Self-tracking has a long history independent of the rising cultural presence of videogames. But if the corresponding rise in corporate and behavioral "gamification" has taught us anything, it's that everybody secretly likes that graitifying feeling of filling bars up and scoring achievement points, whether or not they matter. Today, Wired reviewed four new gadgets that let you turn that mentality towards your own body:
What can these things tell you?
No two devices report exactly the same nuggets of data, but they all focus on exercise and health metrics — miles jogged, steps taken, calories burned. You can drill into the data of a specific workout session or track 24-hour totals. Some monitors also rate sleep quality.
How do they work?
Accelerometers record footsteps and sleep-time restlessness. GPS tracks your location. Altimeters follow changes in elevation. And sensors that monitor skin temperature and perspiration can even help divine how many calories you're burning. Built-in displays can show snapshots of data at a glance, but for rich charts detailing health and exercise progress, you'll need to connect to a PC or mobile device.
Will a body monitor make me healthier?
No, that's your job. What monitors can do is nudge you to be more active and help you set goals. You'll begin to figure out which activities burn the most calories and which lifestyle habits affect sleep most grievously. Ideally, the data will drive your decision-making and you'll become addicted to personal improvement.
It's interesting, and a little disturbing, that the article seems to take for granted the fact that gamification in and of itself can make any sort of repetitive behavior instantaneously more addicting. In terms of exercise, they see this as a good thing. Which would probably make sense until you consider the fact that running is already an addictive behavior for humans. A recent report on the self-tracking company Fitocracy by The Economist wonders if these forms of gamification only end up influencing those most prone to this type of addictive behavior in the first place. Namely, nerds:
But the most interesting thing about Fitocracy is not the emphasis on efficient, high-point activitiess. Rather, it is that "the people who come to Fitocracy have never picked up a weight before and are frankly geeks like myself," explains Mr Talens. That brings unique challenges. Mr Talens says the audience can display ardour that lifelong but occasional gym-goers lack. But they are not used to dispiriting failure.
Fitocracy places emphasis on the site's forums, in which staff and more experienced members and fitness experts pep others up and provide advice. Mr Talens, who coaches a number of members, says that a mentorship program will be formalised soon that will allow users' progress to be monitored by partners.
The key for these first-time visitors to the temple of Adonis is to give them modest and achievable starting points, such as a walk around the block. Gamers are used to increasingly difficult levels. "You sort of trick people into doing it," says Mr Talens. A recently introduced iPhone app should allow members (if any can be found without an Android smartphone, de rigueur to show street cred among programmers) to update workout records on the fly, too.
The thing about games, though, is that people naturally probe and test the rules of them once they become too apparent. Just look at the recent trend of pacifist gamers playing ultraviolent games. So will these strateges hold when their design is laid bare so clearly?