish I'd had the courage to express my true self.
03:32
And number five: I wish I'd lived a life true to my dreams,
03:39
instead of what others expected of me.
03:42
Now, as far as I know, no one ever told one of the hospice workers,
03:47
I wish I'd spent more time playing video games,
03:50
but when I hear these top five regrets of the dying,
03:53
I can't help but hear five deep human cravings
03:56
that games actually help us fulfill.
03:59
For example, I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
04:01
For many people, this means, I wish I'd spent more time
04:04
with my family, with my kids when they were growing up.
04:06
Well, we know that playing games together has tremendous
04:09
family benefits.
04:12
A recent study from Brigham Young University
04:13
School of Family life reported that parents who
04:16
spend more time playing video games with their kids
04:18
have much stronger real-life relationships with them.
04:21
I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends.
04:26
Well, hundreds of millions of people
04:28
use social games like FarmVille or Words With Friends
04:30
to stay in daily contact with real-life friends and family.
04:33
A recent study from [University of Michigan] showed
04:36
that these games are incredibly powerful
04:40
relationship-management tools.
04:44
They help us stay connected with people in our social network
04:46
that we would otherwise grow distant from,
04:50
if we weren't playing games together.
04:52
I wish I'd let myself be happier.
04:54
Well, here I can't help but think of the groundbreaking clinical trials
04:57
recently conducted at East Carolina University
05:00
that showed that online games can outperform
05:03
pharmaceuticals for treating clinical anxiety and depression.
05:06
Just 30 minutes of online game play a day
05:09
was enough to create dramatic boosts in mood
05:13
and long-term increases in happiness.
05:16
I wish I'd had the courage to express my true self.
05:19
Well, avatars are a way to express our true selves,
05:23
our most heroic, idealized version of who we might become.
05:27
You can see that in this alter ego portrait by Robbie Cooper
05:30
of a gamer with his avatar.
05:34
And Stanford University has been doing research for five years now
05:36
to document how playing a game with an idealized avatar
05:40
changes how we think and act in real life,
05:43
making us more courageous, more ambitious,
05:46
more committed to our goals.
05:49
I wish I'd led a life true to my dreams,
05:53
and not what others expected of me.
05:55
Are games doing this yet? I'm not sure,
05:57
so I've left a question mark, a Super Mario question mark.
05:59
And we're going to come back to this one.
06:02
But in the mean time, perhaps you're wondering,
06:04
who is this game designer to be talking to us
06:07
about deathbed regrets?
06:11
And it's true, I've never worked in a hospice,
06:12
I've never been on my deathbed.
06:16
But recently I did spend three months in bed, wanting to die.
06:18
Really wanting to die.
06:24
Now let me tell you that story.
06:27
It started two years ago, when I hit my head and got a concussion.
06:29
Now the concussion didn't heal properly,
06:32
and after 30 days I was left with symptoms like nonstop headaches,
06:34
nausea, vertigo, memory loss, mental fog.
06:38
My doctor told me that in order to heal my brain,
06:41
I had to rest it.
06:44
So I had to avoid everything that triggered my symptoms.
06:45
For me that meant no reading, no writing, no video games,
06:48
no work or email, no running, no alcohol, no caffeine.
06:51
In other words -- and I think you see where this is going --
06:53
no reason to live.
06:56
Of course it's meant to be funny,
06:58
but in all seriousness, suicidal ideation is quite common
07:00
with traumatic brain injuries.
07:04
It happens to one in three, and it happened to me.
07:06
My brain started telling me, Jane, you want to die.
07:10
It said, you're never going to get better.
07:15
It said, the pain will never end.
07:18
And these voices became so persistent and so persuasive
07:21
that I started to legitimately fear for my life,
07:26
which is the time that I said to myself after 34 days --
07:32
and I will never forget this moment --
07:36
I said, I am either going to kill myself
07:38
or I'm going to turn this into a game.
07:41
Now, why a game?
07:44
I knew from researching the psychology of games for more than a decade
07:45
that when we play a game -- and this is in the scientific literature --
07:49
we tackle tough challenges with more creativity,
07:53
more determination, more optimism,
07:56
and we're more likely to reach out to others for help.
07:58
And I wanted to bring these gamer traits to my real-life challenge,
08:00
so I created a role-playing recovery game
08:03
called Jane the Concussion Slayer.
