Friday, 16 March 2012

SXSW #1: Becoming SuperBetter

I guess that's the overall theme of SXSW, isn't it: how do we all become a bit (or a lot) better through our gaining of knowledge; our making of new and vibrant connections; and our contributions through the brands we work on to make everyday life a bit better.

So I was intrigued to attend Jane McGonigal's 'Crash Course on becoming SuperBetter'. I have seen her TED talks, read much of her work yet still wasn't quite prepared for what a truly inspirational speaker she is. Young, attractive, energetic and above all having come back from a life-threatening accident/illness, totally irrepressible. She started the talk with her mission: 'To increase the lifespan of everyone in this room by 7.5 minutes'. OK then, she has everyone's attention!

Her argument is as follows.

People are criticising the games industry and gamers of sucking the life blood out of real world participation and as a result we're becoming a population of dumb-ass gaming droids who put mindless entertainment before meaning.

BUT her research and that of others shows that of all the biggest regrets in life that people have, actually games and gaming can alleviate and potentially address them all.

We learn that the top deathbed regrets include wishing we had worked less hard (tick); had seen more of our friends (tick); let ourselves be happier (tick); had the courage to express our true selves (tick); and lived a life true to our dreams not what others expected of us (tick tick tick)... Again she has us all. There's a weird chill of connectedness that's descended on the audience. It has made 1000 individuals in the room feel like one universal being.

Jane presses on channeling research stat after research stat proving that game-related activities actually make us better. For example: Stanford Uni have research that proves that your avatar can make you more confident and determined in real life; having just two people you can express yourself to is more important for long term health than watching what you ingest; experiencing three positive experiences for every one negative emotion keeps hope alive - if you can find three tiny things a day that make you feel good - you'll be emotionally happier.

She invited her audience to carry out four tasks that would build up our physical, emotional, mental and social resilience. And you can do them yourself right now if you download the SuperBetter app or visit And her point was that in the time it took to carry these playful activities out, we have actually improved our resilience - that 90 seconds has given us 24 hours of better resilience. And she had; she had given us a 'Futureboost'.

But the bigger point she is making is that there is going to be an exponential growth in gaming-type learning and self-improvement, enabled through digital, interactivity and social. Her premise is that we are going to go far beyond pursuing happiness - we want to progress and achieve - and improve. "It is not the pursuit of happiness but the happiness of pursuit". Boom.

Her rock solid belief in the fact that gaming can encourage better human behaviour in us is clear. Gaming makes us Courageous (helping us determine who might be enemies and how to seek out allies). Games give us Agency, the confidence that the actions we take will have an effect in the world. And Games help us value time, and we commit time and energy to the things that are important to us. She makes the point that the definition of 'virtual' is not about un-real but is about capacity, the about-to-ness, or Possibility of something to become a reality....

And gaming trains us into possibility - the possibility to problem solve; to find allies and fight enemies; and overcome challenges. They give us skills in the virtual world that positively enhance us in the real world. She is almost religious in her credo that a life of play is a life that is SuperBetter in every way. And you'll find it's pretty difficult to argue she is wrong. But more importantly, why would you want to?

Of course I have to point out that if we weren't having to stop every 30 minutes to recharge our phones, that there was actually some network coverage from AT&T or T-Mobile deep inside the concrete convention centre, and the registration queue could take less than the obligatory 2 hours, that wouldn't even be SuperBetter, it would just be a bit better. Which is more than enough better for me.

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