Zombies! Run!
Zombie Løbet 2013, by Flickr user Bo Jørgensen. Creative Commons licensed.

Gamification was such a buzzword a year or three ago that I recall seeing what seemed like countless articles in major publications touting it as the new way to get anything done. Hate doing chores around the house? Use an app that doles out points and achievement badges. Wanna lose weight? Same deal. Keep your website audience engaged? Gamify. Even hugely popular gadgets like Fitbit allow you to track your own performance against your friends’, leaderboard included (also achievement badges).

Games sure are fun.

But gamification misses its mark with me because I’m not, under most circumstances, competitive. Not against others and not against myself. So though I’ve tried loads of gamified apps and services, I haven’t taken any particular joy from any of them.

Last week, though, I discovered an app that has pushed me to put my finger on what does work for me. The app is called Zombies, Run! 5k Training. Have I written about zombies on here before? I don’t think so, because I’m not all that into zombies.

But here’s why I downloaded the app after reading some of the most enthusiastic user reviews ever: fiction.

I’ve done couch-to-5k training programs before. Twice, I think. They’re pretty great. An app talks you through successive workouts over about eight weeks, starting with walking almost exclusively, and ending with running 5k. Each week, you do less walking and more running. It’s pretty awesome.

Also boring.

The only thing that kept me going with this kind of program in the past was the relatively small commitment, and the relatively rapid change in my stamina. But I don’t actually enjoy running, even if I do enjoy it more than going to a gym. My lack of competitiveness kind of hindered my motivation, too, since I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about my pace or personal bests.

Zombies, Run! takes the approach of a couch-to-5k – interrupting your workout music to tell you when to walk or run – but packages it neatly inside the zombie apocalypse. You don’t just hear some generic voice telling you to run or walk. No. You hear voice actors (good ones) portraying a story (about the zombie apocalypse) in which you (YOU!)  are a character.

I did the very first intro workout today, and I’m already hooked. It wasn’t even a full-fledged workout – for the first one, you just get into the story and walk or run or do whatever you want. So I took Cleo out for a walk, and was surprised by how quickly I was sucked into the story. They break the action up by playing your own songs, too, which I thought would be annoying but was actually really fun.

And dude, when the guy in the app told me not to look back, just go as quickly as I could, I totally walked faster.

No points, no badges, no competing with your friends. In Zombies, Run!, you run for your life. (They do have a pretty wicked web interface where you can connect with other Zombie runners, so if you want to do that, you can find me here.)

Fiction, man. That’s the kind of motivator I’ve been looking for.

(Also, back in January I decided my theme for this year is strength. I do find it delightfully motivating to train my body to be stronger in case the zombies come. Just wanting to get in shape just isn’t enough for me.)

Do you know of other really fantastic apps or games or whatever that use fiction instead of points to motivate/immerse you? I’d love to know of more of these!

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I’m not sure I know of anything. Last year I was *really* into Fitocracy, mostly because we were going to the gym two/three times a week. I still prefer doing classes like martial arts than lifting weights.

I think there’s something to be said about the social aspect (not competition but just wanting see a group of familiar faces/wanting to be part of a group) that works better for me. “Where were you last week? We missed you!” is the best motivator for me.


I’m really introverted most of the time! I just need to feel like I’m part of a group or else I feel lost/ignored. I think it comes from being the youngest. You don’t have to talk to me, you just have to look at me. And a group dynamic makes me go, “oh I can’t quit now. If I do, all these people will judge me.”

ETA: Basically, fear and social shame is what motivates me. ;)

Shalagh Hogan

Oh My Goodness, how delightful. I am like you with the competition thing. I ran one 5K and wondered what I was doing there because it annoyed me. I am a big zombie fan. Pride Prejudice and Zombies? Read it. 28 Days Later and Zombieland, fabulously entertaining. And so I am even more impressed that you got hooked into this wonderful concept/app. It’s a let’s pretend for adults and I’ll bet the fear factor has your little bootie working. Plus music! Am so very amused, proud of you, and in awe of whoever thought this up.

Kimberly Hirsh

I grabbed this app because, like you, gamification has failed me. And I’ve wanted to believe SO HARD that it could work, but that lack of competitive nature, and the fact that accumulation of anything (points, badges, whathaveyou) doesn’t inspire me, means that it always falls apart. I tend to be rather solitary, too, so “competing” or “sharing” with friends leads to, at best, being annoyed when they ask why I’m not keeping up with the “game,” and at worst, intense depression when they thoroughly surpass me. (This is why Fitocracy didn’t work for me. While I was making gains, they were tiny, and my hardier friends were kicking my butt, and it was just upsetting.) So I tried just the first one, and as expected, it’s WAY more motivating! I’m now trying to think of how you could apply this to all the other places I’ve seen gamification happen – housework, education, self-care.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x