Gamification in your PhD? Gamify Your Life with HabitRPG!

Is gamification a suitable technique for maintaining motivation and momentum in your PhD? While I dislike buzzwords like these a lot, I think gamification has great potential in many applications. I guess most people are familiar with the success of Stack Overflow, a well-known example of gamification done right, but can techniques like these be successfully applied to everyday activities as well?

As some of you may know, I really enjoy gaming in my spare time a lot. My favorite genre of them all is the RPG (Role Playing Game) genre. Typically such games include the following basic ingredients: you have a character that starts out weak, but through solving quests and epic battle you earn experience points and gold. Experience points are used to level up your character, making him/her stronger and more awesome, while gold is typically used to buy better gear and items for your character. At its core it’s quite a simple concept: you perform tasks for rewards and improve and grow as you do so. Wouldn’t this be a great concept to apply in everyday life as well?

The people over at HabitRPG seem to think so. On their website you get to ‘play’ an RPG by performing tasks in real life. They aim to support achieving your goals and reinforcing good habits by gamification (the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts in order to engage users and solve problems). Your character starts out at level 1 and by completing quests you can influence your health and experience points.

You can specify your ‘quests’ in three categories: Habits, Dailies and Todos. Habits are goals that you want to track constantly. You can either choose to have completing one of these influence your points positively (for doing good things like eating fruit), negatively (for doing naughty things like eating junk food) or a combination of both (for instance walking to work gets you points while taking the bus costs you points). Dailies are meant for activities that you want to complete once a day, for instance doing the dishes. How often you do them influences the amount of impact on your health, experience and gold. Todos are things you need to do once, like reading a paper. As you procrastinate with those, the rewards for completing them increase as extra motivation.

Completing your tasks successfully earns you gold. This gold can be used to buy Rewards. You can add your own rewards and associate an appropriate gold cost with them: buy yourself a nice real cake for a 100 gold pieces. Still want a cake but don’t have enough gold? Fine, you’ll pay with your health though! After playing for a while you even unlock an Item store to buy things for your character. Just like your reward circuits are triggered in games, these positive reinforcements will trigger the same reward circuits for achieving things in real life.

gamification: my current HabitRPG setup
My current HabitRPG setup. (I ate snacks without having the gold for it, shhh!)

I played around with HabitRPG for a while today and really like it so far, but I’ll be trying out this system for at least a month to check if this is something for me. I’m curious to see if and how it will increase motivation and productivity for self-improvement on the personal and professional PhD-related level. I am also well aware that at times I spend so much time on (new) techniques like these that it forms a serious risk of actually hindering productivity. I will write an honest follow-up review post when the month is over, but for now: let the games begin!


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