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Superbetter & Cow Clicker: Games for Recovering From Injury or Just Getting Addicted to a Parody of Addictive Games

roadskater's picture

Great weather outside in roadskaterworldplanet, if a bit gray/grey. We have had some really warm days of late, but I've only skated once as I am in that proverbial "off season," ha.

It's been good in some ways to take a break from always feeling I need to go to the park and skate, and not so great in others, of course. It helps confirm what I so often say, along with so many others, that exercise helps with life, not the least of which are eating well, sleeping well, and lots more. 

Meanwhile, as i delay going to skate today for the regular Tuesday attempt, here is something from one of my favorite radio programs (On the Media) that i can only hear by podcast now (afaik): an interesting idea for an online (somewhat social) game...to use for recovery from, for example, a bicycle injury, or other challenge. for this reporter it seemed to be a way to get out of a rut, so to speak. 

"Stuff like not socializing, staying up super late and not really getting anything done." Ha! Who would do that?

Maybe every skater or cyclist you ever knew? Maybe half of them? The other half perhaps not able to sleep, getting up early? Anyway...

These links include intro, audio, and transcript...

  • http://www.onthemedia.org/2011/nov/18/six-weeks-superbetter/
  • http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/audio.wnyc.org/otm/otm111811g.mp3
  • http://www.onthemedia.org/2011/nov/18/six-weeks-superbetter/transcript/

"In September, we spoke to game designer Jane McGonigal about her game Superbetter, which was designed to help players recover from injury and illness. On the Media producer Alex Goldman, who was hit by a car in May, played the game for the last six weeks and blogged about his experiences on our website. Brooke talks to Alex and Jane about how they played the game."

As noted in the audio, there's a code anyone can use to play... sochofriend


ALSO if you have not heard of the parody game, cow clicker, it's pretty funny how creating something intentionally bad can lead to a hit... in the hands of a talented artist, at least. 

Especially funny was the description of his NON-HIT game that is more "normal" from the developer, who made a game about a slow year: "The winter game, the sun is rising, it's dawn and you've got a cup of coffee, which is slowly getting cold. And you want to kind of time your enjoyment of the cup of coffee with the amount of time that it's gonna take the sun to rise. It’s a first-person drinking game for the Atari."

  • http://www.onthemedia.org/2011/nov/18/cow-clicker/
  • http://www.podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/audio.wnyc.org/otm/otm111811h.mp3
  • http://www.onthemedia.org/2011/nov/18/cow-clicker/transcript/

It's worth reading the transcript, I think, but here are a few quotations from Ian Bogost, the designer:

* * *

After a while I realized they're doing exactly what concerned me about these games. They're, you know, becoming compulsively attached to it. There was one point when I realized that I was now attached to in a compulsive way. I as worrying about what the cow clickers thought while I was away from the game. And that was the moment at which I both felt kind of empathy with the players, and also I began to feel very disturbed by the product.

* * *

I wanted the players to feel like they were accelerating their own demise by playing and, and then be tempted to, to maybe purchase their way out of it. And several people, like, extended the clock at the very last minute a few times.

* * *

All of the cows were whisked away. And all that was left were the little shadows where they had been standing. But the game continued to run. And, in fact, the game continues to run to this day. And there are still people clicking on the spot where a cow used to be.



timv's picture


I was confused when I read about a game to play for recovering from an injury. Then I followed the transcript link, where it said that Superbetter was designed to help with "recovery from a traumatic brain injury," which made more sense to me. But then they introduced the show's producer, who had a bad bike accident and used the program and they didn't mention a brain injury as one of his problems. So I'm unclear about it again.

It sounds like a good name for some kind of a gambling game to me, actually.

As for the Cow Clicker story, it made me sad. I don't know if it was supposed to or if it was supposed to be amusing, but it did.

It brought to mind Kurt Vonnegut's first paragraph in Mother Night:

This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don't think it's a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

And I'm still trying to figure "first-person drinking game for the Atari." I did some Google searches, which didn't help a whole lot, but I saw where one guy on a vintage Atari gaming forum stated that Atari VCS games are all drinking games. And I'll buy that.

roadskater's picture

On the Confusion; Coffee Drinking Game

Hey timv and thanks for the reply. Yep I agree that the piece left out a lot and I did not go play Superbetter (and yes Superbettor is what came to my mind too), but what I got out of it was that it might be useful for all sorts of people who are caught in a loop of some sort. It seems to rely on these people still having friends and family who care and also on having some personal courage, so that leaves a lot of people out, but OK. It seemed like it involved some personal and external assessments and some encouragement, honesty and follow-up. That's where it started to sound like something that might help with addictive behaviors too. I put it out there in case anyone might come across it and find it interesting. 

