We interviewed HabitRPG co-founder Siena Leslie for the story behind the extraordinary program that allows you to turn habits and productivity into a real-life video game.
Wouldn’t it be great if life was like a video game? Not so much having to fight off deadly monsters, but in receiving gold and other rewards for completing simple tasks, being able to level up, and seeing instant gratification for your achievements?
Well, that’s what HabitRPG is for. HabitRPG is a web or smartphone app that allows you to receive rewards and level up your character for improving your productivity, breaking bad habits, and building good ones. The premise is simple—using game mechanics like rewards, quests, and leveling, you can turn every aspect of your life into a system that rewards you for success and punishes you for failure.
HabitRPG Draws on Game Mechanics For Successful Habit Building
That HabitRPG has been so successful—the site draws about 200,000 monthly users—is no surprise. The creators drew inspiration from games like World of Warcraft to channel the addictiveness of instant gratification and turn it toward self-improvement.
“One reason it’s extremely logical to have a habit-forming app use game mechanics is that games themselves are extremely habit forming and have been designed that way for ages,” said Siena Leslie, co-founder of HabitRPG. “All of these things that we associate with MMORPGs especially are designed to build habits…to [make you] want to battle that same monster over and over again for a chance of a random drop, just in the same way that HabitRPG encourages you to floss every morning in hopes of getting a random drop.”
The rewards of HabitRPG are a huge part of the appeal, as there’s a little something for everyone. The site splits the task screen into four sections—Habits, Dailies, To-Do, and Rewards. Habits refers to small tasks that can be completed multiple times per day, Dailies are meant to be done once per day (or per week on a reoccurring schedule), and To-Do items are meant to be done once. Rewards are where things get interesting; using the gold earned through completing tasks, HabitRPG users can purchase armor or weapons for their in-game avatar, helping them progress through quests. Even better, users can create their own rewards, allowing them to purchase an hour’s worth of video games or a slice of cake to reward them for their hard work.
“When you’re trying to form a new habit, whether it’s brushing your teeth or drawing for an hour every day, there’s always that first initial period of time when you’re enamored with the idea and you’re really excited to do it,” Leslie said. “But then you don’t start seeing instant gratification, you’re still drawing the same art piece, your gums still hurt when you floss, and you haven’t lost 20 pounds….That’s when people will drop what they’re doing…because they don’t have that instant gratification.”
HabitRPG, on the other hand, does offer instant gratification. Missing a habit will penalize you health points, while successfully completing a task will reward you with gold, experience, and even random drops.
“By giving people that instant gratification…we help them through the fight through part of habit formation, until the habit starts becoming second nature,” Leslie said.
HabitRPG Appeals to Just About Everybody
For anybody looking to improve productivity or build better habits, HabitRPG is a great choice. HabitRPG is completely free, allowing anybody with a smartphone or internet connection to take advantage of the service.
“We have people who use it to manage chronic illness, we have people who use it to manage their high-power careers, we have freelancers who use it, we have high school students who use it,” Leslie said. “We have grandmothers who use it with their grandkids, like ‘Remember to take your heart medicine, Grandma, or we’ll all get attacked by a griffin!'”
The community aspect is another big draw for HabitRPG. You can form parties with your friends and fight monsters or join challenge groups to push yourself even further. It’s also completely open source, meaning much of its content is generated by users. As much as HabitRPG was created by the team, it’s also continuously being created by the community, making it a constantly evolving project geared at helping people developing positive habits and stay productive.
HabitRPG is just one part of living better. Everyone can improve themselves using little steps. Leslie recommends starting small and trying new methods if things don’t work out. “If something is not working for you anymore, give it a try, but don’t reorganize so much that you’re using reorganization as a form of procrastination,” she said. “Give yourself breaks, too. You’re not going to be productive if you’re just driving yourself constantly.”
Additional Resources for Gamifying Your Life
Zombies, Run!: This app motivates you to run by playing the sounds of lumbering, hungry zombies.
Forest: If you struggle with using your phone too much, this app lets you plant a tree that will only grow if you don’t use the phone for 30 minutes.
SuperBetter: For those looking to tackle a large task like quitting smoking or recovering from an illness, SuperBetter is backed by neuroscience, technology, and medicine to make the journey a little easier.