When game designer Jane McGonigal found herself bedridden and suicidal with a major brain injury following a severe concussion, she devised a computer game to heal herself.
The game is designed to boost resilience, as recounted in the TED talk below.
Doctors told her to rest in order to heal her brain. It meant no reading, no writing, no video games, no work or email, no running, no alcohol, no caffeine.
It felt as if she had no reason to live.
“Suicidal ideation is quite common with traumatic brain injuries. It happens to one in three, and it happened to me. My brain started telling me, “Jane, you want to die.” It said, “You’re never going to get better.” It said, “The pain will never end.”
After 34 days she decided to turn her experience into a game. “I knew from researching the psychology of games for more than a decade that when we play a game — and this is in the scientific literature — we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help. I wanted to bring these gamer traits to my real-life challenge, so I created a role-playing recovery game called Jane the Concussion Slayer.”
The game was simple: Adopt a secret identity, recruit your allies, battle the bad guys, activate the power-ups.
“But even with a game so simple, within just a couple days of starting to play, that fog of depression and anxiety went away. It just vanished. It felt like a miracle.” The headaches and the cognitive symptoms were still there and lasted for more than a year. “But even when I still had the symptoms, even while I was still in pain, I stopped suffering.”
Jane put up some blog posts and videos online, explaining how to play. She changed some details to make the game more generic and not just about concussion.
Soon she started to hear from people all over the world who were playing the game and reporting how it was helping them get better.
Was this for real? What was happening to all of them? Jane investigated and found some science that suggests that some people get stronger and happier after a traumatic event. And that’s what was happening to all of them.
They were experiencing what scientists call post-traumatic growth – when the aftermath of a traumatic event becomes a positive start for something new and life-enhancing.
Researchers report that people with post-traumatic growth say these five things:
- My priorities have changed.
- I’m not afraid to do what makes me happy.
- I feel closer to my friends and family.
- I understand myself better. I know who I really am now.
- I have a new sense of meaning and purpose in my life.
- I’m better able to focus on my goals and dreams.
To find out how people get from trauma to growth and whether Jane kept her promise of adding extra minutes to the audience’s lives, watch Jane’s TED Talk below.