08:05
Now this became my new secret identity,
08:07
and the first thing I did as a slayer
08:10
was call my twin sister -- I have an identical twin sister named Kelly --
08:12
and tell her, I'm playing a game to heal my brain,
08:15
and I want you to play with me.
08:19
This was an easier way to ask for help.
08:21
She became my first ally in the game,
08:25
my husband Kiyash joined next,
08:28
and together we identified and battled the bad guys.
08:30
Now this was anything that could trigger my symptoms
08:33
and therefore slow down the healing process,
08:36
things like bright lights and crowded spaces.
08:38
We also collected and activated power-ups.
08:40
This was anything I could do on even my worst day
08:44
to feel just a little bit good,
08:47
just a little bit productive.
08:49
Things like cuddling my dog for 10 minutes,
08:51
or getting out of bed and walking around the block just once.
08:53
Now the game was that simple:
08:57
Adopt a secret identity, recruit your allies,
08:59
battle the bad guys, activate the power-ups.
09:02
But even with a game so simple,
09:05
within just a couple days of starting to play,
09:07
that fog of depression and anxiety
09:09
went away. It just vanished. It felt like a miracle.
09:12
Now it wasn't a miracle cure for the headaches
09:16
or the cognitive symptoms.
09:18
That lasted for more than a year,
09:20
and it was the hardest year of my life by far.
09:21
But even when I still had the symptoms,
09:24
even while I was still in pain, I stopped suffering.
09:26
Now what happened next with the game surprised me.
09:31
I put up some blog posts and videos online,
09:34
explaining how to play.
09:36
But not everybody has a concussion, obviously,
09:38
not everyone wants to be "the slayer,"
09:40
so I renamed the game SuperBetter.
09:42
And soon I started hearing from people all over the world
09:45
who were adopting their own secret identity,
09:48
recruiting their own allies, and they were getting "super better"
09:50
facing challenges like cancer and chronic pain,
09:54
depression and Crohn's disease.
09:57
Even people were playing it for terminal diagnoses like ALS.
10:00
And I could tell from their messages and their videos
10:04
that the game was helping them in the same ways
10:08
that it helped me.
10:11
They talked about feeling stronger and braver.
10:12
They talked about feeling better understood by their friends and family.
10:14
And they even talked about feeling happier,
10:19
even though they were in pain, even though they were tackling
10:21
the toughest challenge of their lives.
10:25
Now at the time, I'm thinking to myself, what is going on here?
10:27
I mean, how could a game so trivial intervene so powerfully
10:31
in such serious, and in some cases life-and-death, circumstances?
10:36
I mean, if it hadn't worked for me,
10:40
there's no way I would have believed it was possible.
10:42
Well, it turns out there's some science here too.
10:44
Some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event.
10:46
And that's what was happening to us.
10:52
The game was helping us experience
10:54
what scientists call post-traumatic growth,
10:56
which is not something we usually hear about.
11:00
We usually hear about post-traumatic stress disorder.
11:01
But scientists now know that a traumatic event
11:05
doesn't doom us to suffer indefinitely.
11:08
Instead, we can use it as a springboard
11:10
to unleash our best qualities and lead happier lives.
11:13
Here are the top five things that people with
11:16
post-traumatic growth say:
11:19
My priorities have changed. I'm not afraid to do what makes me happy.
11:20
I feel closer to my friends and family.
11:25
I understand myself better. I know who I really am now.
11:28
I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life.
11:32
I'm better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
11:36
Now, does this sound familiar?
11:39
It should, because the top five traits of post-traumatic growth
11:41
are essentially the direct opposite of the top five regrets of the dying.
11:45
Now this is interesting, right?
11:51
It seems that somehow, a traumatic event can unlock our ability
11:53
to lead a life with fewer regrets.
11:57
But how does it work?
12:00
How do you get from trauma to growth?
12:01
Or better yet, is there a way to get all the benefits
12:03
of post-traumatic growth without the trauma,
12:06
without having to hit your head in the first place?
12:09
That would be good, right?
12:11
I wanted to understand the phenomenon better,
12:13
so I devoured the scientific literature, and here's what I learned.
