How have you gamified your life?
October 14, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

How have you gamified your life?

Currently, I am addicted to Guild Wars 2, but I've been there with many of the other usual suspects in the past.

I want to know how you have taken the magic ingredients that make games so addictive and used them to keep you motivated to make progress in specific aspects of your life, including the really mundane things like housework.

I've googled this, obviously, and looked at a sites like Nerd Fitness but they are a little too abstract on how you set the micro-goals to ensure that constant "just this one more quest" feeling that keeps you going until you reach Elite.

So, I want to know what you have personally gamified, and what tricks made it work for you. Any hidden gems also appreciated (e.g. for me has transformed the way I learn languages with effective gamification).
posted by inbetweener to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Zombies, Run is a very motivating app for me :). Has that quest component, plus it makes running less boring.
posted by purenitrous at 9:14 AM on October 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

For a while, my boyfriend and I were into geocaching, which nicely gamified year-round outdoor exercise, and motivated us to take a lot of hikes that we wouldn't have gone on otherwise. (We haven't gone geocaching for a couple years now, for several reasons, some having to do with the geocaching game/community, and some having to do with unrelated changes in our lives. I can elaborate if anyone's interested.)
posted by Orinda at 9:18 AM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Chore Wars for housework.
posted by jamaro at 9:56 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ditto on Geocaching, almost word for word. I still do them, but I generally filter out anything under 2/2 (because seriously, it seems like the vast majority of caches have become "film canister in a guardrail you can reach from your car window") and largely ignore the community itself (who tend to get themselves in a snit over rules-lawyering, like "this cache needs to go, because it sits 499ft from train tracks on the other side of the impassable river and chasm!").

As for household chores - I'll keep checking back in this question to see if anyone comes up with a good answer, because I'd love one. Chore Wars looks potentially fun for motivating your kids (or maybe if you lived in a larger multi-adult household like a large apartment or a dorm), but I don't think it would work for just us DINKs. :)
posted by pla at 10:08 AM on October 14, 2012

Best answer: You could create a custom quest in SuperBetter.

Someone's experience with SuperBetter (blog post)

Jane McGonigal's TED Talk about SuperBetter
posted by tantivy at 10:22 AM on October 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Khan Academy for math.

A year and a half ago, I decided that I needed to be better in math, in order to take Computer Science classes. In May, I tested into PreCalculus at my local Community College, and this quarter I'm taking Trigonometry. And holding my own in class, to boot. If I pull this off, next quarter is Calculus!
posted by spinifex23 at 11:56 AM on October 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Quite a few Mefites seem to like Health Month.
posted by purpleclover at 12:06 PM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've been doing this for 15 months. I'll start by saying I've been familiar with all sorts of productivity tools for about 6 years and this is what works for my particular productivity neurosis.

I started by noticing that todo lists don't really work for me. The lists get populated with tasks faster than I have the time to sit down and actually write them out. I like to sit down once and plan a large chunk, then get to work.

I also noticed that a big chunk of time gets wasted in planning things out. To combat this, I made a list of a bunch of recurring, general, non-specific tasks and assigned arbitrary point values/metrics. It gets lamer.

The tasks are just things like exercising, reading for pleasure, cooking, getting groceries, studying, creative writing, reading about finance, spending time programming, etc. It gets as particular and minute as points for drinking enough water or negative points for unhealthy food.

There's a formula that builds in momentum, so a series of high point-earning days builds towards a score for a given day.

At the start of this, I set up two bank accounts. One takes in my paychecks, is used for rent, big stuff, etc. The other is a discretionary account for restaurants, clothes, travel, drinks - anything discretionary. The score I get translates into a dollar amount that I transfer from the main account into the discretionary account.

Ultimately, the benefit is just that I have a list of recurring things to do, a way to justify discretionary on anything I want without guilt, and it's fun for me. It's probably overdone, (I'm sort of a quant/analyst), but the idea could be simplified. It's one of those things that probably sounds awesome or insane, it's all about what you're into. It's not scientifically proven or anything, I just came up with it after hearing a ted talk on gamification
posted by rambletamble at 12:33 PM on October 14, 2012 [21 favorites]

I used to make my morning coffee with a Moka pot. It took about seven minutes from switching the stove element on to completion of brewing (or whatever the technical term is with a Moka). I would put the pot on, then get into the shower.

