I have to confess, I had seen the ads for the Conqueror Challenges all over FaceBook and while part of it seemed interesting, part of it seemed completely ridiculous. The premise of the CCs (and others like it) is that you basically register to do a “challenge”, say walking across England. It equates to X number of miles/kilometres, and each day you record your own distances that you walked in your own neighbourhood…when you submit it / post it to the group, an app or website says, “Thank you, John/Jane! You walked 2.3 miles today. Here’s where you are on your challenge!” And it uses Google Maps to show where you would be if you were indeed actually walking across England.
Do you need an app to do this for you? Of course not. And tons of people comment on the ads to say exactly that…if you wanted to figure out how far it is from say Toronto to Ottawa, you could use Google Maps to do it (or other tools), and then once you’ve discovered the distance (about 402 km), you could just keep track yourself. When you get to 400, you’re done! Congrats!
So, if you read the comments on the ads, many of them are the form of “What a waste of money…figure it out on your own!”. Because of course, it does indeed involve money to use the actual app. It loads images from Google StreetView to simulate where you walked, you register your various exercises and distances in it (walking, cycling, running, whatever), and it’ll keep track for you. It’ll even synch with other apps or fitness tools like FitBits or Apple Watches. So you don’t even have to keep track separately, you just synch, and it’ll let you know how you’re doing against your challenge.
The CC tool is a bit hardcore in terms of automated support. It will show you the StreetView equivalent of where you went that day, it’ll show you on the map how you’re doing, it’ll even show how others are doing on the same challenge around you to build a community, etc. But the real “motivation” with CC is that you register for the challenge, pay your $15 or whatever it is, and when you’re done, they send you a completion medal. THAT’s what you don’t get doing it on your own — handholding and a symbol of your completion.
I didn’t have much interest in it, not really. If I “hiked Mt. Everest”, it was not like I really was hiking Mt. Everest. But I did wonder about setting some distance goals, like maybe figuring out Ottawa to Peterborough or to Montreal. Or across Canada while hitting all the capital cities. Or just a couple of them. I even wondered about what if you did it in a group, more like a relay race as part of a United Way campaign or something. Teams of walkers building on each other to see how far we could go together.
But walking to the Giza Pyramids? Would that really motivate me?
With a bunch of pandemic stuff going on, I’ve hit a wall of inertia in the last few months. So I was wondering about doing SOMETHING to get my butt literally moving again. I wanted to start walking around the block more, and I wondered if I bought a t-shirt, chose a distance for a medal, and actually DID one of these pre-planned / low administrative burden challenges, maybe I’d be motivated or at least consider it. They recommend Giza as a great starting one for sedentary people starting small, so I said sure. Registered. Ordered a t-shirt. And I’ve actually been doing some basic walking. Is it the medal? I can’t say it’s NOT the medal.
But a funny thing happened when I joined the FaceBook group. I found a small sub-community of people who are REALLY into the challenges. All with different approaches. There are some like me, basically into it a little to give it a try, see if it helps get them moving.
Others have done a few and they are HOOKED. They think it’s a fabulous way to stay motivated, generally indicating they are the type of person who are motivated by extrinsic validation (we all have different triggers), so it works for them. If you do one, the company offers you discounts to buy multiple packages of challenges to do more.
Others are more motivated by specific challenges. Like they always wanted to go to the Amalfi Coast, but could/would never go. So for $15, they’re doing a virtual walk of their dream trip. I find that kind of sad, to be honest, but hey, who am I to judge? Whatever floats your boat.
Some view it with a healthy amount of perspective. Others feel that they’re ACTUALLY DOING A VACATION. Umm…okaaaaay. One woman celebrates her “completions” by printing out the cover photo for the challenge, along with virtual postcards that the company sends you along your route, mounts them in a display case, and puts them on her wall with the medal. That is definitely not me or my approach. I bought the medal, sure, it was the price of admission. But I can’t seem myself “celebrating” it particularly. Reaching a milestone? Sure. Getting a participation medal for it? Not so much.
Or would I? I don’t know yet. I love the idea in other contexts, like badges in school. I got one for math when I was in Grade 7 because I came in first in the math contest. It’s one of the few things I ever “won” in my life, but it was more participatory than celebratory. So who knows, maybe I’ll rave when I get my medal.
Yet what really surprised me was that there is a wide range of people who have completely differing views about how the challenge works. Not just ideas on how it SHOULD work in the future, for example, but actual differences in how it DOES work currently.
The premise of the Challenge is relatively clear. If you register to do a challenge, you then enter your distances for the day towards the challenge. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
But how you calculate your distances, there’s the rub.
I know what you’re thinking…isn’t that relatively obvious? You use an app, a Fitbit or pedometer, something to register. That’s not what I mean.
I mean, quite literally, which distances count? For me, I just assumed everyone would view it the same as I do — additional “unique” mileage that would be towards the challenge. Why would it be anything else?
Well, for some people, they’re already walking, say, 10 miles a day. Some of that is around their house doing chores, some of it is grocery shopping, some of it is actual dedicated exercise related to the challenge, others might be something else entirely. But they count all their steps. That seemed like cheating to me, I confess. It would be like someone getting to the start line of a marathon and saying, “Oh, my smartwatch says I already walked 2 miles today, so I only am going to do 24 for the marathon.” Why would you count day-to-day stuff towards a Challenge goal? It didn’t seem to make any sense.
Other people wanted to count their time on a treadmill. Makes sense, what difference would it make if it was inside or outside? Nothing, I guess. Sure.