12:15
There are four kinds of strength, or resilience,
12:18
that contribute to post-traumatic growth,
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and there are scientifically validated activities
12:24
that you can do every day to build up these four kinds of resilience,
12:27
and you don't need a trauma to do it.
12:31
Now, I could tell you what these four types of strength are,
12:33
but I'd rather you experience them firsthand.
12:36
I'd rather we all start building them up together right now.
12:38
So here's what we're going to do.
12:41
We're going to play a quick game together.
12:43
This is where you earn those seven and a half minutes
12:44
of bonus life that I promised you earlier.
12:47
All you have to do is successfully complete
12:49
the first four SuperBetter quests.
12:51
And I feel like you can do it. I have confidence in you.
12:54
So, everybody ready? This is your first quest. Here we go.
12:56
Pick one: Stand up and take three steps,
13:00
or make your hands into fists, raise them over your head
13:03
as high as you can for five seconds. Go!
13:06
All right, I like the people doing both. You are overachievers.
13:08
Very good. (Laughter)
13:12
Well done, everyone. Now that is worth plus-one
13:14
physical resilience, which means that your body can
13:16
withstand more stress and heal itself faster.
13:19
Now we know from the research that the number one thing
13:21
you can do to boost your physical resilience is to not sit still.
13:24
That's all it takes.
13:28
Every single second that you are not sitting still,
13:29
you are actively improving the health of your heart,
13:32
and your lungs and brains.
13:35
Everybody ready for your next quest?
13:36
I want you to snap your fingers exactly 50 times,
13:38
or count backwards from 100 by seven, like this: 100, 93 ...
13:41
Go!
13:45
(Snapping)
13:46
Don't give up.
13:49
(Snapping)
13:50
Don't let the people counting down from 100
13:53
interfere with your counting to 50.
13:55
(Laughter)
13:56
Nice. Wow. That's the first time I've ever seen that.
14:02
Bonus physical resilience. Well done, everyone.
14:05
Now that's worth plus-one mental resilience,
14:07
which means you have more mental focus, more discipline,
14:10
determination and willpower.
14:13
We know from the scientific research that willpower
14:15
actually works like a muscle.
14:17
It gets stronger the more you exercise it.
14:19
So tackling a tiny challenge without giving up,
14:21
even one as absurd as snapping your fingers exactly 50 times
14:25
or counting backwards from 100 by seven
14:28
is actually a scientifically validated way to boost your willpower.
14:30
So good job. Quest number three.
14:34
Pick one: Now because of the room we're in,
14:36
fate's really determined this for you, but here are the two options.
14:37
If you're inside, find a window and look out of it.
14:40
If you're outside, find a window and look in.
14:43
Or do a quick YouTube or Google image search for
14:45
"baby [your favorite animal.]"
14:48
Now, you could do this on your phones,
14:50
or you could just shout out some baby animals,
14:51
I'm going to find some and put them on the screen for us.
14:53
So, what do we want to see?
14:54
Sloth, giraffe, elephant, snake. Okay, let's see what we got.
14:55
Baby dolphin and baby llamas. Everybody look.
15:01
Got that?
15:06
Okay, one more. Baby elephant.
15:08
We're clapping for that?
15:12
That's amazing.
15:13
All right, now what we're just feeling there
15:15
is plus-one emotional resilience,
15:16
which means you have the ability to provoke powerful,
15:18
positive emotions like curiosity or love,
15:21
which we feel when we look at baby animals,
15:24
when you need them most.
15:25
And here's a secret from the scientific literature for you.
15:27
If you can manage to experience three positive emotions
15:29
for every one negative emotion over the course of an hour,
15:33
a day, a week, you dramatically improve
15:37
your health and your ability to successfully tackle
15:40
any problem you're facing.
15:43
And this is called the three-to-one positive emotion ratio.
15:44
It's my favorite SuperBetter trick, so keep it up.
15:47
All right, pick one, last quest:
15:50
Shake someone's hand for six seconds,
15:52
or send someone a quick thank you
15:54
by text, email, Facebook or Twitter. Go!
15:56
(Chatting)
15:58
Looking good, looking good.
16:03
Nice, nice.
16:05
Keep it up. I love it!
16:08
All right, everybody, that is plus-one social resilience,
16:11
which means you actually get more strength from your friends,
16:15
your neighbors, your family, your community.
