The idea of rewarding yourself to build better behaviours isn't new, even if the phrase "gamification" is. There are more tools out there to turn everything you do into a game than are worth trying, but the best of the pack can really help you get motivated. Let's take a look at some of the good ones and when they can be most effective in your life.
We've explained when gamification works and when it doesn't. We've also discussed the science of gaming in general. It makes sense that you can apply all of those principles to improving your life, being more productive and doing the things you've always wanted to do. There are times when gamification isn't the best way to get you to your goals, but it can help you build behaviours.
Here's a rundown of some tools that can help you apply that philosophy to different parts of your life — whether you just like to feel rewarded or you need help turning good behaviours into habits.
General Productivity: HabitRPG
We've previously mentioned HabitRPG before. If you're looking for an all-around productivity tool that speaks the language of games, quests and quest rewards, this is the app for you. HabitRPG is a to-do app; it doesn't hide the fact that it's designed to help you keep track of everything on your agenda. When you check off a task or complete a project, you're rewarded with experience points and gold, the same way you would be if you were playing a game.
As you get things done, you'll gain levels, which unlock more features. When you miss your to-dos, your health takes a hit, and if you miss too many things on your to-do list, your stats begin to take a hit, and you lose momentum towards the next level or set of bonuses you were aiming for. The service even has a "multiplayer" element where other HabitRPG users can help you out, offer advice and help you stay motivated. It's free, available on the web as well as for iOS and Android, and it fits in nicely with other productivity systems, such as GTD.
Tracking a Single, Difficult Goal: SuperBetter
If you're struggling with something particularly hairy, such as quitting smoking, starting an exercise routine or anything else that's takes willpower, SuperBetter is perfect for you. Author and game developer Jane McGonigal, PhD, built the service with the science of gamification front and centre. Rather than just awarding points, SuperBetter breaks down your goal into a journey with all the trials, challenges and setbacks that come with trying to make a major change.
The service does give you quests to complete and rewards to achieve, but it also lets you put "bad guys" in your way, such as bad habits, your own weaknesses or anything that might hold you back. Need help? Invite "allies", and then brainstorm or track your progress in your "secret lab". In addition to giving you the right tools, SuperBetter helps you track your physical, mental and emotional progress, offering encouragement and unlocking new challenges and rewards. As you progress, you boost your stats in various areas, level up, get high scores, and, slowly but surely, work towards those goals.
Tracking Your Mood and Mental Health: Mindbloom
Don't underestimate the power of tracking your mood. It can go a long way towards identifying the pain points and stress areas in your life. It's useful for dealing with stress and coping with anxiety. It also offers you an easy way to connect the dots between the things that make you feel good and the behaviours that inspire you.
MindBloom has a suite of apps that makes this kind of personal tracking easy. The Life Game gives you a tree, with branches that represent different areas of your life that are important to you. The game rewards you for doing things that nurture each of these branches, such as taking care of yourself, your health, your family, your finances — whatever you put on the tree. Juice on the other hand is more of a mood and energy tracker. The app connects the dots between the things you do and the level of energy you have so you can see what you may have done, eaten or experienced in the morning that set you off for the rest of the day, or what you may have done that left you feeling good all afternoon. You can also use it to rate and track your sleeping habits. Life Game is a web app, and Juice is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
If you're not into mobile games, give our one-minute mood tracking "personal inventory" form a try. As you fill out your "inventory", you'll get a score to help you figure out where you stand. After a few days, you'll see trends emerge, hopefully trends that you can easily identify and make changes to and improve your overall score (and, by proxy, your life).
Working Towards Your Fitness and Nutrition Goals: Fitocracy
Fitness and nutrition are probably the biggest areas where gamification apps have flourished. That doesn't make all of them good though. We've been huge fans of Fitocracy, partially because it turns exercising into a really fun game — one that awards points, badges, levels and status in a huge community of like-minded people.
We like it even more because it uses gamification in a really clever way — as a guise to get you both active and involved with a community of people who won't let you give up. That, as co-founder Dick Talens has said a few times, is Fitocracy's "secret weapon". It lures you in with badges, levels and PVP battles with other members. That's not to understate how much fun it is to log your workouts, use the iOS or Android apps, or celebrate when complete challenges. It's fun and effective.
If you're looking for other options, consider SlimKicker, which is more calorie counter and strict fitness tracker and less social network, but still comes with badges and levels. Pact, a service we've mentioned before, makes you put your money — real money — where your mouth is, and rewards you with cash for exercising and eating well. If you just like the act of playing a game, consider Zombies, Run!, the app that puts you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, running to survive or delivering messages between safe zones. If you have multiple health goals to track at once, Health Month applies the science of games to help you build better habits. It may inadvertently encourage you to tackle too many things, but it's really good about helping you follow through. Finally, if you have a fitness tracker, there's probably some service built-in to it. Tie it in with one of the other services for the best possible benefit.
Household Activities: ChoreWars
Whether you live alone, with a spouse, with kids or with roommates, there are basic chores that need to get done and (usually) no one likes to do them. Chore Wars turns doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, taking out the rubbish and doing the laundry into an RPG specifically geared towards household chores. You can play singleplayer or multiplayer with other people in your household. Roll a character for each person in your home, list the chores you need to have done, and assign experience points to each chore. As everyone in the house completes their quests, they earn XP, which in turn helps them level.
As you progress, you'll randomly encounter monsters, pick up dropped loot and gold, unlock treasure and improve your character. The "dungeon master", or the person who has admin access to the household account, can assign new quests and challenge the party with something new. When you encounter monsters, your HP and character progression comes into play — you'll actually fight the monster and how well you've built-up your character up to this point will make a difference, so there's incentive to actually do the chores beyond digital loot and stats. If you have roomies who would resonate with the idea of gaming their way to a clean house (especially so you don't have to do everything yourself), or kids who could get into making their chores a game, it's a great idea. It's web-based and completely free.
Getting Out and Around Town: Foursquare
Foursquare was probably one of the original "gamification" services, long before we used that word to describe an app or website that gave you points and badges for doing specific things. Back in the day, Foursquare was just about checking into places, fighting for mayorships and earning badges. You still do that (I just wrestled the mayorship of the park next to my house from a particularly clingy neighbour), and those mayorships and check-ins can still get you perks at different businesses. Those perks usually come in the form of discounts, free food or drink, and vouchers for future use.
Foursquare has changed a lot recently, and almost all for the better. It's helpful for a lot of things, such as finding free Wi-Fi and learning more about a place. Foursquare has added tips, menus, hours, more detailed user reviews and ratings, even live location-based notifications to help you find well-liked places in the areas you're passing through, along with what you should do or try while you're there.
It's much more valuable than it even was back in the old days — but it hasn't lost any of the fun and thrill of checking in to a new place, earning points, comparing your score on a leaderboard with your friends, and seeing where your friends around the world are going. If you're looking to do some exploring in your backyard, fire up Foursquare and see what's trending, what's popular in a given neighbourhood or what's popular at a certain time of day — then rack up the points for visiting and leaving your feedback.
As you can see, there's no shortage of services willing to turn every aspect of your life into a game that either rewards internet points and experience, real-world rewards and perks. These are just some of the ones we've found to be the most useful. You don't have to gamify everything, but if its a technique that resonates with you, turning your challenges or the habits you want to build into a game can yield greater rewards than points on a screen.