Andy Walker / Android Authority
Although some of its early publicity has faded, the idea of gamefiction – rewarding worldly work by turning it into a game – has not only survived, but has become fully integrated into society. This is especially true of digital learning and fitness tracking, so you probably won’t even think about it when you launch an app like Google Fit or Duolingo.
Gamification certainly has its advantages, but it is not surprising that the push for it is actually backfire in some cases, causing people to want to ignore these systems or abandon what they are encouraging us to do. I’m going to focus on fitness, since this is my specialty, but it should be easy to recognize the problem I’m talking about in many other apps and platforms.
Our pick: The best fitness tracker
Push to do more, and do it every day
If you’ve got a Fitbit or an Apple Watch, you’re familiar with notifications about daily activity goals. Movement. Step up. Sleeping. You are rewarded when you meet milestones, and you are often asked to work a little harder to meet those milestones, perform better than before, or compete with friends. If you are an average Joe or Jane who is already doing their best in the situation, it can be stressful in itself.
On the learning front, I used Duolingo to brush my German, and I remember the app harassing me about using it almost every day. When I start to go more than one day without touching it, I can also get a warning about that. The pressure didn’t stop me from improving my German – responsible for time and other stress concerns – but it certainly didn’t help.
Gamification can be stressful if you are an average Joe or Jane who is already going through their best in the situation.
Managing constant reminders can be very annoying for many of us, especially if we are already distracted by a flood of child, work, study, politics or other app notifications. Some or all of these warnings can be turned off, but not everyone is technically aware, and to some extent, it is up to developers to figure out how tedious their notification barrages can be.
Increasingly, you may be bombarded with notifications to the point where your opposite is the problem. Digital sounds can be so loud, in other words, even positive reinforcement becomes random. It is very important to get congratulations for a test if it is flooded with news headlines or Instagram messages.
Related: Fitbit and Apple Fitness should stop punishing people for taking rest days
Guilt and resentment over the broken line
Perhaps more importantly, gamified goals can create guilt (or direct production). While it has many great qualities, Apple Fitness is actually one of the worst platforms in this regard, as it not only urges watch owners to turn off their activity rings every day, but also relies on maintaining a ring streak of many rewards. You can do 500 pounds of deadlifting three days a week and still miss weekly or monthly badges, don’t feel like a forced holiday if you’re sick or injured.
Gamification may make people think that they are doing too little or not getting enough credit.
Systems companies are unprepared for the reality of certain uses. Exercising seven days a week, for example, is commendable when you are talking about activities such as walking, light yoga, or doing a small jug. But once you get serious about fitness you need a rest day for your recovery, which major health platforms don’t consider. What you get is something like Google Fit, which rewards you for totaling a certain heart point at intervals of one week instead of every day.
See also: Everything you need to know about Google Fit
Not surprisingly, some people may be annoyed with gamification, as it may make them feel that they are doing too little or not getting enough credit. This is true of both learning and exercise apps – when you need to maintain a certain speed, say, you are learning a language or how to code, there is no need to persuade someone who is just educating himself with credit and reminders. Perhaps it’s about developers who drive their bottom line, through advertising revenue or subscriptions.
Do you find that gamification (daily goals, rewards, etc.) helps improve your learning or health?
How to recover fun
Disclaimer: This is not my home … I took this picture a while ago!
The first principle is obvious – to intentionally ignore or disable gamification unless it suits you. If you are into something special like weightlifting, in fact, it is practically necessary. Most health platforms favor cardio activity, so only a fraction of their metrics are even relevant. Similarly, if you are learning to play the guitar, you should not feel bad about avoiding your folk or 12-time blues lessons if you never want to play those genres.
The more personal your goals, the better off you are.
More than that, you need to set your own goals and set your own means for success. If you are learning to code Python, for example, there may be better motivation than projects offered by services aimed at creating a real, practical app. Sollarn, Precisely because it is made for your interest. In exercise, you can set a satisfactory benchmark such as running 5K or pressing your body weight.
The more personal your goals, the better off you are. As you can imagine, there are different things that make me go to the gym, but one of the strongest of these days is my four year old son. I want to be able to take her as long as possible, and be a health model at a time when most dads resign on the couch. I want to teach her to lift and box when she is old enough.
Frankly, I’m a fan of digital education and health platforms as a whole. They tend to be more efficient, not to mention accessible, because they are cheaper than paying for classes or hiring a trainer for a few weeks. When gamification works, it can change lives. But these platforms should always be at our own edge services, games technology companies don’t want us to play.
Read more: The best digital learning app on Android