Name of game: have a shower in under seven minutes
Prize for winning: delicious hot coffee
Punishment for losing: nasty burnt coffee
Punishment for losing heavily: very nasty burnt coffee, and cleaning up a lot of coffee splatters

Alas, I now use a filter machine so I can't do this.
posted by pont at 1:14 PM on October 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I usually create an alternate self living a similar life to myself. For example when I worked night shift answering phones for doctors, I ran an alternative self who worked night shift at a hospital. The various people I live with sometimes end up with alter-egos in the game, or don't have a role depending on what kind of impact they are having. I invent enough of my alternate life to keep a diary running, based on the things that happen in real life, or ideas that are triggered by my real life.

Here's an example: I might imagine myself being in 1812 instead of 2012. Thus when I go to the kitchen I am really confronted by a frozen microwave dinner, instead of the need to start a fire in a grate hours earlier to make food that had to be prepared and then cooked for a long time. This inspires me to make biscuits from scratch instead of just heating up the dinner, and to take pleasure in using the oven to warm the kitchen and myself up. I also take the time to sweep, being aware that the broom would pass for one from 1812 where the vacuum cleaner would be a useless and unidentifiable thing. I also rake the cat pans, and keeping in mind that in 1812 there was no clumping cat litter, in fact no cat litter at all I decide that my alter-ego has the alternative chore of letting the cats out onto the roof, since my character lives in a city and they would probably be run over by a carriage if let onto the street.

Now I only make one real grocery run a week... so my alter ego goes to a weekly market. There was supposed to be a truck parked in the parking lot to gather food for the North side food bank, but there wasn't, so the women from the church who were supposed to be collecting charity at the market in 1812 were not there this week. Details of the possible in my alter-ego's life spring from what I see and experience. There's a stretch of pavement torn up and flooded in real life- which parallels my real character's trudge through the muddy streets. There's lots more mud and much less pavement in her life!

Later, I am dealing with a psychological issue, constantly feeling cranky and resentful say, because my boss asks me for ideas and then takes them for his own. This gets rephrased into 1812 terms - and obviously any woman would expect no acknowledgement for her ideas and leadership - but she might discuss this with other women and might come up with other ways of handling the situation that I wouldn't, ranging from meekly saying she has no ideas, manipulating the man by feeding him bad ideas disguised as good, to seeking and receiving acknowledgement from the community of women, to any number of other things. Now I don't do these things in real life unless they are an obvious improvement over what I am currently doing, but I use them as a springboard for plot and invent a story where the situation is panning out differently. This whole process gives me some perspective and allows me to detach myself so that I have better control over whether I will be cranky and resentful or not, and often helps me work towards a different situation. In my alter-ego's life I might go through three or four permutations. (Make the situation much worse than rl and milk it for tragic drama, or come up with an ideal situation, such as devoted and submissive boss, or just live with it, or find a workable solution.) The idea is NOT to turn it into wish-fulfillment fantasy because that just can't be carried on long enough to be worth the trouble.

Meanwhile I dress up my rl life with the details of her life - candles after dark, period recipes, hand sewing, period music, reading the kind of books that she would have had available, indulging in writing long letters to family and so on. If my alter ego would get to dread going to the market, I get to dread going to the market. Maybe I just find it too loud and exhausting pushing the grocery cart in the crowds but she has to contend with live animals being slaughtered as well. No wonder I come home frazzled and worn to a thread! Similarly when I get to enjoy something she gets to enjoy something and I get to enjoy it all the more too. There are currants in the biscuits!!! : D After all she hasn't had currants for months. Such a nice touch when making soda bread!

This type of alternate life can be set in any era, time or persona. I've used paleolithic, neolithic, medieval, Victorian, Georgian, thirties, WWII, 1960's 1970's, several different post-apocalyptic scenarios and of course, contemporary. You can switch genders if you like, or scale your age much younger or older. How would you get by as an older woman in the Colonial era? One advantage to making yourself older is that it is more plausible to make yourself better off and owning more possessions, and the various conveniences of modern life can be explained as your having servants.

This can also be played with an enthusiastic and imaginative partner on line or by e-mail.

Another quite different game I play is when I am using my exercise bike is to refer to it as my time-cycle and to count each kilometer as one year back into the past. I can then blog about it or keep a journal. In this case I find a handy time line of history book useful, and Wikipedia. Say I have just peddled back to 1476? I check the history book and Wikipedia for what was happening that year and then try to come up with an illustration for my picture file from off the internet. Let's see, it was high renaissance and Botticelli was out painting, can I find a nice interior by Botticelli, maybe a painting of the Last Supper?

I have also gone distance, peddling away across Canada to drop in and visit relatives and friends and had virtual visits with real people. I have even been e-mail a virtual door key since my arrival would coincide with a time when they were at work.

