Turn Your Life into a Video Game

I’ve written in the past about the concept of “gameification.”  It’s the idea of using the aspects of video games that make them rewarding in other areas of our lives to improve productivity.  Generally this involves creating a game-like reward system to encourage people to do certain things.  Think about how games reward you for playing them.  Not only do you get a sense of accomplishment, but you get more tangible rewards such as in-game money or loot, unlocking secrets & improving your character.  People like being rewarded for doing things.  So it stands to reason that if we can create a system that rewards people for doing everyday things, it might improve their overall productivity.  An example of gameification in action that most of you may be familiar with if you watch enough television is ABC Mouse, which aims to make learning fun & engaging for children by disguising the learning as games.

Over the past few months I’ve been testing out a program that was backed on Kickstarter that aims to turn your life into a game.

HabitRPG  is a free productivity app that rewards you for doing what you do on any given day.  You get to control what you want to work on.  Completing tasks grants you money and experience.  The money is used to buy in-game items that increase your stats, like armor & weapons.  You can also set your own rewards.  For instance, you can reward yourself for completing your tasks by “buying” videogame time.  You also gains levels with experience, which unlocks in-game functions like the ability to choose your class.  For each task you complete, there’s also a random chance of getting loot.  HabitRPGs loot includes eggs, hatching potions and food.  These items are used to hatch & grow a wide assortment of pets & mounts for your avatar.

But be warned.  Doing bad habits or not completing tasks will cause you to lose health.  And if you lose enough health, you’ll drop down a level & lose some of your precious gear.

There are three different tasks you can work on:

  1. Habits.  Habits are either good behaviors you want to do more of or bad behaviors you want to break.  You can have Habits that only have positive or negative consequences depending on what makes sense.  For example, for me just writing this blog post is a positive only Habit (no negative consequences for not doing it but positive consequences for doing more), while drinking soda is a negative only, & choosing healthy foods is both a positive & negative (positive if I do eat healthy food but negative if I eat junk).
  2. Dailies.  These are recurring tasks that are part of your daily checklist.  You can customize which days each task are due on.  Completing all of your Dailies gives you buffs, which lets you earn even more money & experience.  Some of my Dailies include exercising & spending time with my family.
  3. To-Dos.  These are one-time tasks.  Completing them removes them from your list permanently.  Some of my frequent To-Dos are calling in my prescriptions, going to the groceries or making flashcards to study with.

Community support is a big part of HabitRPG.  There are Guilds you can join.  These are specific interest groups where members can chat with each other, offer support & advice.  Some of the most popular Guilds are dedicated to students, artists, writers & gamers.  You can also start your own Guild.  You can join or start a Party, where you & your party mates complete Quests.  These Quests are typically completed by doing your tasks.  So, for example, if you’re fighting a boss, if every party member does all of their Dailies, the boss will be damaged.  But if someone skimps, the party loses health.  You can also compete in Challenges, which are member-created tasks that anyone can join in on & possibly get a reward.  Challenges vary from things like going 30 days without fast food or completing a piece of art.

Overall, I’ve been enjoying my time with HabitRPG & I do feel I’ve been more productive since I started using it.  I often find myself thinking things like, “I could have this Pepsi, but I don’t want to lose health.”  I also have more of a reason to do more than my share of the paperwork at work since I reward myself for it.

I find it interesting that the reward structure is heavily based in Learning Theory.  It’s very in line with Operant Conditioning principles.  Operant Conditioning is essentially a way to increase or decrease a behavior through the consequences of it (ie. rewards or punishments).  People are more likely to do something if they’re rewarded & less likely if they’re punished.  But it goes beyond that.  The system is set up in a way that the more you do a habit or task, the less reward you get from it.  Each time I drink water, I get slightly less money & experience for it.  That means to get the same amount of reward I have to do the task more.  The randomness of the loot drops also works to increase the frequency of completed tasks.  You can’t predict when you get something, so you do it more.

I also think it’s interesting that companies & organizations can get subscriptions to the app for their members & employees.  Obviously I don’t know how this is different from the regular version, but it’s definitely an interesting step towards further gamifying our lives.  I hope organizations are utilizing this app.  Would you be more productive at work or more compliant with your weight loss meetings if they used this app to encourage & reward you?

Another positive aspect is that the app in updated fairly regularly with new stuff getting added usually every month.  There are also extension apps available of iOS & Android that lets you keep track of your account on the go.

That’s not to say I don’t have issues with HabitRPG.  My main problem is with the gem system.  Gems are special currency that you can only get by donating money to the project.  Which in general I don’t mind.  I know it takes money to run these sorts of things.  However, donating money is the only way to get gems, & gems are needed to access a lot of the customization options as well as the Quests.  It’s the Quest part I have trouble with.  That means a part of the content is blocked from people who don’t want to pay.  Of course I don’t think that means you can’t join a party to participate in the Quests, but it’s still annoying.  There needs to be a way for regular players to convert money or experience into gems.  That way you can earn content rather than just paying for it.

And it goes without saying that this sort of app requires the participant to be honest.  You can just check off stuff without having actually done them, which of course defeats the purpose of the app in the first place.

If HabitRPG sounds like an interesting experiment to you, check out their site here.  There are plenty of informational videos available to check out the features.  And again, it’s free.

