Last week I wrote about Dr. Angela Duckworth's book "Grit" - and completely forgot to pose the question to you that I've posed to a few friends, namely: "What would it mean for Christians to be "gritty" about their faith. I'm still pondering that question.
SuperBetter by Dr. Jane McGonigal - a video game designer and senior researcher at the Institute for the Future has made a career of harnessing the power of "gamefulness" and the way gamers love spending in the game world - and using their collective efforts to find solutions to some of the worlds largest problems. She points out that gamers in believe that a solution exists - that whatever the problem is that's presented to them - it is within their capability to solve it. Therefore - they are always on the verge of an epic win - which according to McGonigal's research - is a pretty amazing feeling - one that once people have experienced it - they want to go back to it and experience it again, and again.
This was all rosey until McGonigal suffered a concussion - one severe enough to leave her doubting her ability to ever return to research, gaming or even any meaningful contribution to life. So - she chose to make a game out of recovery. Not in that she glibly diminished the importance of her recovery and made light of it. Quite the opposite. She saw the whole mind-set of playing a game as exactly the ideal way to focus on recovery without getting bogged down in the morass of the numerous and real fears that went along with a profound need to heal ... what if she couldn't recover? what if recovery came - but only too slowly to be any real good now? - what if she lost who she was along the way? She decided to fight her fears and the limits of her injury by becoming "Jane the Concussion Slayer" - and designed a recovery game for herself.
Turning recovery into a game allowed her to apply the mindsets of curiosity, challenge and purposeful play and all the flow-states that go along with those mindsets essentially 100% towards healing. When she was sickest she played predictive games about when which neighbors would walk which pets outside her window. Then she made a game of how many people she could make smile. She baked cookies for her favorite baristas. Slowly - the "wins" to the various challenges that she and her team of allies (husband, sister, etc.) picked for her began to work a "magic" of their own - and McGonigal learned something important: That laughter isn't the only best medicine - but play, encouragement, and fun are potently and powerfully healing medicines themselves. Why not harness the healing boost of these too?
What happened next was that McGonigal and her team of allies - as well as her team of medical professionals overseeing her recovery started to take note of her now rapid improvement. McGonigal took note too - and opened up the game, which she now re-named SuperBetter to other people battling their own challenges. Soon there were new moms fighting post-partem depression, patients suffering from ALS, as well as individuals fighting chronic illness, cancer, anxiety, and more. McGonigal realized that even people not suffering from an immediate illness - but rather wanting to become more skillful at their chosen goal could benefit. So now investers joined in, as did those hoping to find their future spouse, and people who wanted to become more proficient public speakers, or more effective graphic designers ... it seemed that everyone benefit from playing SuperBetter.
One of the earlier SuperBetter players who really impressed me was Philip Jeffery who was a photographer who was playing SuperBetter to get better at battling cancer. When Jeffery started the game - he'd largely withdrawn - especially after his cancer drugs had damaged his eye-sight and he'd given up on being able to do serious photography again. After starting the game he made one of his quests working out - because working out could have a profound impact on his quality of life - and to reconnect to his love of photography - he began posting selfies of himself as he worked through SuperBetter. He still had cancer - but he'd reconnected to his passion, his community of supportive friends, and was using these two to keep himself focused on the best possible self-care. He credited SuperBetter with helping him defy the odds of his diagnosis and eventually go into remission through a rigorous experimental treatment. You can watch Philip Jeffery's SuperBetter video here.
Eventually SuperBetter became an app available on numerous platforms - allowing players to identify the thing they want to get SuperBetter at - and picking a secret identity, identifying their bad-guys that they have to battle - powering up through out the day, going on quests and more. You can even play SuperBetter on your phone with your allies and really harness all the best of social media to accomplish hard goals. The game is highly customizeable and easily tailored to no end of goals. There are on-line (off-game) forums which seem to have quite an amazing community still - even years after it first launched.
Some people at this point might register their concerns about the power of games over addictive types to leave them preferring to live in the game world (ie: call to mind your favorite World of Warcraft meme) - but McGonigal is clear - withdrawing into the game world to escape the real world is not what this book is about - rather - this book is about using all the benefits and advantage of games and the game world to conquer problems that might other wise never get tackled head-on with the degree of consistency and diligence necessary to rise above those challenges and problems once and for all - or at least - until the necessary habits are formed - freeing the player up to look forward to a more skillful and enjoyable level of competence in the face of their challenges. McGonigal's book is packed with info and ideas - and I spent more time reading it than I might usually - to make sure that I really do get the concepts. I've also downloaded the game and am playing it on my phone with my own goal that I want to become SuperBetter at. I am convinced this point that if you put the time and thought into what you want to achieve and what gets in the way - and use the game as a playful way to nudge yourself towards your goal - the game is a very effective strategy and platform from which you can recruit your own team of real-world allies to help you as you power up and quest your way towards mastery.
If you'd like to watch McGonigal's TED talk on SuperBetter - you can do so below. You can also watch McGonigal's previous TED talk here.
So - if you or someone you know seems stuck at how to address a particular problem or challenge and might enjoy approaching that challenge with a mindset other than the tired and worn out "should" and "must" and obligatory "really ought to" - I whole-heartedly recommend you give SuperBetter a look for yourself.
Well - after reading SuperBetter I'm wondering: What could being "gameful" in our faith bring to the Kingdom? What if instead of bemoaning that God was "leading us through a desert" or commiserating about how hard it is to read through certain old-testament books (or the whole Bible), or wise-cracking about what a burden it is to bear this or that cross ... what if instead of all that kind of talk - which I have thoroughly and happily engaged in - despite the fact that it never feels quite as good to speak about these things in this way as advertised ... what if instead of all that - instead we talked about "questing" - or leveling up, or building expertise - or whatever.
Someone might be tempted to cry "Semantics!" To that I would say that it is by semantics that defendants go free - or not. And - we are far far better at hearing with our subconscious the nuances of our words than our conscious selves wants to admit to.
I mean - who doesn't love adventure - we like to road-trip and spontaneously check out a new place - or borrow some music from a friend and gain all the benefits of trying out some new music. Humans are incredible novelty seekers. We love play - according to Google - about 8,000 sports and about twice as many board-games. We love to learn new skills and we love to play at learning them. What if we brought more of that sense of adventure, longing for mastery and accomplishment and novelty-seeking curiosity to our faith - and to the skills that grow our faith. Is it sacrilegious to approach spiritual disciplines with the attitude of a game-player? How do we know that this isn't precisely what Jesus had in mind on those occasions when He invited the disciples to go for a boat ride on their nearby lake - just because. I can tell you - I love the idea of taking more shoulds out of how we think about our walks with God - and adding in this idea of quests - they're supposed to be challenging - and growing with God is challenging too. Maybe we'd grow more and feel discouraged less - if we had fellow-questers to remind us that sometimes a dragon is only slain after many battles.