Another game I have played is to make a list of things I need to do - brush teeth, peddle on exercise bike, put out garbage, check cat for fleas, empty dishwasher etc. and assign some small value to them. This can either be money, or items. Let's say at roughly five to one cents per chore at the end of the day I've made a mere thirty-seven cents. I have these reproductions of antique catalogs where thirty-seven cents can be used to start myself furnishing an imaginary house. The least expensive kitchen chair in the 1895 Mongomery Ward catalog is 50c and the least expensive table is $1.30, but I know I'm going to want carpets and such. In the meantime however, that 37c can be used to get a kid bodied doll with a bisque head for 20 c and a handkerchief for 7c to wrap around her, leaving me with 5c for a tin cup, two tin teaspoons and a penny left over to start tomorrow's savings.

This game of course can be adapted to the modern era, paying yourself $100.00 per chore and putting yourself $1,700 closer to the $11,000 virtual trip to Southeast Asia you plan on taking.

For added detail plan to provide for an entire family with differing needs and equipment, not just your virtual self.

If you don't want to go with money go with items, so each time you do laundry you get one virtual clothing item, and each time you do a kitchen chore you get one virtual item of food and each time you do a general household chore you get an item that would be used in your virtual household. This would probably work better than money in a post apocalyptic or fantasy scenario, where money works better in a historic situation.

If you like to draw, keeping a set of drawings, rapidly scribbled out in ink or pencil can give you a nice portfolio to look at or gloat over. A miniature sketch book of the kind they sell at the dollar store works very well for drawing all those nice individual virtual items -bag of wheat seeds, wooden bucket, china doll, corset, kid slippers, hairpins, harpsichord...

The important thing is to make sure that your reward/chore ratio is good so that you keep feeling richer. This means you need a scenario where you feel needy - must get more clothes or the family will freeze!! But you also have to get the rewards easily, so that it is almost easier to keep playing than to stop. If you have to do one batch of laundry to get one square inch of fabric to clothe your imaginary freezing family you will let them freeze, where as if you get a full outfit for any family member with a single load of laundry you could easily run out of people to cloth within a single weekend, if not an evening where the first batch goes on at ten after five and you stay up until eleven. You don't want the game to end too fast.

You also have to hook into something that makes you want the reward. If you couldn't care less about your virtual family freezing because they aren't real to you, you either have to make them real by inventing more details, or find something that matters to you. It might be that you are motivated by the idea of being much richer than other people more than you are motivated by being an imaginary provider. It might be that each scenario should unlock something more -so for example, many on line games have locked levels, so that until you master level one (turnips, or hand to hand knife combat) you can't get to level two (corn, or throwing knives).

If fantasy doesn't work for you, but your self discipline is good you can give yourself rewards or inexpensive rl objects, especially the kind that people collect and discover months later they have spent a fortune on. This can be your incentive to earn first covers for your stamp collection, or Magic, the Gathering cards, or items for your dolls house, or manga or drawing pens or glass figurines, or whatever you like to collect.

Then you can play absurd games while you do chores that have no kind of reality in them - games like not touching the floor, or not making any noise, or having to describe everything you do in French, because you are trying to learn to speak French.

Or set up absurd systems: Today I am going to only clean, cook or tidy up things that are blue. Blue jeans, blue socks, pale blue sheets and so on can be washed but not anything that is not at least predominantly blue. For the dinner menu we get blueberry muffins, with skim milk to drink, steak cooked very rare, and canned apricots which came from the co-op in a can which has blue labels... I also put away thirteen of the roughly 150 books, since thirteen of them were blue, and put up a new pale blue shower curtain, and I used an old blue t-shirt with a run in it to do some dusting....

Tomorrow is going to be white day (because I desperately need clean underwear) so only white items will be washed and dinner will involve potatoes, cauliflower, haddock and vanilla pudding.

Another absurd rule type of game is that every time you walk through the hall you have to do one minimal part of your exercise program such as a meagre five little push-ups. At the end of the day you could end up boasting that you did 130 push-ups. Variants include every time your phone rings, before you can check your e-mail, every time the game crashes or every time the dog starts barking. Instead of push-ups you could be picking up one item from the floor, writing out the conjugation of one French verb, or knitting one row on that stupid scarf you have to finish knitting for Aunt Katie. Or donating one quarter to your local animal rescue league.

Then there are racing games. Get yourself a timer and race to see how many floor tiles you can mop in one minute, or how many items you can clean up in five minutes, or if you can put away more objects in five minutes than your partner.

