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How Gamification Improved My Mom's Life

Many of you may have heard the new buzzword "gamification" and have a basic understanding of how it works in marketing. We've seen this tactic used a lot in the past year and I've recently observed its success first-hand.

Deidre Casey, Blogger

March 23, 2015

9 Min Read

Many of you may have heard the new buzzword "gamification" and have a basic understanding of how it works in marketing nowadays. I think Mashable has the clearest definition for this relatively new term - "Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts." We've seen this tactic used in marketing a lot in the past year and I've recently observed its success first-hand.

While I may have OCD-levels of organization and time management, somehow my mom falls a little short in that category, at least when it comes to her personal life. Last year I found an online service that utilizes gamification to motivate players to complete daily tasks, establish good habits and finish long-term goals. The site is called HabitRPG and essentially turns everyday chores into epic quests!

What is Habit RPG?

Without writing a whole blog on how the site works, I'll quickly summarize the concept. In HabitRPG you create a little 8-bit character that represents yourself. Like in any video game you have health and experience to gain and loose that relies on your completion of daily tasks. There's a lot of customizability so I encourage you to check the site or watch this tutorial video for a more in depth guide. You can acquire in-game rewards such as virtual weapons, armor or mantis shrimp mounts, or you can create your own rewards like "buy a new outfit" with virtual gold you accumulate by completing your tasks.

After observing my mom for the past year I noticed several improvements directly correlated to her using the site. Below are the key areas that I've seen improvement.

Improved Time/Task Management

While there are endless task and time management apps on the market right now, Habit RPG does a fantastic job of visually motivating users to get urgent projects done sooner instead of procrastinating. Not only that, but it divides your tasks up into habits, dailies and to-dos, all providing gold and experience when completed or damaging your health if put off for too long. In the habit section you can reward yourself for doing good habits like drinking water every hour, or punish yourself for getting distracted watching cat videos on YouTube. The more you do good habits the more green the task becomes, if you forget or do a bad habit it starts to turn red.

The color changing feature also applies to dailies and to-dos, making it really easy to target what areas of your daily life you've been putting off doing. Not only does the color psychology help you recognize your strengths and weaknesses, but the accumulation of gold and experience rewards you just as much as a regular video game. HabitRPG does what every gamified app strives to do - turn real life into a game by making you feel downright awesome for every action you take. And with any game, if you fail to complete a quest or can't defeat a monster you loose health, gold an experience.

My mom has told me that the variety of tasks to do helps motivate her through the day. She likes to get quick, easy tasks done in the morning and then tackle bigger ones later on in the day. With checklists and incremental rewards for larger tasks, it makes her feel like she's being recognized for her progress. Any time the task starts turning more red, she's able to recognize it as a priority and focus her attention there.

Improved Money Management

A big challenge for my mom is money management. She's a bit of an impulse buyer and knows it. But the reward system in HabitRPG has helped her tackle the responsibilities of every day life and not only limit her purchases, but make them more meaningful.

As I mentioned before, you can either purchase in-game items, or create custom real-life rewards for yourself using your in-game gold. For example, say my mom really wants to buy some new gardening tools and in total they cost about $30. She can create that as a reward that must be purchased with 30 gold. Considering tasks don't give a ton of gold each time you complete them, she'll have to wait a few days and be diligent about her work in order to save up enough to reward herself. HabitRPG doesn't require you to actually pay anything to use the site, however you can get some fun perks by paying for their modest $5 monthly subscription (and it supports the brilliant developers too).

HabitRPG often launches world events or seasonal item sets that cost a fair bit of gold to purchase. So going back to the gardening tool example, this now not only motivates my mom to decide between which rewards to get, but gives her an extra kick to stay on top of tasks so that she might be able to purchase both rewards.

All of this requires personal accountability and honesty, so sure you could just click the completion button on your tasks, but it utterly defeats the purpose of the game at that point. I get the feeling most people genuinely want to improve their habits by using the game and will use it honestly.

Improved Psychological Well Being

The last and more important benefit to come from HabitRPG is the psychological gratification. HabitRPG combines classic reward and punishment psychology with the elements of play to create an enjoyable habit improvement system. When I was talking to my mom about why she likes Habit RPG she said something that just hit me hard.

"You don't get credit for being a mom. No one recognizes the hard work you put in all day long doing dishes, laundry, cleaning, taking care of kids etc. Using the site is self-affirming. When you get credit for doing everyday things it's like "yea you just got a level for cleaning the bathroom!" And then when I decide to buy something, whether its a new DVD or a cool in-game sword, I feel like I've really earned it."

While I'm not a mother, I can relate to the idea. Having played games my whole life, you feel much more heroic in-game whenever you complete a task than you do in real life. No one gives you gold or experience when you vacuum the house or finish up a marketing report. Having external encouragement and rewards for even menial tasks has a powerful effect on your mentality and is what makes this a beautiful system.

Looking to the Future

Observing this experience has gotten me thinking about how we can better apply these principles into learners of all ages. I've seen sites like CodeAcademy hopping on as early adopters of gamification for Generation Y programming enthusiasts, what else can we provide new learners? How can we provide more exciting and relevant learning methods to Generation Z? How can we provide this to the baby boomers who are out of touch with technology? How do we make this international? There's a whole world of gamified services waiting to be created, I can't wait to see what will emerge next!

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