Let’s fix Fitocracy!
… which is not to say that Fitocracy is broken. It’s… fine, we suppose, for what it is: a social networking site with a fitness focus that tracks one’s exercise in a manner reminiscent of RPG experience-gain and levelling up. Lots of folks like it. Lots of folks find it helpful. Ed’s wife is all about the up-levelling. But WE dislike it.
We find it ineffective. We find it dull. The nominal benefit, sociability, is terrifying, because we’re being social with Fitness People (and we are not Fitness People). The “character-advancement” angle is ineffective, because we are not swayed by little numbers which turn into big numbers… not those which lack a narrative attachment at any rate. And that, really, is the crux of the issue: we crave narrative. As humans, we crave narrative, and as RPG-folk, we are especially inclined to crave narratives… certainly, the story of the little number which turns big as one hangs out with pleasant people is sufficient for many… see MMOs of all stripes… but it’s not doing it for us because the little numbers are meaningless!
(The greater problem here is this attitude, of course: the numbers aren’t meaningless, they are indicative of our health, and the fact that we don’t consider that to be enough of an impetus to care about them is significant in and of itself, but outside of the bounds of this particular discussion.)
What if the numbers were meaningful? What if one’s fitness “level” meant as much as one’s character level? We put time and energy and care into our elven wizards, partly so that we might see them hit level thirty and start punching out gods, yes? Shouldn’t putting time and energy into ourselves be as compelling? How can we make it more compelling?
Our answer: by linking ourselves to the elf. By attaching narrative to exercise. By creating Fitness Quest.
Fitness Quest: A land of fantasy, magic, and exercise!
(A rambling thought experiment. This isn’t an announcement of a new site or anything).
This could be an online, browser-based massively multiplayer RPG (similar to Kingdom of Loathing or Twilight Heroes). Players sign up and are given a fantasy world, primarily text-based with decorative images. They start at level one, with access to a few areas to adventure in and quests to accept. And, of course, like most web-based games these days, they have a limited number of actions they can take in a day… they can go to X number of locations, battle Y enemies, tackle Z quest chains, so on and so forth.
The difference is this: for every action they take in game, they must perform an action outside of the game. Obviously, this is based on the honor system, but let us assume for a moment a world in which there is no dishonesty, shall we?
- You want to access the Dwarven Mines, eh? They are ten miles away from your starting zone. In order to get there, you must log ten miles of walking/running. (If you are of a more limited mobility there should be a reduced or alternate means of getting there, perhaps involving something similarly cardiovascular. Something to thing about/work on. This same caveat applies to all future examples… alternatives can and should exist, though we admit to being unsure how they might work).
- You want to hit that kobold with your sword? That’s going to take upper body strength! Do some pushups. Each one you can do in a set adds to your to-hit percentage–because it’s just an kobold, damage doesn’t really factor in all that much here, but against a tougher enemy, the strength of your hit might be affected as well.
- You want to sneak behind the Guard and pick her pocket? Let’s hope you’re agile! The longer you can maintain a purely aerobic activity, the greater your odds of not getting caught swiping the keys. (Something like jumping jacks or air-cycling. Alas, walking/running may need to be excluded, and this is a category that the lack of props will hurt).
- You want to cast illusion? Well, you better prepare the spell. The longer you can maintain a yoga form, the more effective the spell will be; the more forms you perform, the more spells you have access to.
- You need a healing potion? Go drink a glass of water!
- You need a useful pre-combat buff? Stretch!
- Need to sleep off your wounds? Go for it, but when you log back in, we’ll ask how many hour YOU slept last night, and from that work out how much your avatar heals up! And so on! And so forth!
And of course, when you have finished a line of actions, which is to say, you have performed a number of health-type actions sufficient to be considered an extensive routine, then you have completed a QUEST. Not just a thing to do what gives you a little experience and leaves you otherwise out in the lurch, but a narrative quest which has some sort of rewarding epilogue. And of course, a reward.
Nothing too serious, but something effectively cosmetic, that you might display proudly on your little digital avatar (perhaps a bit of armor or a new weapon, or an item to decorate your virtual living space with. Possibilities are endless, eh?). Do enough quests, and you level up.*
As you level up, you get access to new and different quests! Ideally, if we were folks who knew anything about programming or large-scale video-game design, as you level up you can follow questlines which allow you to act in different ways in the world… you might join the assassin’s guild, for instance, and jump rope for ten minutes in order to garrotte a local nobleman.
Also, as you level up, the enemies and challenges get more difficult, but the maximum values that you can add to your skills via exercise increase… for instance, at level 1, you can add ten push-ups’ worth of effort to a swing of your sword. Get to level 2, buy a better sword, and you can add fifteen to every swing. And so on… the value of each push-up can’t increase (because, after all, the purpose is to get you to move MORE), but the maximum potential does. But the real reward is the new stories you encounter, and the joy of a sword that looks cooler than the one you had before.
There are numerous practical problems here, not the least of which is figuring out what numbers to plug into the above equation for realsies, and figuring out how to make this amenable to people who don’t want to or can’t perform certain exercises–who are we. after all, to tell a fella with no arms that, no, he can’t use a sword? It’s hopefully not an intractable issue, but it requires more knowledge of exercise than we have at the moment. The only thought that comes to mind is spending a great deal of time at character generation quizzing folks about their physical skills and generating a levelling progression based on that, but man, that sure sounds complicated.
(The philosophical problem is how to keep this interesting at high levels, beyond investing in some sort of procedural quest-generation like City of Heroes has. Kingdom of Loathing’s option is to allow you to reboot your character, but why would you want to do that here? No clue at the moment.)
*Have we mentioned that we don’t like XP and eschew it whenever possible? No? Well, we’ll talk about that in the near future. Promise.