superbetter me! the setup

November 23, 2011

in reviews: products, services, books

i’ve been eagerly awaiting the chance to test superbetter, the health game from jane mcgonigal, today’s “it” health gamer who’s spoken at TED and written about how games will change our reality, and is now here with a game that’s going to make us all heroes of our own health.

i received the code to beta-test superbetter about a month ago, but i wanted to wait until i could devote the time to capturing the experience and my reactions. that time’s now.

superbetter me!

i signed on last night, and my first reaction was: wow. different language and look than most wellness portals. you notice it right off. the rainbow colors. the sparse design. the invitation to “unleash your heroic potential.” heroic potential? i’m in.

and in i am. the next page advises me, “the adventure begins.” i’m excited! this is fun. the language is empowering and mysterious, all of the things that entice, excite and stimulate us. this isn’t my gramma’s health portal.

i click “health goal” because i’m not recovering from an injury or living with an illness. my health goal’s innocuous enough: get fit. once i select my goal, i’m launched ever deeper into the game experience.

again, note the language: “build your secret HQ.” “7 epic missions.” “i’m ready for my first mission.” i have that giddy feeling a kid does after getting an ample supply of spy gear for the holidays (yes, i know what i’m talking about). i enter my secret headquarters to start my seven epic missions.

mission #1: identify your epic win

about now i experience my second reaction: whoa. i feel overwhelmed. an epic win. i have no idea. i decide to consult the hints, but i’m still unsure. eventually i go with the decidedly tame: attend lithe class once/week (lithe method is an organized aerobics meets cheerleading meets jane fonda meets S&M class. great workout, though). i’m feeling pretty sure i failed my first mission. i’m by no means alone, i discovered later. when i consulted superbetter’s forums, i found others asking for help identifying their epic win or wondering what others had chosen.

mission #2: create my secret identity

this one’s super easy. i become diana rigg’s emma peel. there is no other funky-diva-ass-kicking-superhero greater than she, IMHO. next!

mission #3: bad guys

bad guys? this time i consult the forum groups and really get thrown for a loop. here’s one guy’s bad guys.

i have performance anxiety reading these creative bad guys’ names

i determine that my bad guy is none other than lack of follow-through. i didn’t add “monster” or “itis” or anything to it. my jazzy energy is waning, so when i get to mission #4: identify your power ups! i decide it’s time to power down. i’ll save the remaining three missions for another day.


right now i’m feeling i stacked up poorly against the process and the creativity of others. NPR’s media producer also blogged about his experience, and i noted he didn’t take the naming of bad guys as the creativity challenge i did. he answered his missions straight up. i get that superbetter’s language is meant to fuel our feelings of personal power, and it did. at first. eventually, the language zapped my heroic potential as i clumsily worked through the setup.

completing my seven missions is the key to getting started with superbetter, so it’ll be onward ho! for me in the next post. i’m curious to see how my missions fold into my overall experience with superbetter and my individual game too.


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicholas Tolson November 23, 2011 at 9:55 am

Ugh. Sounds awful, frankly. Looks great, though! To put it into product terms, it sounds like the superbetter team focused too much on user interface and not enough on user experience.

Everyone knows that you must make games easy to succeed at – and FUN – right off the bat and you ease people into advanced content, features, set up, etc (and weave such things into the actual game experience). I’m not sure I would have even gotten as far as you did, Fran. Moreover, it sounds like this left you with a feeling precisely opposite of “superbetter.” I can’t imagine a worse scenario for such a game.

Which brings up the point, where’s the game in this? The language is “super fun” (note the sarcasm), but it seems like it is trying too hard to compensate for the fact that the actual experience is not really all that fun at all.

This underscores a notion I’ve had for a long time that wellness purveyors – of all kinds – need to understand that the general population is not as into all this stuff as we are. So, in order to get people involved, you must lower the barrier of entry as much as possible – and likely keep it pretty low to encourage ongoing participation.

I’m looking forward to seeing this for myself, though. Maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds.


fran November 23, 2011 at 10:20 am

i wouldn’t say it was awful at all. i got hung up in a few places and definitely would’ve preferred to complete missions as i moved along–maybe as i found myself dealing with my bad guy, for example. then the missions would’ve been integrated with my real-life mission: to get to lithe class and get fit.

i’ve also been thinking about how the employer can best serve all types of people with their choice of product and services. many of these services are too expensive to offer more than one, which begs the question whether employers will stick with the mainstream vs. innovative solutions to comfortably sit in the middle.



Nicholas Tolson November 23, 2011 at 11:06 am

Sounded awful to me, though. 🙂


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