Not a Game

From professional football to Angry Birds, Americans love games. Games are fun! We can’t seem to get enough of them. Workouts, portion control and healthy eating are not so beloved. Can we turn health, wellness and fitness into games? A lot of people are trying.

It’s called “gamification” which Wikipedia defines as “…use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts…” Simply stated, gamification is turning some process or activity into a “game” with the idea of getting individuals to achieve more. Various parties are working to “gamify” fitness, wellness, saving and investing, job performance and other activities that people find difficult or unpleasant.

Will it work? No one knows, but I don’t think so. There is not a lot of research in this area, but Brigham Young University researchers Cameron Lister and Josh West are interested in the issue. A news report about their study crossed my desk last week summarizing, “While they found the health games are fun and engaging, West and Lister aren’t sure they can sustain major changes in healthy behavior.” Me neither.

My concern is based on the fundamental principles involved. Games are entertainment. We like them because they are fun. Used in moderation, they are a way to relax and relive stress. However, much too often, we take our games too far. They become time-wasters, used to distract us from more important and more difficult tasks. Certain games may even become addictions (e.g. video games) or idols (e.g. football) harming our spiritual and emotional development.

On the other hand, eating well and sticking to a vigorous workout regimen are hard.  It’s not entertainment, it’s work.  (Hard workouts may also be enjoyable but it’s very different than pure “fun.”) Good stewardship of your body and mind requires intrinsic motivation and discipline, which are emotional and spiritual values. Basically, stewardship of your health is a spiritual pursuit, both requiring character and developing character.

I think you can see the disconnect. There are no shortcuts to character development and emotional and spiritual growth. Can we gamify discipleship?

This is not to say that we can’t ever have fun as we grow. Yes we can inject some fun into aspects of our workout or diet plan, but ultimately it’s still going to be difficult. Everything worth doing is.  Pursuing good health is not a game. Accept it. Do the work. It’s worth it.