Turning gaming time sinks into investments towards a better you

The beginning of my personal fitness tree. With a distinct lack of green thumbs, let's hope I don't kill it.

I’ve just started playing Mindbloom, and unlike the casual games I’ve played of late, I leave the game each time feeling like the last 15 minutes of my life was actually time well spent.

For those of us who like social and casual gaming, we find that they fit nicely into the “empty productivity corners” of our waiting life while stranded at the bus stop, train station or doctor’s surgery. Its quite pleasant to spend a few minutes here or there, when there’s enough time to entertain and amuse ourselves but not quite enough to open a file and do actual work. But when you start to add up all that time… most of us can’t help but feel a little guilty that perhaps we could be doing something better with all these loose minutes.

So it’s nice to know that even game developers would like to spend some of their time becoming a better person. But instead of forcing people to rationalize their time and choose between gaming or becoming a better person, the developers of a new game seek to combine these objectives into one activity.

Mindbloom was developed by Chris Hewitt, executive producer at Monolith (F.E.A.R and Tron 2.0) and early Amazon executive Brett Poole. A game to “grow the life you want” it works by structuring your every day actions into a system that nurtures a virtual “tree” acting as a visual metaphor for your personal development. There are three main steps to creating your tree. First you “decide what’s important” by selecting the areas you would like to improve such as health, relationships, finances and career (you can select more than one). The next step is to “discover your motivation”. I really like this area, where images and music become a source of inspiration and motivation down the track. The last step is “taking meaningful action” which requires creating and scheduling everyday actions towards your larger goal. The game rewards successful completion of these actions with water, sunlight and seeds that nurture your tree and help it to grow. Thus the main objective of the game is to “keep your tree green and healthy through small actions that support your passions and purpose – the building blocks of natural growth.”

Images and music become sources of inspiration and motivation.

I’m going to use Mindbloom to improve my fitness but it will be interesting to see how to game will progress over time. Is this a game based only on positive reinforcement or will my plant whither if I neglect my activities? I’m also keen to explore the community aspects of the game and hope that sharing my goals with friends and family will act as another source of encouragement.

With over 15,000 registered users, Mindbloom is gaining popularity with people who want a structured but fun and visual way to work towards their personal development goals. Games like Mindbloom are definitely a step in the right direction for gamification which has received critique for oversimplification and a “just stick on points and badges” approach. As Hewitt said in a recent Gamasutra interview, “instead of focusing on points-based solutions around fitness and nutrition, or instead of using gimmicky rewards to help people stay engaged… we know that intrinsic motivation is really the key.” One can only hope that the mainstream media will pick up on games of this intent and calibre instead of focusing on the violent first person shooters with which they seem to be so preoccupied.

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