The Tao of Gamification

Posted: August 31, 2015 in fitness, gamification, writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

So the plan is set, the habits and tasks laid out, and thus comes the most difficult part of any attempt to change your life: implementation.

In making life changes, even small ones, the most essential element in strengthening one’s resolve to maintain said changes is feedback. This can be experienced in the sheer enjoyment of the work, the notice and admiration of your peers, and eventually from the tangible results spawned by your efforts. Skipping tasks, ignoring the plan and generally failing to meet the goals you’ve set for yourself can also provide its own form of negative feedback, which can either motivate or dishearten deepening on your resolve and the magnitude of the setback. While there have been a myriad of ways that this balance of reward and punishment has been achieved over the years, for me the greatest motivator has proven to be gamification.

To put it simply, gamification is the practice of applying game-like qualities to everyday life in order to push, inspire and reward. While there are several ways to do this, generally it involves building a role-playing game (RPG) around your goals, and creating a reward system that responds to your daily activities. I have done this through notebooks with character sheets, through excel docs with point systems, and most recently through apps designed for this very thing. It was in fact my desire to create the perfect life-gamifying app that coding became one of major goals. How you do it, the depth, the level of detail, the system of rewards, is really up to you. Each of us finds our motivation in different ways, and so it becomes imperative for you to understand what your personality needs to be driven and shape your RPG around that.

I’ve already noted I had set off on a path to design my own app, having not found one that fit me perfectly. That being said, there are great apps out there that can help you gamify aspects of your life. For this current program I start tomorrow, I am duel-wielding apps at the start before deciding which to use for its duration.

The first is HabitRPG. It combines an online site (Habitica) with the HabitRPG app to allow you to create an avatar. Through successfully accomplishing Habits, Dailies and To-Do’s, you earn experience points (EP) and gold. The EP level up your character, and gold can be used to purchase weapons and armor that you can equip to further increase your stats. Gold can also be used to purchase rewards like a few hours of video game time or a night out at the movies.

The second is LifeRPG (not to be confused with Life RPG which I talk about later). Where HabitRPG excels at the avatar experience of having an 8-bit avatar that can don armor and wield a sword, LifeRPG has a great skills/attribute system. The main reason experimenting with these various apps led me to wanting to create my own was that none of them had the stat system I was looking for. LifeRPG actually does. You can create master skills, such as Strength, Writing, Coding, etc, and then you can set it so that each habit/task you create feeds into these. For example, when I write for an hour on my novel, it adds skill points to my Writing and Willpower skills. When I take a coding lesson, it adds to my Coding and Intelligence skills. As the points accumulate in each skill, those skills level up. This is the immediate measurement of growing a skill that I want.

Combined the two give me the complete package. With the former I have an avatar who gets gold and EP, who changes as I am able to buy better armor and weapons. With the latter I have a skill tree that is reactive to the individual talents I am developing. The app i wish to create would be a merger of the two.

There are of course other apps out there giving similar experiences. I already mentioned Life RPG, which is very similar to the HabitRPG format of earning gold and EP for an avatar He levels up and gets to equip the weapons and armor you buy with your earned gold. There is the colorful Task Hammer, which tries to accomplish the blending I mentioned above. You choose from one of four characters, and then create a set of tasks you wish to accomplish. The daily achievement of these tasks feed into whichever governing attribute you assign them (strength, vitality, intelligence, perseverance or charisma). It’s decent but does not excel in either area as do my two selected ones above. The avatar is sort of boring, and I really need to customize the attributes into which my tasks are feeding.

Outside of the RPG realm there are plenty of habit-assisting apps that reward and punish, without all the nerdy fantasy. There are also a great series of exercise apps built around the same idea. FitRPG gamifies you FItBit with quests you complete through physical activity. Fitocracy likewise challenges you to missions, minus the hardware. As they say on the app page, you “track your workouts, earn points, unlock achievements, beat quests, and slay the laziness dragon!” My personal favorite though is Zombies, Run!. There are missions, a base to build up and zombie attacks; and it all meshes with your personal music.

Clearly there are a lot of options, and it really comes down to knowing who you are, what motivates you, and what will keep driving you when the novelty of new resolutions wears off. For me it’s gaining levels, building a character, and running from zombies. More to come.


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