4mph

Apparently the average distance that someone can walk in an hour is 3.1 miles. Recently I have been pushing myself to walk faster and faster each day going to and from work, as a way of gamifying the route in which take to work. I have managed to walk the 1.1 miles from my flat to the train station in 14 minutes, or I can walk at around 4.7 mph in the mornings. I keep this pace up as a way of losing my Texas Fat, the some rather unsightly weight that I gained on the great American adventure, but also as a way of saving a fortune on not owning a car or throwing money down the drain on petrol.

Gamification is a controversial topic amongst many people in many circles, mostly because of the way that it appears to trick people into doing certain things, and also the way in which it can be nefariously applied. I became interested in gamification (a word that likely doesn't quite exist yet, but I am going to add to my Word dictionary right now to stop those squiggly red lines appearing all over this draft) after a thought experiment after playing a session on the Xbox Live Arcade title Trials HD.

The game is a simple physics based platformer game with the trick being that it focuses on trials biking – it's a fiddly game and dependant on skill almost entirely. It is classified as "Score Attack" game – the only real reward, after completing the levels, is to better your times and get better "awards", being the simple Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze that we are all aware of.

The thought suddenly hit me. It was like a bolt of lightning – why am I spending so long to shave literally 1/10th of a second of an arbitrary time? The only reason, really, was the glow that the game gives me when I am rewarded by a token gesture of success – the small idea that in a way I have won a victory. It meant that the hours spent getting annoyed and frustrated by the rough skills needed for the game and the unsuccessful attempts were for something, and I felt like I had achieved something in the end. It was an important part of my love of the game.

I began to think about applying this to other parts of my life; how to reward small things that I am enabled to do by giving myself similar rewards. For example, a really easy one was that if I had walked to work four days out of five I was "allowed" or "achieved" a McDonalds Breakfast. It sounds silly, but it meant that there was a reward for doing it. This is not new, not at all – conditioning via reward goes all the way back to survival instincts and training dogs and children to do certain things outside of their basic infant ideas. Give a kid a toy car every time he pees in the potty and he'll keep doing it wanting the reward, and removing the reward gives you the feeling of success without needing the reward, in the end.

Of course, I am not training myself to walk at 4mph like a dog... but the gamification of lives could be used in a really interesting way. Think about school – you are given a grade at which you are marked against. You get an A on a chemistry exam and the reward is that you got an A. Imagine, however, you were given something else. In the world of the Xbox, Microsoft revolutionised gaming by giving out "achievement points" during games. Each game has 1000 to give out, and a well thought out game gives these points for a myriad of various achievements in the titles. Some a rewarded for doing the whole game, some are for getting a certain score or time. It's a good thing and has made me go back to old games just to get the points. My current "gamerscore" is at the side of this blog, and is quite low for someone who has had an Xbox since 2007. But still, it's a numerical and easy way of rewarding someone for doing something that is boastable.

Do this in schools, or work, and you might be impressed at the way that you improve productivity and work quality increase. Instead of seeing a failure, you see a lower level of success, and that's an important way to change the attitude to trying. A small change is still a change in the right direction.

The day someone at a gym figures out and implements a Gamification system of getting fit, you'll see a massive change in peoples success rates. For me, all I want to get to is 12 minutes to the train station so I can break the 5mph barrier.