It helps to understand what motivates you. Do you play to win, or so as not to let your team-mates down? Do you like more or do you like better? Is the payoff more gold, and more points, and higher levels or is it more variety, or things: another type of vegetable to plant, a more efficient method of killing things, a different type of opponent? You probably prefer some blend of more and better, but you need to figure out the right balance for yourself.

Visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory aids are helpful to keep me engaged. So are social cues. You will probably find it easier to motivate yourself to equip your servants/soldiers/slaves/family/survivors if you have pictures of them and if you know something about them. You will probably find it easier to motivate yourself if you can hear them - "Yesssh, Masshter!!" hissed the orc henchman. "Yes, miss, please miss," Little Ruth, the servant girl bobs a clumsy curtsy. What kind of music DID they play in Ancient Egypt? You can probably find it on YouTube, or something like it and put it on in the background while you fold laundry... You might be able to find pictures on the internet too. I know exactly what Niamh, the little girl I got out of the workhouse in London looks like - she's in two or three paintings by Bougereau.

Survival games such as post apocalyptic settings are good if the idea of salvaging things is something that motivates you. Okay, you have rescued three shivering people from the flood. Leave them huddled in your kitchen round the stove while the pie bakes and hastily hie yourself into the laundry room to wash and dry three sets of clothing to dress them in. Pfeh! Never mind half drowned survivors! You are going to the the envy of everyone else because you not only have a full set of dry clothes but more clothes than anyone else and your clothes aren't covered in mud! (Hie yourself down to the laundry room and do the work necessary to bring back an entire laundry basket full of clothes to gloat over)

I know someone who motivates herself with revenge scenarios. She imagines herself in a survival situation with characters loosely modeled off several people she finds annoying and then plays a game that involves herself having it easy -magical items and medical help and such, while they have it hard and perhaps slowly get killed off by dysentery or angry Paleolithic tribes people. I can motivate myself with caretaking and prefer to surround myself with affectionate supportive people in my games -mostly! - but she prefers to surround herself with the kind of people you would least want with you in real life - but it's a game, so plopping herself down in the Paleolithic era to enact revenge scenarios is fine. It's no worse than eradicating virtual orcs, anyway.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:10 PM on October 14, 2012 [25 favorites]

Take a new route to work every day.
posted by nickrussell at 6:30 PM on October 14, 2012

I'm perpetually trying to organize my to-do lists, with limited success. About a year ago I came up with a concept that's almost identical to what rambletamble describes above -- awarding myself points for doing tasks from my work life, personal life, art practice, household-chore list, etc., ranging from things as simple as taking a multivitamin to as complex as completing a large project. I'd thought I'd then give myself rewards (buying something, booking a massage, seeing a movie) based on how many points I'd earned each week. rambletamble's bank-account idea is a brilliant twist.

But I never really got this idea off the ground, mostly because I wasn't sure how to implement it. The best I came up with was using the simple (but flexible) to-do site Gubb to make my various lists, but that still would involve adding up all my points by hand. rambletamble -- if you're reading this, can you tell us what system you use? Did you set up your own spreadsheet, or use a particular app or online site?

(I'm aware of the iPhone apps EpicWin and GOYA, which apparently let you award yourself points for tasks, but I'd probably prefer something web-based. Other reward/gamifying apps and sites I've come across seem designed for just one type of goal, like fitness, instead of being customizable for lots of categories.)

In any case, I'm definitely going to set this up for myself now, using Gubb or something else. Thanks rambletamble, and thanks inbetweener for asking this.
posted by lisa g at 8:49 PM on October 14, 2012

For people who want a spreadsheet points-assignment implementation, take a look at Metafilter's own Habit Judo.
posted by lollusc at 4:30 AM on October 15, 2012

You can give your life a gaming soundtrack with an app like Ambiance ( They have a section of scifi sounds that can be mixed together to make it sound like you are in the bowels of a spaceship or on Bladerunner world. Pretend you are doing dishes on the Enterprise with the soothing sounds of a warp engine thrumming in the background.
posted by cephalopodcast at 6:51 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

the Setup
I got a couple questions about what I use. It's just Excel, so unfortunately it has to be built up. Fortunately, it's not too hard to make with some knowledge of Excel. Also, you can start simple and keep building on it.

Column A is a list of days (you can just type in one day, i.e. 10/12/2012, then make each subsequent line a formula equal to the one above it + 1).

Columns B-P have the things I get points for. Column Q sums up the points for that day/row. Column R is the "score," which is a formula that adds points over a week plus some arbitrary math to incorporate "scores" over the last week. The incorporation of scores gives it momentum.

