A fairly new fitness-based social network called Fitocracy recently opened up its beta version to a wider audience. The service allows users to log workout routines and post comments and give “props” on other users’ progress, a la Facebook.
What caught my attention, however, is Fitocracy’s use of gamification.
For those unfamiliar with the term, gamification refers to the use of video game mechanics (leveling up/progress bars, achievements, quests, that sort of thing) to encourage a particular behavior in users. Think of the mobile app foursquare, for instance – it allows people to “check in” at their location, rewarding them for doing so by giving them points and occasionally badges for unique check-ins. Leave your mark at a particular place more often than someone else, and you earn the achievement of mayorship. None of these little perks actually provides any tangible reward, save for the occasional discount, but they drive the user to keep checking in to places, just to see what they’ll earn next.
Another wonderful example of gamification is the Khan Academy. In its current form, the program provides a series of videos on numerous subjects and has a range of math lessons with related exercises. The “students” earn points for watching videos and completing exercises, and like foursquare, they receive badges for certain achievements. The material is no different from what one might find in a regular classroom, but that extra level of engagement could be enough to keep a youngster interested and eager to progress to the next lesson.
Now, I could go on and on about gamification, but anyone interested in learning more should check out the Wikipedia page or watch this excellent video on the subject by Extra Credits (an ongoing web series that gives a thoughtful yet entertaining analysis of the video game industry and its potential to engage in thought-provoking discussion).
So, what does all this have to do with Fitocracy? The basic principles behind the Fitocracy model are based in gamification – each exercise rewards a certain amount of points. Earn enough points, and you level up. Perform certain types of exercises, and you are given more points for completing quests. Certain feats both physical and social also unlock achievements. You don’t receive any money or protein drinks for completing these tasks, but they provide a way to gauge one’s progress while also populating one’s profile page with brag-worthy badges and statistics.
What I found particularly amusing about Fitocracy is that it takes concepts long familiar to gamer nerds and uses them to encourage an activity once considered alien to those same nerds. At the same time, it also uses terms and references familiar to nerds – one quest is called “Evolve,” comparing the user to the puny Pokemon Magikarp that eventually grows into the powerful Gyarodos, and another is called “Paperboy,” referring to the 1984 arcade game where players would try not to throw newspapers through windows.
Granted, these days, the demographic for the common gamer nerd has moved far beyond its parents’ basement and even seen the light, if only for a brief moment before heading back underground. Still, if gamification can engage people to put in the effort to stay fit, I say more power to them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m a few routines away from reaching level 5.