How Gamifying Everyday Tasks Turns Challenges into Fun

Earlier this spring, a member of the Twin Cities Geeks discussion group on Facebook posted a request: “Could I possibly commission a music geek to make me a personal fanfare/level up jingle to play when I accomplish a trying task? This is a serious request and part of an experiment to see if an auditory reward can help with executive dysfunction.”

Smartwatch displaying a heart

Mobile apps for your smartphone or smartwatch are one way to use gamification in your everyday life. Rawpixel/Unsplash

Lyd is an artist who makes abstract art using charcoal and oils. They are also an herbalist, a witch, and activist, among many other things. They like role-playing games and are into gamification. They are a huge fan of The Magicians. They run three tabletop campaigns (two Pathfinder and one anime). They have two pets, a bird and a cat. They are huge advocate in their workplace for queer folk.

They also live with executive dysfunction, which can be a symptom of many different mental illnesses or even brain injury. Lyd explains that it is “like a cognitive block. It’s like no matter how bad I want or need to do something, there is an invisible wall blocking my ability to do it.” Executive dysfunction can prevent them from doing pretty much anything on some days, including, chores, schoolwork, or even their art. Some days, Lyd tells me, “getting up and getting ready is like trying to move a mountain.”

Starting tasks and staying focused on them are problems for Lyd, which is what got them interested in gamification. In their words, gamification is “taking a menial task and turning it into a game. A lot of educational programs like math games do this.” That’s why they sought some help from the Twin Cities Geeks community, hoping someone could come up with a jingle or sound to play when they accomplish a task—something like the Pokémon or Final Fantasy level-up sounds. Part of the reason they thought this might help is that they enjoy the sound of ticket scanner at their work and it helps them to get the job done.

Many people use rewards to help them, and gamification and reward-based systems are often used for people with disabilities. As a child growing up, I had to do physical therapy, and we played games to increase my motor skills. We did projects. It felt like we did everything but physical therapy. The games were, in fact, the therapy. But you try telling that to a five-year-old.

A screenshot of the Nerd Fitness website, featuring the site's header and the headline "

Nerd Fitness is a website that turns your workout routine into an RPG-style adventure.

As an adult, I’m handed a stretch band and told to get to it. But many adults have found that using game elements helps with motivation for all kinds of work. Twin Cities Geek‘s Mariah Kaercher has written here about Nerd Fitness and Wokamon, both of which turn getting fit into a game. Lifehacker has a whole list of apps that can help you gamify your chores and other to-do items. Some people put the television on in the background while they are working on projects. Some people have fidget items, such as a piece of cloth. Others use noise-cancelling headphones. Many people use music to stay motivated.

Not all attempts at gamification are equally effective, and what works for one person might not work for someone else. But if you’re having trouble getting motivated or staying focused, it’s worth giving some of them a try.

Have you used any of these methods? How have they helped you in your daily life?

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