A head injury changed Jane McGonigal's life. It also changed the way she thought about video games. When a concussion left her depressed and unable to work, she gamified her recovery process, treating each recovery goal like a challenge that she had to achieve.
Since then, McGonigal has authored two books, Reality is Broken and Superbetter, and earned a PhD studying the ways that games can change the way people think, for the better. She also designed Superbetter, the game, which is meant to help people achieve their goals. And on top of all that, she's Director of Game Research at the Institute for the Future.
McGonigal wants to prove to you that the science of games can make you happier, and that approaching your day-to-day tasks like a game will make you more productive.
Games help you recharge by expending energy.
McGonigal doesn't believe in taking breaks from stressful activities. Instead, she works on a principal informed by scientific research that shows that we feel more energetic when we expend energy or do something challenging. So if you want a mid-day energy boost, McGonigal suggests playing a game that is challenging for you. And the more challenging it is, the more energizing it will be. "The reason," she says, "is that a challenging game, or any challenging activity that you choose for yourself, amps up the dopamine available in the reward pathways of your brain, which increases your motivation and willpower."
Games teach you how to be a leader and achieve goals.
Some of the key elements of playing games are exactly the kinds of things that you need to do to succeed as a leader. The goals you pursue and the skills you develop when you play games, including "recruiting allies, focusing on strengths--using power-ups to get stronger, confronting the bad guys rather than hiding from them," help you develop what McGonigal calls a "gameful mindset."
The skills you develop when you have a gameful mindset? They're the kind of skills that can help you lead. As a leader, you need to recruit allies and build and lead teams. You need to know where to find the resources that will make your team stronger. You need to confront problems head on. Just like you do in a game.
You can use a game to prime your brain.
That rush that you get when you're playing a game and you beat a level? You're feeling the dopamine level in your brain increase--that's what gives you the feeling of reward when you get something done. It's the feeling that makes you want to keep playing the next level. McGonigal says that you should harness that feeling, though, and apply it to something challenging in your life. "Dopamine is one of the strongest drivers of the work ethic," she says. "Once I get that dopamine hit, I need to go do something in my everyday life that is challenging, instead of playing the next level. You are priming your brain to do great things, but you need to step away from the game if you're going to get that benefit."