You Are a Tamagotchi: Turning Your Health Into a Game
By Thomas Goetz March 11, 2010 | 5:12 pm | Categories: Health, Medicine
In the mid 1990s, a craze swept Japan and crested its way onto American shores: Kids were going crazy for the Tamagotchi, an egg-shaped digital pet. Every few hours, users would press a couple buttons to feed their Tamagotchi, play with it, or clean it up. The game was simple, but intensely rewarding. Users cried when their Tamagotchis got sick or died; they were elated when they were able to raise a healthy, happy pet. More than 70 million have been sold.
The genius of the device was that it was both simple and rewarding: It took just a few clicks a few times a day to keep your TamagotchisTamagotchi in good health. In other words, it rewarded vigilance over neglect, maintenance over obsessiveness (you could overfeed your Tamagotchi or smother it with too much love).
A decade later, there’s a new kind of Tamagotchi out there. And it’s us.
New health-monitoring tools let us pay close attention to our state of being, how much exercise we’re getting, how much sleep we’re getting — and they make it easy to set a goal and improve ourselves. In other words, they turn our health into something of a game. And the reward is better health and a better life.
These devices are popping up everywhere: The FitBit is a paper-clip sized device that you can clip onto your belt to monitor cadence, calories and sleep. A genius little display shows a flower that grows the more you move, offering a brilliant bit of feedback. The Zeo sleep system uses a rigorous biometric brain analysis to measure overall sleep quality; you can also drill down into the numbers to ascertain how much time you’re spending in light sleep versus deep sleep (the deeper the better). The BodyMedia Fit uses a combination of sensor technology to track cadence and calories, as well as respiration and heartrate. And the Philips DirectLife gizmo turns your data into a personal coaching kit that helps you adjust targets and meet goals.
In the best of these devices, the hardware is simple and unobtrusive, and the software is clean, engaging and easy to navigate through.
The key here is the feedback loop — making it possible for users to collect their own data, making it easy to understand, and then building that data into better decision making. Feedback has been recognized as an effective tool for behavior change since the 1960s. But the challenge is that collecting and organizing data has typically taken a lot of effort, making it something that works for only the most diligent of us.