I’m a big fan of gamification, truth be told. I’d even go so far as to say our entire society should be gamified, with pleasures in life reserved as rewards those who actually contribute. Apparently that makes me a communist or something. But I digress; I’ve tried a variety of gamified systems for fitness and generally “getting things done”, and here’s how it worked out.
Fitocracy – Do you even lift?
Fitocracy is arguably the most popular and widely used exercise tracking system with millions of users. Though it integrates nicely with some other fitness tracking apps such RunKeeper, the integration isn’t as smooth as I’d ultimately like, which makes tracking the most basic of exercises a task in itself.
Dedicated users of the system extoll the virtues of the social element; you can make fitness pals, you have status updates, and you can even “give props” to each other – which as a thirty year old, I’m going to admit I have absolutely no idea what that means, but it seems akin to liking a status. There’s a healthy selection of quests too, but the whole system is obviously aimed at fitness nuts and health freaks who earn so much they can afford 4 hours a day dedicated to a brisk run around central park followed by a soothing session of pilates. Well, some of us barely have enough for a walk each day, so at the lower end of the fitness scale – and I suspect that’s most of us – it’s just overkill. I don’t want a Facebook clone just for exercising; I know for a fact all of my friends are fitter than me, and it’s hardly motivational to see them logging hundreds of push ups a day. The site can also give fitness routine suggestions to help you start out, but unless you have a home gym it’s unlikely you can do them all.
Aside from that, logging even the most basic of exercises is just far too much work; you can either type the activity directly into the app – including such details as elevation when walking – or you can use an automated tracker like RunKeeper, which I opted for. Unfortunately, after completing the activity – a long walk down the common with my dog, most days – I then had to log into Fitocracy, click on today’s activity, and click to confirm the import of fresh data from RunKeeping. It was just so much effort to log “I had a walk”, and that’s why this app ultimately failed for me after about a week.
Verdict: Frustrating, demoralizing, and a waste of time. Not for me then, but I can see the value in Fitocracy for so many. If you’re only interested in a more general fitness tracker and not the minutiae of specific exercises, look elsewhere.
Epic Win (iPhone only) – Battling your way through laziness, with loot!
Epic Win is basically a to-do list with easy repeating items; but the way it presents itself is so much more. The entire app is set up like a Role Playing Game – from choosing your avatar, assigning point values to tasks, journeying on your infinite quest, and even unearthing loot on the way.
Each task is presented as a battle – holding over the points rosette initiates some inspiring battle music until a few second later, you “win”. Each task is also categorized into one of the five different stats: strength, stamina, intellect, social, and spirit - so leveling up is done both on the individual stat that task was assigned to, and a more global point counter. In short, it makes doing stuff fun. You can even link it to your Google Calendar to remind you of particular events, though I never tried that.
I like this app not only for the overtly obvious game elements, but the fact that it can track more than just exercise, and doesn’t get too caught up in the details. You don’t need to specify walking speeds, elevation, or how long you spent doing something – if you did it, that’s cool, have some points. It’s not stressful, and it genuinely feels rewarding to complete a task.
Verdict: I’ll be honest – I keep coming back to this app every 6 months, usually around new year or the start of summer when I think “now is the time I’m finally going to get in shape or do X”. I keep at it for about a week or two, then I just forget as something more pertinent comes into my life. I think the key to success with this app is to place it front and center on your iPhone’s taskbar, reminding you every day that you have stuff to do. I swear, this time I’ll actually do it!
FitBit – Not really exercising at all
The FitBit is a hardware device and a web app that logs some basic activity information throughout the day, without any user intervention. Specifically, it measures: steps taken, floors climbed, calories burnt, and distance traveled. In night mode, it also measures movements during sleep, giving a basic indication of how many times you awoke, how long you slept for, and the overall quality of sleep. The device syncs wirelessly – with recent iPhones or iPads, or using the supplied Bluetooth adaptor for PC or Mac – automatically whenever it comes in range. The battery lasts about a week before a quick recharge is needed. Basically, the activity tracking is completely seamless – the only user intervention needed is telling it when you sleep.
You can use the website to track more detailed information such as specific activity types, or even calories consumed, which then compares it to your overall calories burnt throughout the day; but I haven’t used those features. The web app itself is functional but rather plain – game elements are definitely there in the form of goal tracking and badges, but they’re just not particularly attractive or motivating.
Verdict: The device itself is faultless – this is the kind of activity tracking I can really get behind. However, it isn’t motivating enough to actually make me do more exercise; it simply tracks what little I already do, though it does that effortlessly. Also, we might be giving one of these away in the near future. Stay tuned!
Ultimately, I’m a combination of just damn lazy and too easily distracted by cooler things – and no gadget or app is going to solve that. Though learning Chinese may be at the top of my to-do list every time my in-laws try to converse with me, the next day Arduino may have displaced it. I’m sure there’s a mean psychological name for that, but regardless – if you stick to just one system and use it religiously, I think it could seriously have an impact on your life. Whether that means dedicating yourself to learning something new or just getting in shape – I believe gamification can make a serious difference. It just hasn’t for me, which means I probably lose at playing life. Oh well.
If you’re currently using a gamified system of some sort to achieve your goals, then tell us about it!
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