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Gamify Fitness

28 Apr

SuperheroNerd

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Superhero.svg

I like this gamification thing the cool kids are doing these days. I’m very motivated by games and I like thinking in terms of them. Creating and building characters is one of my favorite pastimes. This is why Fitocracy was such a great idea – what better way to get the nerdly masses (or the masses in general) off the couch than letting them turn themselves into an awesome character that they can level up? I also like metrics and statistics a lot. It’s probably a disease.

I’ve been having trouble keeping up my sanity-preserving exercise time the last few months, so I thought I’d try Fitocracy out.  So I signed up, downloaded the app, joined a few groups, and waited for the magic to happen.

Unfortunately, I think there are some implementation issues with the system that render it largely ineffective for me.

For one thing, leveling up is too easy. I went for an 8 mile walk the other day – which, you know, is better than not going for an 8 mile walk. It is exercise. But honestly, I was ambling along at a leisurely pace and it took me nearly two hours. It’s not the most strenuous thing in the world. When I entered it into Fitocracy, I immediately leveled up twice. Now, I don’t want building my real-life character feel like I’m playing Exalted. It makes the whole system feel unrealistic and devalues leveling up, gutting the whole motivation system. If I can get my mesolimbic reward circuit totally satisfied while engaged in less-than-healthy levels of physical activity, Fitocracy’s doing me no good. It’s telling me that my achievement is unlocked when it isn’t.

"Yeah, I'm in pretty good shape. I take the stairs sometimes."

“Yeah, I’m in pretty good shape. I take the stairs sometimes.”

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SRD_Posing_Bodybuilder.svg

Another problem I have with Fitocracy is that it has no model for atrophy. Let’s say I work out every day for a month like a true fitness fiend, then am totally inactive for six. I don’t even get off the couch to change the channel. At the end of six months, Fitocracy still treats me like I’m in the same excellent shape I was in at the end of fitness month. But I’m not; I’ve lost stamina and muscle tone and probably gained some weight. Yet again, Fitocracy is telling me that everything is a-okay, when in fact I seriously need to get moving again.

I have some other smaller quibbles. For instance, you’re spoilt for choice as far as the available list of possible exercises goes, but since there’s no way to comprehensively list all possible activities, there are still activities I engage in all the time aren’t available. As it is, this wealth of options makes the menus hard to navigate, since they are cluttered with semi-redundant activities*.

Also, Fitocracy only has one stat – all points go into the same bucket. So the app tracks cardio and muscle-building with no differentiation. Another impediment to getting an accurate portrait of how fit you are: Young Arnold Schwarzenegger and Usain Bolt would look basically the same in Fitocracy terms. Even if Arnold couldn’t run a mile and Usain could barely do ten pushups.

All in all, Fitocracy seems like a cool idea that got simplified enough that it doesn’t really perform as an effective game or an accurate reflection of the user’s fitness. The Map My Run app gives me more relevant information about how I’m doing and is more satisfying, even though it doesn’t explicitly gamify anything and is very cardio-centric.

So, to try and rectify this injustice, I’m going to do what any good nerd would do and write my own little program.

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