Beyond Checklists – Episode 6 Follow-up

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Bored by Sean MacEntee (CC BY 2.0)

Habitica is in essence a checklist. That’s not the greatest marketing pitch for the app, but in large part that’s what it is. As our guest Sarah de Vries highlighted in Episode 6, Habitica proved for her to be a far more fun and interactive endeavour than simply striking off checkboxes alongside her daily goals. The gamified habit-building app is, of course, much more than just a checklist, but this key element needs more attention here. As boring as they might sound, checklists can actually have a significant role to play in the time-poor, attention-poor, and distraction-rich society in which so many of us live.

Marking the minutiae of everyday life off on a handwritten list is a practice that has stood the test of time. Everything from scribbled post-it notes stuck to the fridge to sophisticated shopping lists sorted by supermarket aisle number (so I’ve heard!) not only serve as reminders of easily forgotten tasks, but also prompt people to get things done. The purpose of this blog is in one sense to signal a need (in many gamified contexts) to go beyond checklists, but also to emphasise their importance and influence. The perhaps surprising popularity of even mundane  checklists among young people – particularly students – is explored in this week’s Periscope broadcast below:

To sum it up, the reason checklists engage people so much is because they get us to do something. There is a sense of satisfaction – or to use the term more frequently associated with media use, gratification – in crossing something off the list, pushing it to the bottom of the pile, signing off so that you can move forward to the next phase. Habitica exploits this human disposition and then enhances the achievement gained and felt by adding elements such as a virtual currency, level ups, side quests, and more through it’s fantasy roleplaying aesthetic. Yet the underlying core remains the user-generated checklist, proving that this quaint method of motivating onself to be productive in whatever way one needs to be has not seen the sun go down on it just yet. As one student tweeted in early 2016 when confronted with the possibility of not having checklists: ‘It’s a great feeling when you can cross off one of those boxes, it makes me feel like I’m on the right track’.

Current student activity around the ongoing Twitter poll challenge referred to in the above Periscope provides further evidence that checklists are valued by many.  And just like the members of a Habitica party, they are banding together in a collaborative effort to complete their quest…

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Happy gamifying!

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