3 Top Lessons From People Living a Gamified Life


This post is not about life gamification tools and apps. It’s not about gadgets or brands that might help you gamify your life.  Over the last 6 months, I’ve discovered that gamification can be used as a way of creating a more playful and productive outlook on life. By looking beyond that first reaction of ‘there must be an app for that’ and instead delving into some of the stories of real people, who have been experimenting with their own life gaming systems.

Beyond the hype and the platforms, what I found were common themes, successes and surprising lessons from those sharing their experiences of what it means to design your own gamified life.

Here are just 3 lessons and inspiring stories that I’ve learnt  from.

1) Real-Life Role Playing helps to define aspects of who you’d like to be

Real-Life Role Playing: What is Your Profession?

Steve @NerdFitness

Steve, the Rebel Leader of Nerd Fitness, challenges people to Level up your life. It’s a site primarily about gamifying and reaching fitness goals, but there are so many great transferable lessons that apply regardless of the kind of ultimate quest you’re on. One of my favourites is the post that identifies classes for fitness types. If you’re an agile, stamina type then perhaps you’re an a Assassin. Love long bike rides or runs, then you’re looking like a Scout.

The post showed me that living a gamified life can be more than just about leveling up. It can also be about the kind of role playing we enjoy when we try to imagine what  characteristics we might already possess or want to nurture in ourselves. Here on my quest, I have developed the character Average Joey, an adventuring empathy-powered hero with a stumpy wooden staff as a weapon and a wolf for a companion. I get to know this character as she journey’s through Webland, discovering and playing out the story of who this character will become.

Lesson 1: Name your character, give him/her/it a class and an identity. Let that character embody whatever goal you are trying to reach, let the stories you tell fill in your character sheet bit by bit.

2) Quest time flows differently, so learn how to bend time.

Jon Guerrera gamified his weekends to become a ‘Weekend Warrior’ and played through his interview prep to successfully land his dream job at Google. His talk at the 2012 Gamification.co summit was one of the first videos I watched that really captured my imagination and brought to life what designing for a gamified life could look like.

What always jumps out in both his talks and blog posts is the tricks and tips he uses for getting over the some very relatable motivational bumps along the gamified road. Having a game system doesn’t mean just creating a layer of points or rewards, but actually designing conditions that mirror the best experiences we have in games.

For example, setting up the start of our own quests to lead us around barriers and into a state of flow. This was one of the best gamifying skills I learnt from Jon, on how to bend time!

In his talk he describes the power of a 10 minute commitment whilst gamifying his preparation for the conference speech itself. After a long day at work he commits to doing just 10 minutes every night to work on his speech. Returning home at 11:00 would mean being done by 11:10. A small commitment that felt manageable. Yet when he measured the actual amount of time he spent working on the speech, it was closer to 27 minutes.

You can almost always convince yourself you have 10 minutes to spend on a quest and that 10 minutes can balloon into a state of flow that achieves a whole lot more than you anticipated. However, trying to commit to 27 minutes up front, a longer session when your energy levels are already low, only serves to trigger the hundreds of good excuses about why you don’t have the time. The result is procrastination for another day and nothing is achieved.

Lesson 2: 10 = 27, but 27 = 0. Teach yourself with this time bending trick to find you way into flow and productivity far more frequently.

3) The Secret of Rewards

A lot of the gamified life stories include systems that start with the simple act of adding up points and setting out rewards you want in exchange for these points. Do enough of x tasks and you’ll get y.

It’s a set-up we are pretty familiar with throughout our lives from work to school. We recognize this exchange of work for reward and respond to it pretty automatically. However, I’ve also heard lots on the research, made popular in Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’, that says putting extrinsic rewards in place of any intrinsic motivation we feel for doing something can have adverse effects. Turning our attention away from the value we find in doing x and purely into a transaction to be rewarded with y.

If this was the whole story, it would be easy to suggest that all gamified life systems based on points and rewards will ultimately defeat your end goals. However, this wasn’t what I found from the many stories I came across of how strongly people felt a simple point and reward system did effectively work for them.

People like Jason Pettus, who set out in 2013 to count points towards, he writes, “Gamifying all the crap I hate doing.” He nails the real secret behind the points and reward system by sharing this.

“…it’s not the rewards themselves that I treasure so much (it’s just a night of pool, just a used book); it’s the opportunity to indulge in these rewards guilt-free that is the main pleasure, which as a self-employed middle-ager is the thing that’s truly difficult in my life, not to pamper myself but to feel like I earned that pampering.

Put another way, the gamified system of points and rewards is a great way to train us in how to delay gratification. The importance of this is captured in an excellent post by James Clear, who rounded up the key studies and findings from 40 years of Standard research that showed if there was one overriding quality in people, who are more likely to succeed at life, it is their ability to do this.

Lesson 3: The “earned” nature of the reward matters more than the reward itself. To consistently choose to do the harder, not so immediately pleasant thing, in order to gain a perceived reward later on.

Connecting to Gamified Lives

I’ve enjoyed finding the people out there going about their own gamified lives. I’ve peered over their shoulder at how they are playing their game and have laughed, cheered and stolen quite a few pro-tips and inspiration to improve my own gameplay.

I hope if you are considering or already making your own gamified life, that along with reaching for that app that can best accompany you on your quest, you’ll also seek out others and share your stories too. I’ve included a few more links below to some other posts and people I found along my journey.

If you find an interesting story of someone living a gamified life or even have your own story you’d like to share, please do comment, tweet or email me here. I’d love to hear from you.

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