Badge Addiction

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Badge Addiction – (noun): an irrational fixation on the pursuit of intangible awards or the mental illness and compulsive behavior resulting from the dependency.

The phrase “gamification” was coined in the not-too-distant past, to describe the introduction of game-like elements (most notably, achievements and awards) into everyday activities. As a result of gamification, ordinary people like myself can bury themselves in digital medals and badges. While satisfying on at least a superficial level, there are a few gamification fails out there I’d like to rant about for a minute.

Silver Medal: Peloton’s Seasonal Challenge badge

My vote for the least satisfying in-game fitness badge is Peloton’s seasonal challenge badge. The seasonal challenge involves doing a Peloton workout (of any kind) every day for a given month. Why is that seasonal? Not sure. But that’s the topic for another day.

The reason why I think the seasonal challenge is the least rewarding of all the badges is that for all but the last day of the month, you are greeted with the message “unearned” whenever you view the challenge. The badge remains unearned until you complete a workout on the last day of the month. Only then is it earned, and you can bask in the glory for the rest of that day, until the challenge is over and the badge ends up in your badge closet.

Look at it this way: Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Unearned. Earned. The end.

So, you stare at “unearned” for twenty-nine days and then you get one day to see the word “earned” — that is, if you log back onto Peloton after finishing your first workout of the day. If you just do the one workout, then you probably never see the “earned” message, and depending on the workout you may not see the badge in your workout summary for the one workout. Besides, the workout’s over, time to move on.

I suppose you can go to your badge closet to reminisce about these old challenges, but even I don’t do that. For the sake of research for this post, I just glanced into my Peloton badge closet and counted 1,707 badges. Is that a lot? I really don’t know how it compares to other people, but it sounds like a big number. Looking at my Apple Watch achievements, it seems I only have accumulated 1,292 of those. I’m not an extraordinary athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but I have piles of badges. (In the early days of Peloton, you got a badge for three consecutive workouts, and then you got that badge again if you did a fourth, and then again if you did a fifth — plus the badge you get for doing five in a row. Do six in a row and you get two badges. As much as 1,707 sounds like a lot of badges, I was positively swimming in them before the algorithm changed a year or two back.)

I have badges for Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Pride Month, Women’s History Month, and all sorts of other clicktivism badges. Trouble is, as much as I’d like to think I’m striking a blow for social justice when I ride my exercise bike, I’m having trouble seeing the connection.

Gold Medal: Strava’s Global challenges

What might be the least motivating motivator out there is Strava’s monthly global challenges. I got an email yesterday, for example, congratulating me on the “May Cycling Climbing Challenge”, awarded to anyone who climbs some distance (I think it’s 7500m). “Nice work!” it said, before informing me that my rank was #25,696 out of about 310,336 people. Now, I guess I should be proud that I seem to be in the top 10% or so, but I am having a hard time getting over the fact that more than twenty-five thousand people have accomplished more. That’s four times the population of the town I live in. Way to keep me humble, Strava!

The strange thing about all of this gamification is, even though I don’t think I see any value in collecting all of these virtual badges, I really can’t deny that I’m motivated by them. The gamification of workouts has been a strong driver for me, and I seriously doubt that I would have been able to integrate regular workouts into my daily routine for the first time in my life if it hadn’t been for the badges.

There are certain phenomena in behavioral economics, such as anchoring, that have been proven to exist even when they’re fully exposed. That is, you can be fully informed about a bias and yet still be subject to that bias. It seems that badges fit that category (at least for me). Even though I know the badge is completely made up, not worth anything, and completely ephemeral, I will get up early in the morning and sweat for hours to get it.

Although I want to think that I am smarter than all of this, evidently I’m not. At least it’s good for my health.

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