I'd like to program it when I have more time. The formulae are arbitrary and I modify them whenever they seem a little off. It's not a tax return, so I don't care if a year ago my point formula for jump-roping was slightly different. Also, there are a lot of things that are subjective or qualitative. The whole thing could be qualitative if you want. Basically, it's completely arbitrary and so you've got to be honest with yourself. As much as I concede being odd for giving myself "points" (read gold stars) for exercising, I can only imagine what level of self-reflection will be warranted the day I catch myself defrauding my own "points."


Some examples of tasks:

Jump rope for exercise. I've got a heart rate monitor, so I assign points using the formula: minutes-jumping x avg-BPM + bonuses. The bonus are for jumping for more than 15 minutes or with an avg heartrate above 150bpm.

Lifting Weights is more subjective, so I assign points for sets or just estimate how much effort I think I put in.

Studying/Reading/Writing/Pet Projects
I also use time tracking software to know how much time I spent studying vs writing etc. You can find these apps for both iOS and Android pretty easily and sometimes for free. I like Timesheet for Android and Hours Tracker on iPad. They're the same kind freelancers/contractors use to manage billing for projects. You can set the pay rate equal to whatever your point values are and export it to Excel.

Packing Lunch - it's a small, thing, but it's an easy habit to neglect. Directly, I save cash and eat healthier. Indirectly, I get points which translate to discretionary spending. It helps make the trade off more tangible. Rather than eating unhealthy, short $7-10 lunches downtown, I have a quality meal at a better restaurant and try something new.

There are also static things like:
Waist-to-shoulder ratio - this is probably where I lose people. I always hated how the office exerçise incentive programs are geared to weight loss and never provide an alternative system for people trying to put on muscle. Ratios are goofy, I know, but it's not like the number on the scale is much better.

•Qualitative assessments of how clean my apartment is
•Estimates of how much water I drink.
•A single point for taking vitamins

Early on, my girlfriend protested that she didn't want to be a drain on my "score." I realized that hanging out with her or getting drinks after work would dampen my "score" so I throw in some points for being social.

I try to make the system less about being some sort of productivity Nazi and more about being consistent about doing the things that stave off sour moods, keep things moving forward, and overall avoid feeling like I'm drowning in a sea of checklists. Every day, my checklist is basically the same. It's surprisingly quick to fill out. If I don't get to something, no big deal. I also like that I can see what I did over the last month in a compact way.


Honestly, it's pretty odd, but I guess that's gamification. Put that preening nerd energy to work!

also, Jane the Brown, that's incredible. I'm impressed. I'm looting your idea.

Some Excel tips:
•View > Freeze Panes - this will be useful to see your headers once you have a ton of entries
•Dates - type your start date in cell A2, then A3, type "=a2+1", finally, select cells a3 to a20, and hit CTRL-D
posted by rambletamble at 9:26 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Seconding geocaching, which is great fun if you live in an area where the community is active and creative. I think this is a function of climate. Florida, for instance, is wonderful. My parents have found over 10,000 (not a typo) geocaches, most of them in Florida.

I think I get a little something of the gamified feeling out of foursquare, silly as it sounds. Wanting to get foursquare points and badges has gotten me to go to places I was invited to that I might not have been up for otherwise.
posted by kostia at 4:52 PM on October 15, 2012

For learning languages: Memrise. Gamified SRS flashcard system, like Anki, but more fun and addicting. The site is a little buggy at the moment because they're moving out of beta, but I've still been able to use it.
posted by pimli at 10:12 PM on October 15, 2012

Try get to a gas station that's 85 miles away (but mostly downhill) in a car that gets 30 MPG with the gas light on, a 13.5 gallon tank and 330 miles on the trip odometer, and where running out would have messed up one of the best (and busiest) days of a road trip. I made it by four tenths of a gallon. We got 418 miles on that tank.

So, putting that sucker in neutral with just enough momentum left to crest a hill and then gain speed on the other side is kind of a fun game, when you don't actually run out of gas.
posted by cnc at 5:34 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unfuck your Habitat is a great tumblr site, but the app you can download allows you to "gamify" the cleaning challenges - I'm loving mine on the iPad lately!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:33 AM on October 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all for the great answers. The ones I have best answered are just those I have started doing immediately, but they are all really helpful.

A little feedback, I started using to implement Rambletamble's idea (not as flexible for giving individual scores to things in Excel, but it's very easy to use, available everywhere and doesn't even need sign up).

Also whilst looking at the khanacademy suggestion I came across codeacademy which looks great and is now making learning python fun for me.

Also thanks tantivy for the recommending Jane McGonigal - her TED talks are brilliant.
posted by inbetweener at 12:09 AM on October 20, 2012

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