Of course, the biggest problem with any game that is designed with a purpose is that it probably misses all the people who like to play games to get away from that particular purpose. Plenty of people enjoy learning from television, but at least as many seem to want television to give them a flashy thing to look at and hear noises from. In the same way, games offer another world for many, especially many who want to avoid this one. 

Having said all of that, it was interesting to hear about Superbetter and if I get time I may go see what else I can find out about it. If it helps a few people, that is great. 

My take on the Cow Clicker was mostly positive I guess, not so much sad. I thought it was great that someone made something as a piece of art, as a statement, and as a mindless diversion, and that it was noticed, accepted on several different levels, that he made money off of it and perhaps even helped others with it, and then brought it to an end. I thought it was funny that using it brought it's doom closer but that you could pay him to keep the mindless addiction available too. Mostly I was struck that he made something and put it out there. 

Of course, a key element to his being able to get traction was that he had made other games perhaps of note, AND that he knew people in the game magazine industry that helped proliferate the message of its existence. 

I thought it was funny he called it a drinking game, when it was a cup of coffee he was trying enjoy in the game, and that he threw in the word, Atari, to bring the sentence to a different context in the last word.

Two things I've heard about comedy...comedy is misdirection and comedy is repetition. I'd take that as the first one. Of course the x is y and x is z part of that is sometimes untrue. 

Anyway, I didn't know if he was being serious about it being for retro Atari machines or for emulators, or if he was just trying for pithiness, so I wore my pith helmet today when drinking coffee, with all due respect to Woody, dahling. 

Which brings me to those two episodes of American Experience: Woody Allen that played this week. Good stuff and pretty much ignored the tacky personal stuff that would have been no huge surprise to anyone who had seriously watched his movies anyway. They are much about human confusion, indecision, inconstancy, &c. I'm glad they spent the time reminding me of the writing, television appearances and movies. The scandalous stuff is always easy to find on the injurenet. 

Turns out pith was in "Bananas" when "it had great pith" and in 'Manhattan" when Isaac calls Mary "pithy but degenerate." Not sure if there were more. At one point I was really wishing I had all the scripts at hand to do some cross-referencing! 

One of the best ones is from Max (Woody's dad's real name was Max, and several times it's used for names in Woody's movies) who admits he probably doesn't know all of life's answers, since he doesn't even know how the can opener works. Seriously. Refreshing to hear someone say they don't know it all. 

timv's picture


OK, the website says:

SuperBetter is a game that helps you recover from any illness or injury -- or achieve any health goal — by increasing your personal resilience. Resilience means staying curious, optimistic and motivated even in the face of the toughest challenges.

SuperBetter creates a private, online space where your closest friends and family become allies in your adventure toward health and wellness. The game is played in two parts: First, a set of 7 guided missions that create the foundation for your journey. Then, an open-ended, self-guided adventure that you play with your family and friends in the real world-not a virtual environment-in an effort to achieve your health goals.

I basically get that. But I think I'd rather go with the old-fashioned way of recovering from a injury: teaming up with Grace Kelly to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a creepy neighbor's wife, like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.

It puts me off a bit that there are a lot of mentions on the site of it being based on cutting-edge science, but none of the expected references to scholarly researchers or journal articles to back up that claim. And I wonder if having to identify oneself as "ill" or "injured" (even if not a strict requirement) might deter a lot of people from playing the game, even though we could all do better.

Back to Cow Clicker... Says Wikipedia:

Ian Bogost is a video game designer, critic and researcher. He is a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a founding partner at Persuasive Games. His research and writing consider video games as an expressive medium, and his creative practice focuses on games about social and political issues, including airport security, consumer debt, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands, pandemic flu and tort reform.

He is the author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism and Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames as well as the co-author of Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System and Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Bogost also recently released Cow Clicker, a satire and critique of the influx of social network games.

So he actually is a for-real scholar, and it turns out that the Atari VCS thing was on the level. (It also mentions that he has a child--a daughter, I presume--named "Flannery"; after Flannery O'Connor I'd guess.)

But I guess it's all in how you look at it; "accepted on several different levels" emphasizes the silver lining, while "missed the whole damned point" focuses more on the dark cloud--as I'm probably more inclined to do. But I did get the feeling that he was at least a wee bit annoyed at and/or resentful of the people who kept playing the game and never got the joke.

You can watch him talking about his book:

He talks about role-playing in games, but he was also playing a role in as the creator of--what was to him a parody of--a time-wasting Facebook game. Back to my Vonnegut quote...

And wonder of wonders, A Slow Year actually is in fact a collection (a "chapbook") of Atari VCS game poems that comes packaged with Atari console (6502 FTW!) emulation software, for sale here.

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