Legacy Blog

Considerations about SuperBetter and the limits of gamification

Jane McGonigal‘s speeches are fascinating and she is an amazing talent. I recommend watching this talk in which she explains SuperBetter, a project she’s working on and whose genesis is also described in the book Reality is Broken.

SuperBetter helps you achieve your health goals — or recover from an illness or injury — by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.

In other words, if – for example – you want to lose weight, you can download the iPhone app and start playing the missions accumulating points and awards that represent your progress strengthening four areas (physical, mental, emotional and social) that increase your resilience. SuperBetter is not the only site that applies game mechanics to encourage good behavior. DailyFeats, for example, invites users to take actions that benefit themselves or others. RecycleBank rewards responsible behavior toward the environment.

The mechanism is more or less always the same: after completing a certain mission, you can write down the result and then get points, badges and other awards. These awards should be motivating. Instead, in my opinion, they are not at all. Even though I used SuperBetter very little, my impression is that it lacks something fundamental: it does not provide support to create a rewarding experience that is worth note and remember.

Here’s an example: I set a goal to lose weight. The service has a number of things I can do to pursue my goal. Among these are power-ups, «something quick and easy you can do to feel better or get stronger. Whenever you need a burst of positive emotion or energy, to activate power-ups»:

So, if I eat only when I’m hungry and stop eating when I’m not hungry, I can record this activity. Honestly, I feel it is weak: it traces the behavior in a standardized manner and forget about the underlying experience. The feedback systems in videogames are generally much more rewarding and crystallize the experience just made ​​to help make it memorable. How can we replicate this mechanism?

I like to eat well, I have many cookbooks and I love to cook for me and my friends. For me, to gamify a diet could mean turning it into a gourmet competition where the goal is to cook meals to lose weight that are good, funny, special. A very simple game mechanism could begin with an inventory of recipes, which then must be prepared, photographed and shared (like foodspotting). In this way, the attention shifts from food deprivation to the preparation of healthy and quality food. This is a short-term experience worth to be remembered and socialized and it will lead to a more rewarding experience: losing weight.

I do not know if it could work, but it seems more fun than write an action in a standardized manner by failing to recall the experience.