Jane McGonigal: How Video Games Can Change Your Life

Jane McGonigal

The Siggraph keynote speaker developed an app, SuperBetter, that helped her recover from a concussion.

This story first appeared in the August 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Confine to bed in 2009 for a concussion she suffered after accidentally slamming her head against an open cabinet door, Jane McGonigal, the visionary game developer, did what she does best: She treated her recuperation as a veritable role-playing game that she called Jane: The Concussion Slayer.

PHOTOS: Film and TV Actors Who've Starred in Video Games

It involved battling a traditional game's "bad guys" (in this case, that meant avoiding bright light, which was slowing the healing process) and activating "power ups" (steps toward recovery, like taking a short walk). The experience led her to launch the new app, SuperBetter (available free at Apple's App Store) to help users recover from illness or injury -- or to simply lead a healthier life -- through mental and physical tasks.

McGonigal, who is director of game research and development at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., is a big believer that games can be used to solve real-world problems. "Gaming can make us more optimistic, less likely to give up in the face of failure," she says.

STORY: E3 Video Game Expo to Remain in L.A. Through 2015

While research has begun to study the way games are changing the way players think and act -- McGonigal likens it to "transferring 'superpowers' in a way" -- she argues that scientists now need to show game developers how games can have positive results. If scientists and developers can join forces, she's convinced, there are "positive benefits" to be had.