In theory, the idea behind gamification is awesome. If you’re unfamiliar with the principle, it’s simply turning work into a game. It means getting points for completing tasks, or gaining experience for keeping up a habit. You might even bring some kind of currency into the equation so you can “buy” your free time. Or a beer. Technically Pokemon GO is gamification for Going Outside.

The term is built off of the word “game,” if you’re having trouble pronouncing it. It’s game-ify, not Gamma Phi.

But as far as habit-building goes, gamification is still in its infancy and it takes a certain kind of person to stick with a program and use it effectively.

Still, I’m going to talk about some programs that might work for you.


The first gamification program I came across was originally called HabitRPG, but has since changed its name to Habitica. I don’t know why the name changed, just as I don’t know why an MMO I used to play is called Dragon Saga in the US and Dragonica everywhere else.

The program’s main page is actually pretty robust. It includes a column each for habits (both good and bad), daily activities, and a to-do list. There is also a fourth column where you can buy equipment which alters how much each of your activities is worth, how long you can go without completing your daily activities, and so forth.

Here’s a little preview:

Get it? Because it’s little? Joking aside, I have a few problems with this program.

First, if you put something in the “Daily Tasks” column and forget to log in for a day, you’ll lose HP. I think you can fix your streak counter and gain the HP back, but that’s a hassle. It would be helpful if the program gave you a pop-up when you logged in asking “did you do these things yesterday?” before docking you points.

Second, it’s really easy to cheat. Even I’m guilty of that. There have been days where I check off “Make Bed” from my dailies just because I had a productive day and it’s almost bedtime by the time I log in anyway.

Third, this one is a little too much like a game. You get an avatar with armor and weapons, and can even train up a pet. You collect these pets and their food by completing tasks, which is good, but then you have to go into your inventory and actually feed them to make them big enough to be a mount. This isn’t gamification at this point; this is just gaming.

Fourth, and this is connected to the last point, your success is based on how busy you are and how many things you include. If your goal is to breathe at least once every minute, then you can include that in your habits and gain a streak of 1,440 every day. Of course that’s a bit of an extreme example, but if you try Habitica and stick with it, you’ll see what I mean when you start trying to include “showering” as a daily activity. It’s a good goal, sure, but if your bar is that low, then there’s something more at play.

If you plan on trying Habitica, I have some suggestions.

Focus on the Habits and To-Do List columns first. Dailies are a good goal to have, but they also kill your character if you don’t do them. If you’re learning to draw and your goal is to draw something new every day, then put it in your habits. Once you’ve kept at it for a week or more, then go ahead and move it over to the Dailies. Any activity you put in the Dailies column is high-stakes and adds to the pressure.

Reality Craft

If you’re like me, then this one’s more up your alley. It’s pen and paper, first off, and it features a Dungeons & Dragons-style character sheet where you are the hero.

Things have changed since I first tried this one, and the creator has made the character sheet into a spreadsheet which automatically calculates a bunch of things. But the overall idea is still the same.

With Reality Craft, you have to be honest with your own abilities and how much you can truly commit to. It features two main functions: Sticking to goals (quests) and mastering your skills.

The downsides to this program are pretty clear: You have to physically log and calculate everything you do. If you want to get better at darts, you’ll have to log how much you play darts each day then calculate how many experience points that was worth then add them to your character sheet.

It’s a bit of a process, for sure.

However, I think this is the one gamification platform I had the most fun with. I went the pen & paper route, which gave it some concreteness and made it feel more real, more permanent. If you’ve ever played a tabletop RPG then you already know the exact feeling I’m describing.

Other Platforms

There are a couple other prominent gamification platforms I’ve tried over time, and some I’ve only taken a glance at.

Write or Die is an interesting one if you’re a bit of a masochist. It features a simple textbox where you write for a set amount of time. If you slow down for a length of time (which you get to choose) then it will begin to play an annoying sound which you can only stop by writing. On its hardcore mode, the program will start erasing your writing if you stop. There’s a downloadable offline version with more features, too, but it costs money and I haven’t tried it yet.

4thewords is a game for writers. You have to write in order to progress in the game, and your progress relies on your word count. I’m not a huge fan of how this one is a game first and a productivity tool second. I also don’t like that it costs a monthly fee. Still, it might be a useful teaching tool.

Prolifiko is one I know even less about, but I read an interesting article about it. It could be worth checking out.

The Nitty-Gritty

I swear I have a list somewhere around here detailing everything I wanted to include. But in lieu of that, I have two main suggestions that have worked for me.

The first is WriteChain, which I will praise until the end of my days. Unfortunately it seems like its prominence as a great resource has waned lately, as there only seem to be a couple handfuls of active participants nowadays. But if you’re a writer on Twitter and you want to be among your peers doing the daily writing slog, check it out. It jump-started my writing and actually gave me the confidence to call myself a writer.

Second, Word Sprints. Just, in general. The idea is to group up with other writers and write for a set amount of time. This can be done in any chatroom, so if you’re in a room full of writers, bring this idea up to them. See if you can get a couple people going at the same time. Competition is good encouragement.

There are other places you can do this as well. For one, there’s Word War Central on MS Wishlist, where you not only get to compete for words, you also get to gain levels.

If Twitter is more your thing, there are a number of accounts you can follow for word sprints as well. A few I follow are @TheSprintShack, @NaNoWordSprints, @GetWordies, and @FriNightWrites. Check them out if you’re a writer looking for some encouragement via good, healthy competition.

Gamification doesn’t work for everyone on a large scale. However, it’s always wise to try anything new at least once. Once you do, you’ll have more insight into whether or not something will work for you. If you’ve seen something here that seems intriguing, even something that doesn’t gel with me personally, at least give it a shot. It might be just what you need.

As a bonus, I’ve been considering doing an ongoing project where I choose a new gamification platform every month or so and try to do it faithfully, then write reports on how it’s going. This could be a cool project to learn more about gamification in general, and it could also be a really easy source of content fun way to get more productive in general and find the right platform for you and me.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

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