The Loop

Every game has a loop. A need is presented, the hero attempts to solve the need, there is a problem or conflict, the hero defeats or solves the problem, and there is a reward.

World of Warcraft was brilliant in creating interesting gaming loops. Some of the loops were short, 1 minute battles, and some of the loops are hour long raids with 20 other people taking on harder and harder boss monsters. There was failure in the loop, but the failure rarely made the player give up completely because the loop was fun, the rewards were great, and the player was given the tools to solve the problem.

When it comes to healthy living the loop is broken. The work is often hard, the time between rewards and effort is weeks or months, and the tools to solve the problem are often mysterious.

I propose the health industry needs a gaming loop. One that motivates “players” to move toward achieving health in a fun, engaging, rewarding, and with obvious steps.


Squad Goals

Fortnite, the free battle royal game, has taken over my house. In this game you and 100 other players are dropped onto an island via a party bus air balloon. You forage for building resources and weapons while trying to avoid or eliminate other players. The truth is I am very bad at this game. When there is combat I am nearly always the first one to be killed. The game for me just isn’t that much fun.

But that is not why I play. I play to spend time with my son. He loves the game and can’t stop talking about it. So I join him for a few games. We laugh about how bad I am and how he has to carry me on his back.

When we play together we have more fun than separately. And that is what it is like for making healthy life choices. You might not like it, but doing it together or in a SQUAD can make the changes easier, and even a bit fun.


Questing is an essential part of any computer adventure game. In a quest the hero receives a mission from the bland like “fetch 10 tree bark samples” to the extravagant “find your lost son that was taken from your wife while you were in cryo sleep.” The longer quests are  the more steps involved. Fetch wood bark is simple – find trees and collect the bark. To find your son in the Wasteland from Fallout 4 you start out with no idea who took your son, where they went, or any clues. You start out surviving and eventually you gather enough information to follow the breadcrumbs of a trail.

When trying to make healthy choices I like to think of new habits not as chores or “work,” but as quests. When you master one quest you get the reward and the ability to take on more challenging quests.

Today I took on the quest of walking. This is a fairly simple quest. But let me take you through the steps:

  1. I chose a time to walk
  2. I chose how long to walk – about 20 minutes
  3. I chose the right sneakers and clothes to wear
  4. I got a partner to walk with me
  5. I decided on a route
  6. We actually took our walk
  7. After the walk I drank some water and rewarded myself with some TV time

Sure, this is a very beginner quest, but without the beginner quests here isn’t the opportunity to take on the more advanced quests – like running a 5k.

Walking is a daily quest. A set of walks is called a weekly quest. Maybe the reward for completing a weekly quest is something greater than TV. A string of weekly quests is an adventure.

It starts with the one daily quest.


“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”~ Winston Churchill

Nothing makes me feel more inadequate than failure. A prime example of this is the work I am doing to drywall my basement. What could be simpler than measure, cut, screw, repeat? Plenty. For one thing, there is a giant difference between 1/2 and 1/8. Once you cut you either got it right or you gotta do it again. I have magled 3 boards in a row trying to get the electrical outlets lined up. I can only deal with so much failure. I only work an hour or two at a time in the basement until my ability to be punished by defeat is exhausted and I throw in the towel.

Continue reading “Failure”

Future Self with Today’s Habits

Future Self fuses together the impact of healthy habits with the fun of video games. Wellness habits lead to longer happier lives, but the problem is the payoff for the change is weeks or months. People often stop before they experience the benefits. The success of video games is they provide instant rewards and gratifications, yet there are few health benefits. Future Self takes the inputs of healthy habits and turns them into game rewards.

Future Self asks, If a better future you wrote a letter what would you want them to say to the younger you? If you actually stuck to your diet, if you really committed to living a better life, and made small but impactful changes what would you say? How would older wiser you encourage, motivate, and support younger you? Future Self Game is a mobile application which will mimic this future self using the mechanics of a video game loop.

All gamers know the video game loop. Do a thing, get a reward for the thing, use the reward to power up so you can go out and do bigger things. Repeat till you beat the game. Games like World of WarCraft, Final Fantasy, and Civilization use this model.

This loop also works for healthy habits, yet the time to completion or advancement is often measured in weeks or months and is often painful or unpleasant. Let’s examine jogging. First you have to buy equipment like shoes. Then you have to set aside time that you would rather be sleeping or playing video games. When you start to run, and you are bad at it. You huff and puff through 3 or 4 weeks of pain until you finally build up enough stamina and willpower to start enjoying the healthy habits. In 4-6 weeks you start noticing body changes. Then you increase your workout and you body also adjusts.

Future Self aids the player with the dopamine hit people need to feel accomplishment. The game will reward people for doing the wellness habits instantly. As they advance in their healthy habits they will also power-up in the game world. Eventually the body will catch up and the workouts and healthy habits will not be as burdensome and the game will have completed the mission of helping people through their first few months of self-improvement.