Keith Wakeman, co-founder and CEO
Leveraging personal experience and the mechanics of game design
A platform that helps people think of real-world challenges like bad guys and successes like epic wins
A platform that helps people think of real-world challenges like bad guys and successes like epic wins SuperBetter is trying to be more than a game or app, but a way of living, by helping its users reframe how they think about the good and bad in their real lives.
The game was created by Jane McGonigal, an author and game designer who suffered from severe depression and at one point became suicidal after experiencing a concussion that didn’t heal properly. For her, SuperBetter really could have a life-or-death impact.
As a passionate advocate for the positive impact of video games — she wrote a book called Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World — she tried to translate her personal demons into digital demons, which she could then take on like she would a bad guy in one of her favourite games.
Keith Wakeman, SuperBetter’s CEO, immediately understood the impact the platform could have for both individuals and organizations. The way he speaks shows it’s had an enormous impact on his own mindset — he describes personal successes as “epic wins.”
Wakeman says his experience with mental illness was nothing like McGonigal’s, but it was enough to help him understand the need for something like SuperBetter.
“Growing up and living in America, I’d feel stressed a lot,” he said. “I’d feel anxious.”
It helped that its positive impact was backed by two published academic studies. It also helped that Wakeman, a longtime consultant and innovation expert, had spent much of the previous five years helping companies such as Kellogg, Keebler, and Nabisco launch new products, including dozens of cookie brands.
“Intellectually, it was great, but in terms of making the world a better place … the world doesn’t need another new cookie,” he said.
His company bought SuperBetter — which consists of a web version of the game, an app, an enterprise version, and a book written by McGonigal — and has since expanded it into a platform aimed at dramatically improving people’s personal and professional lives.
Users input their real challenges in life as “quests,” which can vary from delivering a presentation to running a marathon, with their completion of those quests being “epic wins.”
SuperBetter’s method for self-improvement is aimed at building mental, emotional, social, and physical resilience. Users input their real challenges in life as “quests,” which can vary from delivering a presentation to running a marathon, with their completion of those quests being “epic wins.” To help them reach epic wins, they’re encouraged to add their “allies” — friends, family, co-workers, and strangers and mentors from the SuperBetter network — so they can easily elicit help and/or encouragement. Along the way, they can use “power-ups” that range from “Chug a glass of water” to “Listen to Eye of the Tiger” to “Practice mindfulness.” All of these are steps to take against the “Bad guys” (for example, “The anxiety vampire”) to help users overcome their real-life challenges.
It may seem juvenile or simplistic, and the interface itself isn’t particularly elegant, but the structure is thoughtful and effective. More importantly, it has worked, and continues to work, for hundreds of thousands of people. More than 700,000 people all over the world are registered for the free version, and many more are using the enterprise version, SuperBetter at Work. Wakeman says the next market is in education, helping students build resilience at an early age.
“We have a history teacher in Austin who teaches 150 eighth-grade students to use the SuperBetter method. Students will do things like practise the challenge mindset, which is, every time you have an obstacle or a challenge, you can take on a ‘fear mindset’ or a ‘challenge mindset.’ The challenge mindset helps people, students in this case, to be more optimistic, more excited for tests.”
To find out more about SuperBetter, visit superbetter.com