This Zombie App Helps People Get Off Their Asses and Walk

A good number of Americans live sedentary lives. Indeed, the capitalist birthright of Americans seems to be make money then mutate one's self into a couch potato whose rare movements are limited to trips to the fridge and the crapper. And, as New York Times reported in 2012, this slug-like existence has gone global.

In cities, it's easy enough to dislodge one's posterior from the couch and walk around, especially in a place like New York City. It gets a bit more difficult in a city such as Los Angeles, but it really becomes problematic in rural environs where cars are required to transport people from home to work; ironic, given all of the open space in which to be active.

The game A Step Ahead: Zombies hopes to change this bio-cultural devolution. The online and mobile interactive gaming experience's aim is simple: get people off their asses and walking. Think of it like a mobile Nintendo Wii fitness game, minus the controller.

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Conceived by game designer Mike Tinney, CEO of a new company called FIX, A Step Ahead: Zombie had its genesis in his team's argument over whether or not a 10,000-step (walking) program could actually be cool and fun.

Tinny emphasized that a chief motivation in creating the game was his children and entry into his 40s. "I wanted to stay more active every day, and I had a vision for improving my habits in the form of a game," he said. "That became the genesis of the company concept, which was not originally a zombie walking challenge—it was more of a general 'true North'." ("True North" is business word for finding a company's one true objective).

Putting people onto teams means your efforts help not just yourself but others.

But why zombies? Tinney said that the game started with a "chase mechanic" to incentivize more movement. Zombies were thrown out early in the conccepting, but his team brainstormed other possibilities.

"A Step Ahead is designed to be an umbrella brand that multiple games and challenges can live under," Tinney said. "We're actually starting production on our second challenge now... A Step Ahead: Aliens."

Instead of using a joystick or buttons to control an avatar's onscreen movement, A Step Ahead players track pedometer steps, exercise goals and nutrition to affect their avatars and game state. Being that it's team-based, the results are better if people are healthier. Tinney added that it's easy to play, requiring less than five minutes of direct interaction with the game screen per day; which will work for time-strapped players both at work and home.

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But how does A Step Ahead actually motivate players? First of all, the social connectivity pushes players to not quit on their friends, though Tinney admits they can often on quit on themselves. "Putting people onto teams means your efforts help not just yourself but others," he said. "This leads to peer affirmation moments."

Every time users take a positive action in A Step Ahead, they get an immediate affirmation or reward and experience enhanced game state—that is, the longer they play, the more the game asks them to accomplish. Parallel to this, user avatars also progress the better they perform.

"Accumulating these successes inside of a game experience creates a sense of ownership and accomplishment that is harder to leave behind and disconnect from," said Tinney.

A game users cannot leave? Well, ideally, once people are more active they'll start experiencing three-dimensional reality again. Then again, if it only requires five minutes of screen interaction per day, there's probably little cause for worry.

[Featured Image by Robert Bejil under Creative Commons license]