Want to Change a Behavior AND Feel Heroic? There’s an App for That…

Click to See Looty Goodness!


I must confess I am not a big one for New Year’s resolutions. I rationalize this by saying that one should change one’s behavior when insight hits, not wait for a specific date. The truth is, like many of you, I want to avoid change, even if I know it is good for me. But if there is one thing that can motivate me to do something, it is “epic loot.”

In gamer parlance, “loot” is the general term for specific prizes you win in-game by completing a quest or downing a boss. In World of Warcraft the loot is color coded. White labeled loot is “common;” “uncommon” loot is green; “rare loot” is blue; and “epic” loot is purple. Recently we all had to say goodbye to our Epic armor and weapons, because the Cataclysm expansion introduced a higher level and item level. But I digress.

Token economies and reinforcement are nothing new to the field of psychology and the practice of behavioral modification. But now, if you or someone you know is a gamer, there is a way to tap into this love of loot and leveling up in the out-of-game daily life. It is a new App for the iPhone (sorry Droid, you fail!) and it is called Epic Win.  (Thanks to @DorleeM on Twitter for tweeting this to my attention– follow her, she knows stuff.) This fun little app can be programmed with your list of to-dos.  You choose your starting avatar, such as a Dwarf, Warrior Princess, or Skeleton.  Then you enter the tasks you want to do.

You assign each task with a amount of experience points, and when you complete it you see a graphic of your character and a sound effect as you gain the points.  Enough points and you level up, which also brings you loot, and you can see yourself progressing across the map of a Middle-Earth-like world towards your next loot.  Ominous music and drum beats remind you that you are on a quest of great importance.  You can measure your progress in miles as well as points, and the graphics and humor in the App are quite compelling.

To start with I chose two tasks that I wanted help and encouragement with:  blog entries and my weekly run around Fresh Pond.  I picked these because they are also recurring events, and I programmed the App to have them recur weekly and monthly, and to sound a little alarm to remind me to do them.  To see how this would work (and give me some credit to level up!) I backdated my running for this month.  After accomplishing these “quests” I was able to advance to level 2, and I received my first piece of loot, a “Tatty Wooden Chalice.”  Humble beginnings, but it had a funny caption to go with it:  “Yes it leaks, yes you get the occasional lip splinter, but it’s still better than cupping your hands.”  The humor, sound effects and getting a prize all make it easier for me to stay motivated.

You can name your own avatar or the App will assign you one.  I liked the one my Skelly got, and so I am keeping “Calcium Facebone” for the time being.  As I have written previously, we often form attachments to our avatars, and this combined with the achievement of measurable goals and the heroic sense of being on a quest add up to behavior modification with a chance of succeeding.  Calcium and I have already traveled many miles together (140 to be exact,) and collected 190 gold.  And after I post this blog entry, the 100 points I get will porbably bring me to my next piece of loot.

I can’t wait to see what it is.