You look at your smartphone. You are really hooked to this app and for once it seems something useful! You are already gold in wellness, after having lost 10kg, improved your nutrition, started to sleep 7h regularly, and having incorporated sport into your daily routine. Now the app has suggested you either work on your education which is still bronze or embark on a major quest, quitting smoking. You know both will be challenging, but with your app you will do it.
Science has made it relatively easy to know what to do to improve your health, happiness, knowledge, wealth, and social life. The amount of self-help books is enormous, with more coming out every day. Their exhortations are quite consistent and even backed by science, at least for the good ones. They rarely enjoin us to do something counterintuitive. Rather they just rattle through the list of things we know we should be doing with some new buzzword or framework.
From getting rids of addictions like smoking, drinking, credit card binging, or darker drugs, to reducing our waistline and improving our nutrition. Exercising more in terms of endurance, strength, and flexibility. Sleeping enough. Spending more time with our loved ones. Reading for one hour a day in our field of expertise. Keeping a to-do list. Journalling. The needs are clear, and they work, but they are overwhelming and increasingly difficult in our distracted and overscheduled lives.
Some manage to move forward through habit engineering and willpower, and the results show. But for most, it is too much even to get to the most basic behavior changes. Smoking is awful for your health, it stinks, and it’s increasingly expensive, but many fail to quit even after its rebellious and social utility fade with age. An overly expanded waistline looks bad, saps your energy, and can lead you to an early death. But still, you are not able to resist that midnight snack.
What if we could create an app as sticky as Facebook and as addictive as World of Warcraft that would structure and support our behavior change? The social and economic potential of such an invention is amazing. The reduction in healthcare costs would be immense; the improvement in happiness and peace shocking, the financial consequences might trigger a long-lasting boom.
For a long time, the self-help book was the best vehicle to transmit behavior change. While support groups like Weight Watchers or AA helped for the really large problems. However, now with neurogamification we might have the technology and know-how to support people in radically improving their lives.
We have customer experience and gamification expertise that could let us create the structure. We have the scientific knowledge to codify and quantify the behaviors. We even have integrated reality to integrate the power of the app into the physical world, allowing it to peek at our physical actions, so it doesn’t have to rely on our inconsistent reporting.
And even as we speak some are attempting parts of it. However, real behavior change will probably need a holistic approach to tackle each problem in the right order. Lack of sleep will trigger overeating, an overweight person will find it more challenging to concentrate, lack of concentration will reduce professional and educational outcomes.
It wouldn’t take a very big team to tackle this task. Creating this initial “Game of Life” would just need some user experience experts from Facebook, some gamification gurus from mobile games or Blizzard, and then the self-help specialists that can select the right behaviors to target and the order to do it in. Over time, with enough data, even that won’t be necessary as results will point to the most effective paths and the most transformational interventions.
Any effort of this sort will face challenges undoubtedly. The tobacco companies, the consumer lending companies, the sugary drinks companies… many will resist and try to stifle the creation of a more in control consumer at the center of the system. However, time is on the side of in control, happy consumers. The main challenge will be the difficulty to get people to engage in change and pay for it. Hopefully, the advances we have seen in this chapter in Neurogamification will be enough to overcome this.
Of course, this will be not for everyone. Some people prefer to be fat, or find smoking immensely pleasurable, far outweighing health consequences. This needs to be respected. However, the majority of overweight people would prefer to slim down and most smokers would prefer to quit. They just find it too hard to do it with the unaided and often depleted reserves of willpower in our brain. After all, our brain was developed to survive in the savannah, not to be on a diet for several months straight or avoid cravings while being bombarded by Facebook updates.
If we manage to make this dream reality society could change drastically for the better. We are all slaves to our lack of willpower, and sadly many businesses take advantage of that as part of their business model. We will have a second abolishment of slavery when we abolish our slavery to our lack of willpower. Would that make us less human? Some would argue it would, I would argue it is no different to speeding at hundreds of km per hour over the surface of the Earth when our legs can only carry us much slower.
So what are you user experience guru, gamification geek or self-help genius waiting for? Band together and create the Game of Life for all of us. You can start by going to Hasbro to get the trademark.