Internet Self Improvement

Tried And Tested: 3 Gamification Tools That Try To Make Your Life Better

James Bruce 27-01-2013

gamification toolsI’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.


FitocracyDo you even lift?

Fitocracy is arguably the most popular and widely used exercise tracking system The 7 Best Fitness Trackers If you’re an active person, activity trackers provide incredibly valuable data for logging, improving, and understanding your fitness. But among the devices out there, finding the right activity tracker can be difficult. Read More  with millions of users. Though it integrates nicely with some other fitness tracking apps such RunKeeper Keep Track Of Your Training Goals While You Workout With RunKeeper [Android] Around MakeUseOf, we love finding apps and other online motivators to stay fit and healthy. After investigating these fitness apps time after time, RunKeeper always proves itself to be one of the very best. It's... Read More , 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.

gamification tools

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!


FitBitNot really exercising at all

The FitBit is a hardware device and a web app Kickstart Your Summer Fitness & Weight Loss With FitBit With summer approaching, many of us are starting to think a little more seriously about our weight. In particular, it's that time of year when people worry about how they'll look in those summer outfits.... Read More 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.

gamification tools

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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  1. Ulrike Rettig, Ph.D.
    January 30, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Epic Win (iPhone only) – Battling your way through laziness, with loot! This looks like a super way to stay on top of language learning tasks! Who has used it and how successful did you find it for you? Language learning is notorious for not being sustained (Life happens, right?), so gamification may be one of the cures.

  2. Alex
    January 29, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Too bad you missed habitrpg in this list! Might not be as polished s these three tools, but it is a seriously nice website! :D

    • James Bruce
      January 30, 2013 at 10:11 am

      I was under the impression it wasn't a completed project - they're still trying to be kickstarted aren't they?

      • Alex
        January 30, 2013 at 10:24 am

        Yes that is true, but the game is very playable already. I think the cool thing is that it less focussed on exercise than two of the tools mentioned above. EpicWin is similar I guess, but I don't own an iPhone :-/ So I ended up with habitrpg and it's really cool. I especially like the fact that the developer is very open to suggestions :)

  3. Daniel Huss
    January 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Your last paragraph describes me quite a bit. I think it's a combination of procrastination and mild ADD. But then again I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV...

  4. Teodoro Villamarzo
    January 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Kids have a natural talent for gamification. You walk around the block and tell friends how many birds, or limousines you saw.
    This talent disappears around puberty, I think, except for those who preserved it, like Einstein, Thomas Alva Edison, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and the rest.
    But, like Chase Hainey, I need a list of things to do.
    Now, what if there's a game well suited for our situation? Instead of conquering the world, it could be getting that palatial mansion on Beverly Hills, or something.
    Gamification of exercise has its benefits and I think it's just the tip of the iceberg.
    But for me, as they say, "Exercise is wonderful, I can sit and watch it all day!"

    • Muo TechGuy
      January 28, 2013 at 9:00 am

      Interesting point. I completely agree; every part of society should be gamified, and rewards should be given as appropriate. I don't think there's currently as *ism that accurately describes that though. Not capitalism, not communism. Meh, I call it James-ism.

      • Guy McDowell
        January 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm

        The word 'meritocracy' comes to mind.

      • Guy McDowell
        January 28, 2013 at 9:11 pm

        What we need is an app that gives you points for activities and those translate into real-world rewards.

        Swim 5 days a week for a month? Here's a free pair of swim goggles.
        Jogged a distance equivalent to the equator? Here's a free pair of running shoes.

        Something like that, maybe points towards paying your gym membership. There's a lot that could be done with this.

  5. Gideon Pioneer
    January 27, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Epic Win sounds like such a great app. But knowing the inherent 'cheapness' of mobile apps it the avatar probably has only 10 or so different 'look' states that you'll cycle through in just a couple of weeks, and like 15 pieces of 'loot' you'll cycle through in 4 days; "oh, that helmet again, I got it yesterday". "Oh, those pants that I got from my last task".

    They also don't explain what the XP does. Is it just an arbitrary number that floats on your screen for a second to make you happy you completed a task and then disappears?

    Oh well, I'm lucky enough to be very organized and just have a small notebook on my desk I keep my to-do list in and keep the importentess of each task in my head and always get things done. I then rip the sheet out and store it in a drawer so that some years down the line I can go through the lists and see what my life was like back then :)

    • Muo TechGuy
      January 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

      Not sure about the look, but there's a ton of loot. The XP is just a number you assign based on importance, so smaller tasks can give you 50 XP while larger ones up to 300 XP. It's just a way of weighing tasks to motivate to do the more difficult ones, but yes, it is just a number ultmately which adds onto the individual rank XP and total XP.

      My to-do lists are hopeless; I only get 25% of them done before another sheet gets filled up.

  6. Alexis Ceroleni
    January 27, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    What is Gamification?

    • Chase Hainey
      January 27, 2013 at 8:02 pm

      Turning daily life activities into a game to make it more likely you will do it.

      I don't think it works well for me. I use other things... Like Things by Culture Code. I need a list of things to do for the day. But, I am just weird.