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Gamification has taken away exercise and learning

Andy Walker / Android Authority

While some of the early hype has died out, the concept of gamification – rewarding ordinary tasks by turning them into games – has not only survived, but has completely crammed itself into society. It’s especially common when it comes to digital learning and fitness tracking, so much so that you probably don’t even think about it when you launch an app like Google Fit or Duolingo.

There are certainly benefits to manipulation, but it may not be surprising that pushing for it backfires in some cases, causing people to want to ignore these systems or quit the things they encourage us to do. I’ll focus on fitness, since that’s my specialty, but it should be easy to spot the issues I talk about in many other apps and platforms.

Our picks: The best fitness trackers

Motivation to do more, do it every day

Woman wearing a Fitbit charging 5 lunar white gold working weights.

If you have a Fitbit or Apple Watch, you are well aware of notifications about your daily activity goals. a movement. steps. status. sleeping. You are rewarded when you achieve milestones, and you are often urged to work even harder, whether to achieve those milestones, to achieve your previous best performance, or to compete with friends. This in and of itself can be stressful if you’re a regular Joe or Jane who’s already trying her best under the circumstances.

On the learning front, I used Duolingo to improve my German, and I remember the app almost teasing me about using it every day. When I started going several days without touching it, I got alerts about that too. It wasn’t the stress that got me to stop improving my German – blaming it on time and other pressing concerns – but it certainly didn’t help.

Gamification can be stressful if you’re a regular Joe or Jane who’s already trying his best under the circumstances.

Constant reminders can be very annoying for many of us, especially if the kids are already distracted, work, study, politics or just streaming other app notifications. It is possible to turn off some or all of these alerts, but not everyone is technically versed, and to some extent, developers have to realize how exhausted the barrage of notifications is.

Cumulatively, you can be bombarded with notifications to the point that you have the opposite problem. Digital noise can be quite loud, in other words, even positive reinforcement is lost in switching. It does not matter if the test is congratulated if it is flooded with headlines or Instagram messages.

Related: Fitbit and Apple Fitness should stop punishing people for taking days off

Guilt and resentment over broken lines

Apple Fitness Plus gamification app

Perhaps most importantly, likable goals can generate (or completely create) guilt. Although it has a lot of great qualities, Apple Fitness is actually one of the worst platforms in this regard, as it not only urges watch owners to close their activity rings every day, but makes many of its prizes dependent on maintaining ring streaks. You can lift 500 pounds at least three days a week and still miss weekly or monthly badges, not to mention enforced leave when you’re sick or injured.

Gamification can potentially make people feel like they’re doing too little, or that they’re not getting enough credit.

Companies that use systems tend to get lost in certain use cases. Exercising seven days a week, for example, is commendable when you’re talking about activities like walking, light yoga, or short runs. But once you get serious about fitness, you need rest days to recover, something that major health platforms don’t even consider. The best you can get is something like Google Fit, which rewards you for achieving a certain total heart score within a week, rather than just every day.

See also: All you need to know about Google Fit

It’s no wonder, then, that some people may resent being manipulated, as it can potentially make them feel like they’re doing too little, or not getting enough credit. This is true with both learning and exercise applications – while you need to keep up with a certain pace if you are, say, learning a language or how to program, someone who is only casually teaching themselves need not be prompted with accomplishments and reminders. It’s more likely to have to do with developers who want the engagement that drives them towards their bottom line, whether through ad revenue or subscriptions.

Do you find that gamification (daily goals, awards, etc.) helps improve learning or health?

20 votes

How to restore the fun

Home Fitness Martial Arts - Gamification

Disclaimer: This is not my house.. I took this photo a while ago!

The first principle is clear – intentionally ignore or disable gamification unless it’s convenient for you. If you work in a specialized thing such as weightlifting, in fact, this is practically required. Most health platforms lean toward cardiac activity, so only a portion of their metrics are relevant. Likewise, if you’re learning to play guitar, you shouldn’t feel bad about skipping folk blues lessons or 12-bar blues lessons if you don’t intend to play these genres.

The more personal your goals are, the better, as you are more likely to pursue them.

More than that, you need to define your own goals and define your own meaning for success. If you’re learning Python programming, for example, the goal of creating a real, working application can be a better motivator than projects suggested by services like Sololearn, precisely because they are tailored to your interests. In a workout, you might set a satisfying scale like running 5km or squeezing your own body weight.

The more personal your goals are, the better, as you are more likely to pursue them. As you can imagine, there are a variety of things that make me go to the gym, but one of the strongest these days is my four-year-old son. I want to be able to take him for as long as possible, and be a role model for health at a time when most parents succumb to the couch. I want to teach him to lift and crate when he’s old enough.

To be clear, I am a fan of digital learning and healthy platforms in general. They tend to be more efficient, not to mention easier to access, because they are cheaper than paying for classes or hiring an instructor for several weeks. When gamification works, it can change lives. But these platforms should always be in the service of our own ends, rather than the game technology companies that want us to play.

Read more: Best Digital Learning Apps on Android