[x-posted at HistoricLee Relevant]

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I have been unable to hit the gym this semester. It’s on the way home, it’s free, and I know I’d have more energy if I went. I know all of these things, and yet, I still can’t muster up the motivation to go.

Ah, there’s the key word: motivation.

Enter gamification.

Gamification centers on the idea that one can apply game design principles to any problem. Need to motivate students to learn. GAMIFY IT! Need to quit smoking? GAMIFY IT! Need to hit the gym more frequently? GAMIFY IT! (If you’ve seen Dexter, Season 5, then this refrain will sound familiar.)

Brian Wang and Dick Talens have not only gamified the gym experience with Fitocracy, but they have done so with enormous amounts of personal success, going from fraught with flab to muscles of many, from sitting all day to fitting in your clothes. They argue that the characteristics of high-intensity gamers are almost identical to those of body builders:

They’ve been trained to focus for weeks at a time on a single goal. They know how to clearly identify obstacles and form step-by-step plans to overcome them. They’re obsessed with improving specific skills but judge success only by overall progress made in the world they’ve decided to conquer — as realistic or fantastical as it may be.


Gamification has its detractors and critics, notably Iam Bogost, with his post, “Gamification is Bullshit.” But, Bogost’s ire seems not to be directed at serious thinkers and pedagogical theoreticians but rather at a corporate edutainment industry hellbent on making profits, not learners. Shawn Graham’s “Gamification, Bullshit, and Teaching History,” at Play the Past, is taking up Bogost’s challenge, and we would do well to remain similarly skeptical of techno-educational fads but also take account of the potential benefits of innovative pedagogy.

Maybe an system of external rewards and online badges will get me into the gym at least once this semester, but it’s this notion of externality that also kinda makes me hate going to the gym: the super-amped, jacked guy that gazes longingly at his deltoids in the mirror. If I go to the gym, ultimately, it’s because I want a better quality of life and not necessarily a better looking body…but I guess that wouldn’t hurt either.