Category: Social media


Back in 1998, a group of us started real life roleplaying as Jedi students.  It was a great idea until some people took it too seriously …. or treated the idea as a total joke.  But ever since then, I’ve been interested in social media and gamification for self-improvement, as you can see from my past posts on Fitocracy, Nerd Fitness, Zombies, Run!, Mindbloom, and SuperBetter.

A couple of days ago, some friends at Nerd Fitness mentioned that they were using a roleplaying game to track their habit changes: HabitRPG.  I’d read about this kickstarter project about a year ago, but I was focused on the beta of (now indefinitely postponed) Rising Heroes and didn’t give the simplified D&D project much thought.

A year later, I am glad that the project was funded – and that friends have brought this back to my attention.

I’ve barely started (my character is a mere level 4), and so many of the features are still to come … such as classes, pets, mounts, and fancy weapons, but what I have seen so far looks fun and definitely motivating.  Rather than a long “to do” list of things I should do to improve my health each day, I see a list of challenges and quests … each associated with points and gold.  It’s classic D&D (or World of Warcraft for younger audiences) roleplaying applied to daily life.

Check back in a few weeks to see how the experiment is going!

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Game Review: Nerd Fitness

Nerd Fitness T-Shirt on Display

Nerd Fitness T-Shirt on Display (Photo credit: Crowbeak.Sasquatch)

Nerd Fitness harkens back to a favorite project of mine from 1998 – the radical idea that social role playing could be a useful tool for personal transformation.  Back in those heady days at the beginning of the social media explosion, I and a group of intrepid Star Wars fans thought that we could leverage the frenzy over the prequels to get people to try to emulate the lifestyles of their favorite Jedi (or Sith … equally fit but in slenderizing black).  People would find encouragement in casting themselves as heros in their very own hero’s journey as they developed prosocial habits such as meditating, healthy eating, participating in aerobic and strength training, and maybe even join a martial arts school.  What could go wrong?

As it turns out, the idea of taking on the identity of a Jedi as a fun path to personal development was surprisingly polarizing, resulting in people establishing new religions or retreating to pure fan fiction.  I had thought that only one organization remained as the heir to a dream …. until I bumped into Steve Kamb‘s blog and nearly shouted for joy!  Kamb and his rebels took all that was right with the transformation through role playing idea and made it work.

Nerd Fitness is old school — really old school.  It is a discussion forum based social site (run by Staci) with occasional articles and some short, focused booklets (for sale) riffing off the super hero theme but backed by serious study of what works on the way to fitness and health.  In the discussion forums, participants are encouraged to re-create themselves as a videogame character.  You can pick any race you like from fantasy – fiction, movies, or games – and combine that with one of a limited selection of classes.  If anyone has played Dungeons and Dragons or similar spinoffs, you’ll understand, but Steve and Staci have excellent guides for the uninitiated to get them up to speed.  After that, you allocate a limited number of points among attributes (again, if you haven’t played role playing games, bear with me … or better yet, borrow a friend’s kid to be your teacher), set fitness goals for yourself, and away you go!!  Time is measured in 6-week challenges although nothing stops the interested newbie from starting whenever is convenient.

It is entirely up to the player to decide what goals to set, how to allocate (a limited number of) points, and how to measure progress (and awarding a limited number of success points).  The site has no internal mechanism for scoring.  No leaderboards.  You can create an avatar for yourself if you want.  You can create a storyline for your character if you want.  It is all pretty chill as regards gamification elements, and everyone is on the honor system.  There are few sources of external recognition – Staci recognizes some one at the end of each challenge as particularly exemplary, but people are generally competing against themselves rather than each other.

The LACK of competition between players is very a very important part of the success of Nerd Fitness.  You can have a complete fitness beginner working alongside a  CrossFit aficionado without the least problem.  In fact, in true affinity space form, experienced fitness buffs can advise newcomers on many aspects of diet and exercise and provide essential encouragement.  It’s like Weight Watchers or SparkPeople with a nerdy spin and few frills.  People have fun, put up goals and plans for accountability, and those who put in the work to change their habits find rewards.

