Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gaming your health - are the benefits only short-term?

There's been a lot of talk about gaming and social applications. As you know, I've been following what the Oracle AppsLab has said about the topic, and Louis Gray posted something on the topic not too long ago. Now Wired has entered into the fray.

(An aside: remember when the term "Wired" was supposed to be futuristic? Now it's antiquated.)

Anyway, Wired started its article by referring to a twentieth-century craze.

In the mid 1990s, a craze swept Japan and crested its way onto American shores: Kids were going crazy for the Tamagotchi, an egg-shaped digital pet. Every few hours, users would press a couple buttons to feed their Tamagotchi, play with it, or clean it up. The game was simple, but intensely rewarding. Users cried when their Tamagotchis got sick or died; they were elated when they were able to raise a healthy, happy pet. More than 70 million have been sold.

It then stated:

The genius of the device was that it was both simple and rewarding...

OK, simplicity and incentive - what about purpose? But I digress. Wired talks about new applications:

New health-monitoring tools let us pay close attention to our state of being, how much exercise we’re getting, how much sleep we’re getting — and they make it easy to set a goal and improve ourselves. In other words, they turn our health into something of a game. And the reward is better health and a better life.

Wired then discusses four such devices: Fitbit, Zeo Personal Sleep Coach, BodyMedia FIT, and PHILIPS DirectLife.

However, I didn't see any evidence that any of these devices had a community, as social media people understand the term. Here's what Philips says:

Achieving results in any improvement program can be lonely.

With DirectLife, you are never alone. We provide regular updates on your progress and motivational tips. Depending on your progress in the program and your membership plan, a personal coach may be available for all your questions.

Now obviously there are communities that are devoted to improving health, both of the 2.0 sort and of the more traditional sort (Weight Watchers meetings come to mind). And frankly, even the traditional places have their "badges" of sorts. But note this cautionary message from 2008:

I think it is great to use incentives to help people in obtaining a goal but my concern with offering someone a monetary prize, a computer or any other enticing device is if this will only be a short term solution.


The other day I happened to be in particular job site where the human resources director told me that they were going to hold a "biggest loser" contest. She said that it was really successful in the past. I proceeded to ask her how did the "biggest loser" make out and she stated that he has gained all his weight back, but that he is anxious to try again since this year they will be giving away an MP3 player. Last year he won $150 and spent it right away so he prefers a prize instead of money.

Ignoring whether or not the incentive was proper, or the incentivized behavior was proper (would a race to lose weight really be the best solution?), this episode does point out that while we may have temporary joy in winning badges, this is more of a short-term joy than a long-term one. Perhaps this is the nature of gaming itself, but it's something to think about. Will the mayor of Store X even bother to patronize the store one year later, or ten years later?

And this does point out something else - it's possible for even boring married people to get involved in these gaming activities. (And compared to me, Louis Gray is a regular party animal - if nothing else, he goes to more events than I do.)
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