To Stay Fit, I Transformed Myself Into A Video Game Character
An experiment with Gamification
Video games meant a great deal to me during my childhood. Looking back, I can’t think of anything else that motivates a kid more than video games. Imagine — what else could get a kid to voluntarily spend hours on end, trying to perfect his/her skill in that activity?
With this thought in mind, and my recent lack of motivation to keep up with my fitness regime, I embarked to apply some game elements that excited me when I was a kid, to my training.
Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.
My fitness regime in martial arts
I’ve been practicing Muay Thai (a form of Thai kickboxing) for close to 10 years.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sport — as a teenager, Muay Thai served as a productive outlet to channel my energy. What started out as a leisurely hobby slowly turned into an obsession. I became good at it (I think), and the more I improved, the more I strove to get better.
Now, Muay Thai helps me stay present amidst the long 80-hour work weeks. I aimed to train regularly, twice a week, with the objective of improving my fitness and my overall fighting ability.
Setting up the “Game”: Which elements of training do I need to optimize?
I have an obsession with optimization. With that comes an innate desire to improve my “fight game” when it comes to mixed martial arts, even as I have no intention to fight competitively. I just loved breaking down the sport, and applying it to my training.
After watching countless fights from my favorite fighters, I’ve narrowed 6 key elements I needed to work on, to improve my skills as a fighter:
- Explosiveness (Strength)
- Accuracy (in punches and kicks)
- Cardiovascular Endurance
Turning myself into a game character
Now comes the fun part — creating an actual game character out of myself. The process involves:
- Creating a “hero avatar” (think of it like a display picture, but cooler)
- Evaluating my baseline attributes based on the 6 elements
- Plotting my baseline attributes on a radar graph
- Set rules on how to each attributes may increase with training (or decrease with the lack of training)
- Create an excel to track my progress
Yes. You heard that right — an excel spreadsheet.
Also, I might have went a little overboard with my avatar. I spent $40 to get a freelancer create an avatar to looks like an animated version of me. I even gave my avatar a tongue piercing.
The rules of the game:
- A set period of training activity would increase your stats by a certain amount from the baseline
- For example, stretching for 10 minutes would increase my flexibility points by 1
- For every 5 points that I gain in any attribute, I deposit $5 imaginary dollars into my spreadsheet.
- I would then compile these imaginary dollars to buy something for myself, as a form of a reward
Decay (Following the law of diminishing marginal returns):
- I broke down the attribute points into segments of 10
- The higher you go in each each segment, the more difficult it is to increase the attribute
- For example: From 30–40 points of endurance, a 20 minute run would increase my endurance by +1. From 40–50 points however, a 25 minute run is needed to increase endurance by +1
- As you can see, my flexibility sucks. Starting from a low baseline would mean it is easier to “level up”. This would motivate me to work more on my flexibility.
- Not working on a particular attribute for 7 days would reduce that attribute by -1
- You can see how the Coronavirus severely hindered my ability to train on explosiveness and form. Training these elements generally require a trainer for padwork, and punching bags for bagwork
- On the bright side, working from home gave me plenty of opportunity to do alot more stretching work, at the comforts of my own home.
Insights from the experiment
30 days into the experiment, and it seems that I am still keeping my regular routine of fitness and exercise.
My consistency however, did NOT seem to be driven by the system I created. Looking back, there are 2 main problems that limit the effectiveness of my system.
Problem #1: Creating a system for myself meant that I was able to change the rules of the game anytime
This posed a serious problem, since that meant I had to hold myself accountable for sticking to the rules of my own game. Since I was able to adjust the points easily, the points system became meaningless.
Problem #2: Instead of motivating me further, the tracking activity added additional inertia to my routine
There were days where I missed tracking my progress on the excel sheet. It seemed to be an additional chore, on top of the fitness routine I had. After 2 weeks in, I found myself forgoing the entire tracking system.
I wanted to see if a simple “leveling system”, a concept often used in games, could be used to keep me motivated in my fitness regime. I wanted to make training a little more fun and rewarding
While this simple experiment with Gamification did not achieve the desired results, it provided me with valuable insights to improve the game design and elements for my next experiment.