Others want to include cycling distances. Wait…wasn’t it a walking challenge? Well, sure, sort of to start with, but really it’s just a distance, and you COULD simulate riding it. So why NOT do it while cycling? Or running? Or maybe even swimming? Seems a bit weird to use swimming distances against a land distance, but well, what difference does it made? You exercised, you made it X distance, so why not count all of it? It seems a bit odd a first, but sure.
Then someone points out that their watch registers time on a stationary bike differently, and it recommends using a conversion factor to convert it to a land distance. So now the cyclist is multiplying by 1.5. Wait, that doesn’t seem right, does it?
Then the rabbit hole opens. Someone wants to count all the steps they’ve always done. So, for example, if they’ve averaged 2 miles a day and they’ve always done that, they’re counting the 2 miles on the challenge. No increase, no “extra” distance, just what they’ve always done. Their baseline, no “challenge”, it’s what they were already doing if they didn’t even do the challenge. What’s the point?
Someone else loved the idea of the challenge as a way to gamify certain activities, but she wasn’t able to do much on the fitness side due to some limitations. So she decided to count her reading as her goal — a chapter in a book would be the equivalent of 1 mile. And while that seems at first just completely bonkers, the more you think about it, the more you realize, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
It’s not a competition for anyone but you. You’re only competing against yourself. There aren’t any prizes — you PAID for your medal yourself. Heck, you could lie and say you did 20 miles a day when you only did 1. What difference would it make to anyone except you? Absolutely none. I might think it’s off the wall bonkers, like the woman who was incentivizing her knitting somehow, but it doesn’t change what I’m doing.
I want it to be unique mileage, not something I was already doing. It’s partly why a step monitor never motivated me. But going around the block and counting that when I wasn’t even doing that before? That works for me.
But here’s the thing. There are people in the group, like in any FB group, who are, well, “judge-y”. They look at those counting all their steps or those counting books and they are very quick to chime in to suggest, lightly or heavily, that anything other than unique mileage for the challenge is somehow not kosher. Despite the fact that there are no official rules, other than paying to get your medal. And then of course, there are people who want to argue otherwise, and there’s drama and hurt feelings, blah blah blah. None of which interests me.
But what DID interest me was that it basically comes down to House Rules. I’m not a great golfer, only have gone a few times, so my keeping strict score against the official rules when playing for just giggles is kind of silly. For example, when I’m golfing with my father-in-law, and I inevitably hit that really stupid tee shot that only goes 10 feet, we just do a mulligan. House Rules that work for us. Would we do it in a tournament? Of course not. But just us? Why not? Who cares but us? We’re just playing for fun. Out of bounds? Sure, we keep that rule for me. Penalties if I end up in the water? Sure. But a completely flubbed shot? Nah, we can take that one out.
I also grew up playing card games. And invariably we’d have someone over, we’d go to play a game like say Crazy 8s, and we’d have to have a conversation about what the rules were. We played that 2s were pickup cards, 4s were miss a turns, 8s were wild, As could be played anytime as long as you had nothing else you could play OR the other person was on last card, Js were pick-up THREE, and the Queen of Spades was pick-up five. Some people didn’t use the 2s as anything special, or 4s were reverses. 8s and Js were almost always the same, some variation on the As. Q of Spades was hit/miss. We had to discuss the House Rules so we could play together.
Casinos have House Rules for certain games, of course, although there is fairly decent standardization. But for those who just play poker with friends, it is NOT uncommon to wind up playing with someone who has some weird-ass five-card poker with 3 two-card draws, one-eyed jacks and skip-3 counts (3, 6, and 9s, like pregnant 3s) are all wild, unless you have a red eight which nullifies all wilds. Etc. Etc. Etc.
House Rules. What works in one house isn’t what works in another.
In lots of online fora, the phrase you see is “Your mileage may vary” (ripped off from car company ads). And while I still found a lot of people in the various challenges to be a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic in their passion for a made-up challenge, it is still fascinating to see the variety of ways in which people have tried to take a simple approach to a challenge (simulating a distance) and twisted/tweaked/adapted it to meet their goals. Right now, the big discussion is around the new Lord of the Rings Challenge. Where they have calculated how far the Fellowship went in the books. And now you can do that challenge. A fake challenge for a fictional place? And people are going GAGA over it. It makes ZERO sense to me. But some are REALLY into it. They took the official distances, and have researched the wikis online about LotR to figure out how many days it took them (186) and how long they did each sub-mode of transportation so they can MATCH exactly the books. Others are reading at the pace they’re going to walk. I mean, wow. That is some serious dedication.
As I said, I registered for the Giza challenge. It is 74.6km long, which is not much in the grand scheme of things. My father-in-law easily does that distance in a week, often within a few days even. I’ve given myself an official year to do it, and I’m hoping obviously that it won’t take that long. But my House Rules are that it is has to be unique walking that I wouldn’t have done originally. I hope, if it all works, that if I do another one, I would deduct some form of a baseline against future challenges; for me, I would want to see what I was doing “uniquely” to accomplish a new one, not simply what I was already accomplishing after the first one. Maybe I won’t deduct, maybe I won’t even finish the first one. But for now, I’m still with it.
House rules. It makes me think all those other approaches are a bit odd houses, but their house, their rule. I’ll stick to my approach for my challenge. And try not to get ahead of myself to figure out other ways to incorporate a similar gamification approach to some other challenges I have in mind.