A manifesto for a more wondrous age.

Your world has been gamified. What does that mean? Gamification is use of elements commonly applied to games to other aspects of life, especially on the web and in advertising. This isn’t limited to just video games, although often those elements are the most applied.

Gamification is to blame for a lot of the problems I railed against in my essay ‘Breaking the Loop’. It’s why your notification tabs all look similar, with some bright color and number just begging to be cleared. It’s why you keep checking Twitter and Facebook to see any new likes or comments, to see how many followers you have. It’s why you’re still subscribed to that marketing email list, just in case a good deal comes up.

Games are tremendously powerful tools as motivators. And once advertisers, designers, and developers realized the power games have over their user’s psychology, it was only a matter of time until we saw it in many aspects of our society.

But it’s not all bad. Like I said, gamification tremendous motivator. What’s important is being aware of it’s affects on you, and trying only to feed into those you deem positive.

In ‘Breaking the Loop’, I talk about my step away from social networks, as they become increasingly greedy of my time and attention. I decided that wasn’t necessarily a good use of my time. Just idly browsing Twitter passes time, but it does nothing for making me a better person, or helping me achieve any of my goals.

It was time for a change. There’s two steps to this process:

  1. Analyzing the ways in which apps and utilities are designed to motivate you, and cultivate the ones you want and excise the ones you don’t.
  2. Find ways in which you can employ gamification processes on yourself, as an additional motivator towards your existing goals.

This year, I’ve been trying to read more. To that end, I have a Goodreads account, which I can use to track the books I’ve read, my progress in them, and track my year’s goal (I’m way behind right now; check it out!) This still uses gamification, with a natural desire I have to be on track with the goal I’ve set, as well as completing books in a reasonable time. But I’m choosing to partake in it, as I think it’ll have a positive effect on me.

Not only do I want to read more novels, but I also intend to read more essays and articles. Often in previous years, these would clutter up my tabs bar, and I would end up closing them merely to get rid of them without reading. Now though, I send any interesting articles to an Instapaper account.

I can access this on my phone, and if I want to pass time, that’s a more productive use of it. I also have my Instapaper account set up to send 7 articles a day to my Kindle. It’s become somewhat of a daily goal of mine to read all of them, in time for the next group tomorrow.

I also have been trying to teach myself a language, in this case Japanese. Gamification is used to great affect in education apps and websites. For example, I’m using Duolingo, which has a counter to track your streak of consecutive days practiced. You are awarded “experience points” for completing lessons, and once you hit a goal each day, it’s added to your streak. For me, this is a great motivator, simply to not break the chain.

However, I also tried using a different app called Memrise. Memories also has a streak indicator like Duolingo, and sends you notifications at your discretion to remind you to keep it up. I found the notifications that Memrise sent out to be annoying and off-putting, containing tons of emojis and trying hard to seem hip. These were so frustrating to get that even though we had the same goal in mind, I deleted the app. I don’t regret this, and find Duolingo to be just enough for my learning.

As part of my studying, I’m using an app called Hiragana Pro. In this one, which is basically digital flashcards, it tracks how many times you correctly identify a character with it’s pronunciation. At ten times in a row, the app considers that character as learned, and adds it to your total on the home screen. You can pick it up any time, get back into the swing of the game right where you left off.

Streaks are probably the easiest way to integrate this into your own life. Decide on something you want to do, and how often you want to do it. Daily is easy, but doing the same thing for a weekly or monthly goal isn’t more difficult. There are plenty of apps and websites that can track this information for you, but a good old-fashioned calendar and red marker would do the trick too.

After you get a streak of a week going, maybe you too will feel committed to keep it up.

I keep a notecard in my pocket with a few to-do items on it, and check them off upon completion. Be specific. Having that physicality makes me more aware of them, and more likely to try and adhere to the list. Anything not completed either was a bad goal, didn’t need to be done, or gets moved to another day.

Another great strategy for ramifying yourself is the introduction of rewards and penalties. Inspired by Tim Ferriss, I have been looking into setting up a Stickk account. Stickk is a service for setting stakes as a means to help modify yourself.

You set up an account, set a goal, assign someone to moderate you, and then pick an “anti-charity”, some place you’d prefer not to donate to. These often include places like the NRA or the George Bush Presidential Library. If you fail to meet your goal, you’ll automatically donate an amount you’ve chosen to the anti-charity you’ve picked, which is shown to dramatically increase your chances of following through on your goal.

I’ve been meditating a lot lately, and that’s mostly about being aware of your immediate surroundings and feelings. This has been extremely beneficial, not for my mental state, but also as an additional lens through which to gauge my surroundings. I find it’s important more than ever to check not only how I feel, but why I feel a certain way.

The same is true of gamification. It’s good to note what the motivation is towards (i.e., what is it hoping you do?), but also whether or not you view that as a positive and beneficial goal too. If it doesn’t align with your own goals, get rid of it, or at least keep it in check. And seek out ways to gamify the tasks you do want to complete.

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