The problem of gamified apps with no direction.
This post is a take on All The World’s A Game by Steve Heisler.
Generally speaking, when we open the Productivity section of the App Store, we are in search of a solution to manage our busy lives. We are presented with a slew of to-do apps that range from the minimalistic Clear to the robust OmniFocus. From picking up the kids to cleaning the inbox to running software updates, There seems to be a solution for everyone that needs to keep track of everything.
But what about those of us who can’t think of what to do. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I cannot help but feel that as soon as I open a to-do app, I am lost. I stare at the blank canvas with little inspiration and even fewer ideas. What was once full of the palpable stress of a massive to-do list, is all of the sudden blank. I’m filled with anxiety, often over thinking large items or filling the list with menial tasks, hoping that I’m actually jotting down what I truly need to get done. At that point, I begin to question, who is dictating what I need to get done? Am I my own worst enemy?
While reading through Steve Heisler’s “All The World’s A Game,” I realized that I am not the only one with this problem. The following passage highlights Steve’s troublesome experience with iOS to-do robot CARROT:
“I awoke the following morning to find that CARROT’s new pleasing demeanor—the fruits of yesterday’s labor—had all but vanished. Apparently, all that time I spent “sleeping” wasn’t productive enough. CARROT was not happy, and I shifted into damage-control mode. I added tasks like “check email in the morning” and “respond to email in the morning,” so that tomorrow, I could start my day knowing I wouldn’t be berated by a glorified graphing calculator. At the very least, I could cross off fairly easy-to-do items right away and hopefully counter the negative affects of living life as a human.
This became a slippery slope. The next morning, CARROT was there when I woke up as usual, ready to yell, but now I was prepared. If it’s tasks CARROT wanted, it’s tasks CARROT would get. I added, “Add a task” to the list, then crossed it off. “Take a shower”? Why not? Let’s do some “Eat food” while we’re at it! Ooh, how about, “Start your day”? Vague enough to ensure that it wi—DONE.” – Steven Heisler, The Gameological Society
Steve’s experience reminded me of my experience with the Epic Win app. The premise behind Epic Win is to set off on a personal RPG, leveling up as your complete tasks, collecting items, and encouraging you with humor and friendly competition. As a longtime RPG fan, I was excited to set off on my journey; however, I quickly ran into a glaring problem.
In Epic Win, leveling is dictated by experience points. Each task is given experience points ranging from 50 – 300 points. The only problem is that the points are distributed by the user; therefore, tying your shoes could be given the same amount of points as uprooting a tree stump! Like Steve’s CARROT play-through, this lack of control allows the user to cheat their way through a “gamified” to-do list, thus defeating the purpose.
Maybe Epic Win has solved this problem by now (it’s been years since I’ve used the app). However, this does not change the root of my argument.
Productivity apps need to be built with a set of predefined tasks, or at least the option to enable them. Just as Flipboard provides predefined “magazines,” a to-do app should offer a list of predefined needs. If it’s a personal list, include items like cleaning the kitchen, scrubbing the toilet, or wash the sheets. If it’s a business list, include items such as clean your inbox, arrange your desk, or offer positive-specific feedback to a colleague.
In the end, we need control. An empty canvas without limitations may work for but for others, providing direction and advice is something that we may need. Especially in apps built around gamification.