Fitocracy and the Light Side of Gamification

Gamification – the concept of using techniques designed for games to engage audiences in other fields – fascinates me. The premise is that by tacking features such as leader boards, achievements, and levels onto other activities, you make them more attractive to people. And it seems that this can be a very powerful tool. In the wrong hands, one can try to pull people into money-making schemes (money-making for the designer, not the ones falling for him), to the point of addiction for some of your victims.

On the other hand, you can reach fascinating goals by harnessing the power of gamification. Last year, the “game” Foldit found solutions for complex protein folding problems in biochemistry via gamification and pulling in non-experts to “play” Foldit. Sadly, I’m neither a biologist nor a chemist, so I can’t say anything about the scientific value other than “oh, shiny balls of molecular yarn!”. I had the papers about the game design part on my desk for two months before I went on vacation in Japan. Then I put them away and forgot about them until today. Damn. Starting from next week, work will pick up again. Talk about timing.

I like to fold it, fold it.

LFM protein folding, link gearscore and achievement for invite.

I’ve been trying for some time to come up with a good use case for gamification in my field of research (network architectures and protocol design), but so far, I haven’t had a “Eureka!” moment. I’ll keep it in the back of my mind though. It would surely make for a fascinating project.

Another use of gamification, and the trigger for this post, is Fitocracy. Last week, I got my invite mail. I had first heard of it last August in this xkcd comic. They were obviously overwhelmed by the feedback (xkcd wasn’t the only one that referenced them), so it took me more than 4 months to get my invite. I had forgotten about them in the meantime.

xkcd, my treat during morning coffee, three times a week.

I have to admit that weight is a bit of a problem for me. I slowly and steadily gained a lot of weight as a student, then bit the bullet after graduation. I went on a long-term low-level diet (nothing fancy, just “eat less”) during which I lost almost 30 kilos in 2 years, returning me well into “normal” BMI range. All diet, no sports, mostly because I’m just a “no sports” person. Most of them are just boring to me. If I could read while I do them… Anyway, I let my food control slip too often starting a year ago or so, and now I got more than 15 kilos back. Most of that needs to go, that’s my new year’s resolution. So that Fitocracy invite came at a good time.

I’m confused by their web interface though. Why can’t web designers never ever create useful interfaces? (And why am I using double-and-a-half negation?) Does it have any influence on the scoring if I update my weight? What activities are available for tracking? The search form is nice, but I’d love to also have a “browse” feature so I could say “that sounds interesting, I would’ve never thought of that”. Plus of course optimizing the work-to-reward ratio. I figure, if I do some sports simply because I want to grind Fitocracy levels efficiently, that might sound silly, but it’s better than not doing any sports. It’s almost like doing a daily quest or two. So far, the only “workout” (I use the term loosely) I logged was my walk home from work, which is a thing I typically do during summer, but rarely in winter. I didn’t log “walking stairs”, that felt too silly even to me. My office is on the second floor, our coffee machine is on the first floor. Guess how often I walk up and down those stairs every day?

So, I’m not totally convinced of Fitocracy yet, but I’ll give it a chance. I’m often overcritical of “games” in the beginning. If anybody is also on Fitocracy, give me a shout, I heard you can form groups and stuff.

Maybe once we’re high enough level, we can go slay a fat dragon.

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