- GamerDame

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Game Review: Haunted Past – Realm of Ghosts

I’m willing to bet most you probably haven’t played any Hidden Object games.  You may have never even heard of the genre before.  If you haven’t, they’re exactly as the name suggests.  Hidden Object games are essentially Adventure games, but parts of them involve finding a list of random objects in a cluttered still image.  I’d never really played any before, but I recently watched an episode of Extra Credit that talked about this forgotten region of gaming.  It piqued my interest, so I checked out a recent release on Steam called Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts.

Is it just me or is the title bad grammar?

Is it just me or is the title bad grammar?

In Realm of Ghosts you play as Sarah, a young woman who gets a call that she’s inherited a mansion.  The house originally belonged to her parents, but after her mother’s mysterious death from falling out of the attic window & her father’s arrest for her murder, it’s been abandoned & fallen into disrepair.  But not long after arriving, Sarah’s deceased mother contacts her through a mirror telling her that there’s a dark force in the house that was responsible for her death.  And now it’s after Emily.

Homey...

Homey…

Realm of Ghosts controls like a point-&-click adventure game.  In each area, you have to search for items to get past obstacles.  Each room will have one hidden object portion where finding all of the items in the image will reward you with more tools.  But Sarah has a special gift.  She can use mirrors & any object that show reflections to enter into the ghost realm.  Here, you get clues to some puzzles as well as find objects that you have to hide in the ghost realm to be able to use in our realm.  A major component of solving the mystery of the house is locating glyphs which you have to create to remove the barriers from some doors.

Narrative: The story for Realm of Ghosts, while not the most complex one, is told decently.  You learn most of the story through picking up diary entries and other notes.  But I was left with a vague feeling about the plot.  I think it’s because there are a lot of things that I wished they would’ve explained.  Why were the servants conjuring ghosts?  Why was the ghost after Sarah’s mom?  Did Sarah’s dad die in prison?  What happened to Sarah between the time of her mom’s death & getting the mansion?  Based on the title, I assume the game could be the start of a series of games & such questions could be explained later, but it still bothered me.  Sarah herself is your classic silent protagonist, except for in the opening.  You are Sarah, more or less.  So overall, while the story is coherent, everything feels a bit vague.  Score: 3

The Ghost Realm is very ethereal.

The Ghost Realm is very ethereal.

Mechanics: Realm of Ghosts is an adventure game to the core, so most of your time will be spent dragging the mouse around the screen waiting for it to change icons to indicate there’s something to see.  But to the game’s credit, most of the places to look were pretty apparent.  It never came down to a pixel hunt.  The Hidden Object sections of the game were alright.  I’m honestly not sure how to critique something like that.  You won’t be looking for the same list of items each time.  Thankfully the game has a hint feature that will point out one object before recharging, so you shouldn’t get totally stuck on anything.  The ghost realm aspect was pretty interesting.  I like the idea of hiding items to use later.  For instance, in one ghost realm I had to find items to cut a sofa open to hide the tools & sew it back up.  It would’ve been nice if there were more puzzles in the ghost realm, though.  Speaking of puzzles, I have to give Realm of Ghosts credit for not having any really obtuse puzzles to solve like most adventure games have.  It was usually pretty clear what you have to do.  For example, an early puzzle involves having to catch a fish to feed a cat ghost so he’ll stop blocking a door.  However, there were a few times when I wasn’t sure why a puzzle would lead to an outcome.  Why would placing a teapot & salt shaker on a table make a pot of honey appear (which I then used to catch a fly to lure a spider away from a light bulb)?  The game was also pretty minimal on backtracking, & you will usually know when you’ve gotten something for another room.  But the game can start to feel repetitive.  Most of it goes: enter room, scan for puzzles, go to Ghost Realm, find tools, hide them, go back, get tools, solve puzzle.  Some puzzles require a bit more exploration to get all of the pieces, but that’s the typical pattern.  But Realm of Ghosts also allows you to customize your difficulty through having harder Hidden Objects to find, if Sarah will give you clues about puzzles & if you want on-screen hints for interactable places.  So overall, while not exactly action-packed, the game has some interesting puzzles even if they are a bit on the easy side.  Score: 3

Somebody's a pack rat

Somebody’s a pack rat

Aesthetics: I’d call the graphics decent.  You’ll be mostly staring a still images, but the backgrounds are pretty nice to look at.  Each room is unique & definitely looks like an old haunted house.  The music is also decent.  It’s very atmospheric, with low, droning tones.  One section was particularly well done, with whispering constantly going on to put you on edge.  Typically there’s a different sound for each room, but I noticed occasionally the sound would get stuck if you backtracked until you reached a new room.  I’m not sure if this was intentional or not.  The voice-acting is a bit bland.  Granted, there’s only four characters that talk in the game, but none of them were that great.  Especially Emily, Sarah’s mom.  She sounded like when someone’s trying to alter their voice by talking in a higher pitch.  Just forced.  Overall, I’d say it has some nice atmospheric music & everything else is average.  Score: 3

Replay Value: Low.  Definitely a one-&-done game.  There isn’t much reason to replay it.  Sure, you can raise or lower the difficulty for the Hidden Object sections, but none of the actual puzzles change.  Score: 2

Breakdown

rog

Overall Score: 3

Final Word: Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts is an average game with some interesting puzzles that avoids a lot of the adventure game frustrations.  While it won’t appeal to everyone, it’s worth checking out for those looking for an old-school adventure game or something on the casual side.

- GamerDame

Title: Haunted Past: Realm of Ghosts
Console: PC & iOS
Rating: T
Developer: Gogii Games
Publisher: Strategy First
Release Date: April 10, 2014

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Filed under Adventure, Hidden Object, Reviews