16:18
Now, a great way to boost social resilience is gratitude.
16:20
Touch is even better.
16:23
Here's one more secret for you:
16:25
Shaking someone's hand for six seconds
16:26
dramatically raises the level of oxytocin in your bloodstream,
16:28
now that's the trust hormone.
16:32
That means that all of you who just shook hands
16:33
are biochemically primed to like and want to help each other.
16:35
This will linger during the break,
16:39
so take advantage of the networking opportunities.
16:42
(Laughter)
16:44
Okay, well you have successfully completed your four quests,
16:45
so let's see if I've successfully completed my mission
16:48
to give you seven and a half minutes of bonus life.
16:50
And here's where I get to share one more little bit of science with you.
16:53
It turns out that people who regularly
16:55
boost these four types of resilience --
16:58
physical, mental, emotional and social --
16:59
live 10 years longer than everyone else.
17:02
So this is true.
17:05
If you are regularly achieving the three-to-one
17:06
positive emotion ratio,
17:08
if you are never sitting still for more than an hour at a time,
17:10
if you are reaching out to one person you care about every single day,
17:12
if you are tackling tiny goals to boost your willpower,
17:17
you will live 10 years longer than everyone else,
17:21
and here's where that math I showed you earlier comes in.
17:23
So, the average life expectancy in the U.S. and the U.K. is 78.1 years,
17:26
but we know from more than 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies
17:30
that you can add 10 years of life to that by boosting
17:33
your four types of resilience.
17:35
So every single year that you are
17:36
boosting your four types of resilience,
17:38
you're actually earning .128 more years of life
17:40
or 46 more days of life, or 67,298 more minutes of life,
17:42
which means every single day, you are earning 184 minutes of life,
17:47
or every single hour that you are boosting your four types of resilience,
17:51
like we just did together, you are earning 7.68245837
17:54
more minutes of life.
17:58
Congratulations, those seven and a half minutes
17:59
are all yours. You totally earned them.
18:01
(Applause)
18:03
Yeah! Awesome.
18:04
Wait, wait, wait.
18:08
You still have your special mission,
18:11
your secret mission.
18:13
How are you going to spend these seven and a half
18:14
minutes of bonus life?
18:15
Well, here's my suggestion.
18:17
These seven and a half bonus minutes are kind of like genie's wishes.
18:18
You can use your first wish to wish for a million more wishes.
18:22
Pretty clever, right?
18:26
So, if you spend these seven and a half minutes today
18:27
doing something that makes you happy,
18:30
or that gets you physically active,
18:33
or puts you in touch with someone you care about,
18:35
or even just tackling a tiny challenge,
18:38
you are going to boost your resilience,
18:40
so you're going to earn more minutes.
18:42
And the good news is, you can keep going like that.
18:44
Every hour of the day, every day of your life,
18:46
all the way to your deathbed,
18:49
which will now be 10 years later than it would have otherwise.
18:51
And when you get there, more than likely,
18:53
you will not have any of those top five regrets,
18:56
because you will have built up the strength and resilience
19:00
to lead a life truer to your dreams.
19:03
And with 10 extra years, you might even have enough time
19:06
to play a few more games.
19:10
Thank you.
19:12
(Applause)
19:13
Translator:Morton Bast
Reviewer:Thu-Huong Ha

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Jane McGonigal - Game Designer
Reality is broken, says Jane McGonigal, and we need to make it work more like a game. Her work shows us how.

Why you should listen

Jane McGonigal asks: Why doesn't the real world work more like an online game? In the best-designed games, our human experience is optimized: We have important work to do, we're surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment. In her work as a game designer, she creates games that use mobile and digital technologies to turn everyday spaces into playing fields, and everyday people into teammates. Her game-world insights can explain--and improve--the way we learn, work, solve problems, and lead our real lives. She served as the director of game R&D at the Institute for the Future, and she is the founder of Gameful, which she describes as "a secret headquarters for worldchanging game developers."

Several years ago she suffered a serious concussion, and she created a multiplayer game to get through it, opening it up to anyone to play. In “Superbetter,” players set a goal (health or wellness) and invite others to play with them--and to keep them on track. While most games, and most videogames, have traditionally been about winning, we are now seeing increasing collaboration and games played together to solve problems.

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