I’ve been training for a half-marathon, so being my tech-oriented self, I’ve naturally downloaded about every run-keeping, GPS-capable, calorie-tracking app that’s been recommended to me including iMap My Run and RunKeeper. Facebook must also know what I’ve been up to, as it suggested to me, via the Facebook app, to download GymPact and prompted me to connect it to RunKeeper.

Image The thing that struck me most about this ad was the line “Motivate your runs with cash rewards – paid by those who couldn’t get off the couch.” This immediately reminded me of our discussion from last class period about social gaming and specifically Priebatch’s TEDtalk on adding a game layer to the world. And it scared me.

I decided to investigate. I went to the app’s website and saw that they would, in fact, reward you for working out.

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But don’t be fooled – there is literally a price to pay if you miss a workout. As part of signing up for the app, you make a pact to work out a certain number of days per week with a certain dollar penalty ($5 – $50) for each missed day. The user makes money by going to the gym; typically $0.30 – $0.40 per workout. This money comes from penalties incurred by other users for not meeting their goal. Users can schedule or cancel a break, and even claim injury to avoid penalties – but that involves contacting your doctor! Once you reach $10 in rewards, you can redeem it via Paypal.

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How it works:

Essentially,

  • Sign up, make a pact, assign a penalty, and link your credit card (uh oh…)
  • Make sure your gym is verified! Over 40,000 gyms are in the system, but if yours isn’t, add it:
    • If you plan on working out outdoors, consider using RunKeeper, an app that is partnered with GymPact and that will allow you to track your runs, walks, and bike rides.
    • Check into your gym using your smart phone (Apple or Android).
    • Work out. Keep in mind:
      • Workouts have to be at least 30 minutes long to count for your weekly pact.
      • Get rewards.
        • Earn $0.30 to $0.40 per workout.
        • Once you’ve reached $10, claim your reward via PayPal.

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The app was developed in a behavioral development class at Harvard and the pilot, conducted in Boston, had a 90% success rate of getting people to the gym. I think the partnership with RunKeeper shows a lot of promise for this application, though I still don’t believe that this app is something that I would use.

My quarrel with this application is similar to what others brought up in class – is the society we live in becoming dominated by this game mechanism? Do we need rewards such as money in order to get motivated? I certainly hope not, though it is important to acknowledge that many things most of us already do follow a game mechanism – such as getting grades in school or getting discounts for being a frequent shopper at a certain store. It’s interesting to note how social media replaces face-to-face interactions with the ability to share information and data with a diverse group, and also in its ability to establish communities online that are difficult to facilitate in the physical world. The GymPact app seeks to replace something seemingly intangible, however: intrinsic motivation. As social media and the Internet continue to take over the tangible things in our lives, such as face-to-face communication, it is a little frightening to think about what intangible things, such as intrinsic motivation, applications can replace.

What do you guys think? Does the game mechanism frighten you? Is this app something you would use/ find effective to get you motivated to work out?

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