The Perils of Gamification

April 24, 2024
4 Minute Read

I’ve been an Apple Watch user since 2017. I found it convenient for fitness and certain notifications. One thing I’ve been kind of inadvertently working on this year is trying to earn the monthly badges Apple offers. Thinking about it more, I realized that this kind of thing can be sort of nefarious.

For those that aren’t aware, Apple, as part of its Activity app that ties into the Apple Watch, gives you awards for various achievements. Every month, you can get a special award by reaching a different goal the app sets out for you. I’m assuming that these monthly awards are tailored to the user as the goals that have been set for me seem targeted to the activities I normally do. For example, the awards I’ve gotten this year are:

All of them are targeted for the activities I partake in. There’s kind of a challenge to making sure you hit the goals, because once the month passes, you can’t go back and retroactively complete them. I’ll definitely admit I was trying to make sure I hit the goals Apple set for me. Which made me think about that.

None of the four were impossible to hit, and they weren’t particularly taxing. Exercise lightly for 20 minutes every other day would’ve gotten me January’s. Getting out of my chair briefly every hour for 12 hours is a good thing and not rough on the body. Heck, even the running goal isn’t all that bad since I normally run 5-10x a month for 30-40 minutes per run.

But for someone who might just be trying to get more active, or someone with underlying medical conditions, there might be some risks there. People should obviously talk with their doctor and listen to their bodies when exercising, and I’m by no means implying Apple would push users towards unsafe goals, but I can see some risk there. There are always new fitness fads coming and going, and I could see one of the less scrupulous ones setting goals that might not be best for everyone without the proper warnings. Maintaining, losing, or gaining weight is so often a tricky balanace for many people, and with all the conflicting information out there, even the best intentions might go awry.

And this is health and fitness, something that is good for you. I can only imagine how the gamification that Apple has implemented can be used for evil. A quick example would be sports betting. (I HATE how much gambling has entered the world of sports...hate hate hate it.) I don’t really follow much of what FanDuel or any of the other sports books do, but I can only imagine how much they could use gamification to get people to bet more, and in turn, probably lose more. While some sports books I’m sure would avoid much in the terms of gamification for no other reason than to avoid bad PR, I doubt all would be willing to forego the bad PR to make a quick buck.

The ease at which people can throw money towards sports bets is disconcerting to me. I don’t gamble, and am not against it persay, but I’ve heard so many horror stories of what gambling addiction can do to people and families.

I guess my main thought and takeway from all of this is that gamification is something that can often balance on the edge of a blade in terms of whether it’s good or bad. Some consideration from companies, people, and the users is important.