I’m now on my third challenge and loving it.  The people on the site are supportive.  The idea is quirky enough to work.  And people understand nerdy references that usually fly over everyone’s head at cocktail parties.  In fact, I’ve been enjoying this site so much that I signed up for the beta of their extension of the concept, Rising Heroes and can hardly wait to play it.  Forget Mists of Pandaria!  I want to run through Arcadea and have it matter!!

The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity Archives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of the book review world, I occasionally write reviews of fiction over at On Starships and Dragonwings.  It works – because crafting virtual worlds and compelling computer games involves at least some story-telling ability.  Heck, I’ll run if it involves a good story (watch my my review of Zombies, Run!).

Today, it is Top Ten Tuesday in the book blog world – and here are MY top ten TBR books for the fall.  Not necessarily in order ….

1. Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews.  Some reviewers have fussed that it is set in the world of Kate Daniels but does not feature the central characters of the Magic Bites etc. world.  Me – I’m thrilled to see Andrew’s richly crafted supporting characters get a chance in the spotlight.  I’m currently reading this one and loving it!

2.  & 3. Bayou Moon & Fate’s Edge by Ilona Andrews.  I’m kinda fan-girling this author right now.  With the Edge series, she has created a different urban fantasy world that is just as believable but totally different.

4. Destiny Binds by Tammy Blackwell.  A gift from my daughter the book blogger – who recommends it highly.   More fantasy set in an alternate modern world.  Yum.

5. Mercy Thompson Homecoming by Patricia Briggs.  I love Mercy Thompson and am looking forward to the graphic novel of her introduction to our favorite werewolves.

6.  Masques by Patricia Briggs.  A different series that I picked up in the local library.  Not sure about this one, but I’ll give it a try.

7. The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross.  More urban fantasy recommended by friends.  This sounds like a cross between Dresden Files and Hitchhiker’s Guide.

8. The Pillars of the World by Anne Bishop.  A more traditional fantasy set in a totally different world.

9. Backup by Jim Butcher.  Speaking of Harry Dresden. This is a novella from his vampire brother’s point of view.  Should be wild.

10. The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan.  I love Riordan’s work and don’t care that they are young adult fantasy.  Good plots, good characters, and set in an alternate world where the Greco-Roman gods run around like in the myths.

Before you get your controllers in a bunch, let me point out that Fitocracy is not what most people think of as a game (although some definitions are broad enough to include it under the “game” umbrella, probably …  unless you’re Eric Zimmerman).

Strictly speaking, this is an example of gamification, a process by which routine tasks are turned into quasi-games by adding game features such as points, levels, online social interaction, and rewards.  Fitocracy is typical of the genre in that it keeps track of points – which are calculated from type, intensity and duration of exercise.  How the calculation is done is something of a mystery worthy of Google  – and it sometimes does not seem to reflect effort accurately – but those points add up, resultingin the “player” being rewarded by increased levels and occasionally a cool badge.  Social networking adds a further layer to the reward system by allowing other Fitocrats to comment on your efforts and success and also give you a thumbs up in the form of “props” – which they do with great frequency.

Image representing Fitocracy as depicted in Cr...

Image via CrunchBase

While this may not sound to the uninitiated like a recipe for successful workout motivation, I have to say that I am finding Fitocracy be highly effective.   Putting my workouts out there for the world to see is a great way to remain accountable.  Having people cheer me on whenever I make a breakthrough – or even actually remember to work out – is enough incentive to motivate me to workout even on days when I don’t want to.  I know I have pushed a little bit harder to achieve a new level, and the occasional, goofy badge, random quest, or user-generated player-vs.player challenge edges the site and app just a little further into the grey zone between gamified routine and a “real game”.

After having tried many tracking programs-  online, computer-based, DS-based, and smartphone-based, I have finally found something that actually motivates me to not only track my exercise but push myself to workout harder and to try different activities just to get another badge.  For now, this is the reigning champion in the fitness game category for me, although the new fitness MMORPG from NerdFitness, Rising Heroes, may give it a run for its money.

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