2016-07-14

Fitness Tracking As Augmented Reality

For a long time now, I've struggled for the right words to explain why I like fitness trackers so much. It's not that I'm obsessed with the data, and I was already a fitness nut before I got any of this stuff. What is it about these apps that I find so engaging?

A few days back, I downloaded Pokemon Go and gave it a whirl for a few minutes. It was fun, but it also seemed to use a lot of data and battery power. I also didn't like how I had to keep my eyes glued to the screen, rather than walking around with my head held high, enjoying the scenery. After a quick walk around the neighborhood, I uninstalled the game.

But don't get me wrong: I saw the appeal. What could be more fun than going on a little treasure hunt, no matter where you are in the world? What's more literally engrossing than having your own surroundings become the location of a video game? It was cool.

Over the course of the next several days, I observed the tsunami of Pokemon Go virulence via social media. That was not as much fun, but whatever. People are talking about what is currently the most popular game out there. People talked about Angry Birds, Farmville, Cards Against Humanity, and etc., too. People talk about football basically non-stop. People like to talk about games, and more power to them.

But what I came to realize as I read the various social media posts and articles about this particular augmented reality game is that I already have an augmented reality game of my own, which I have been playing for years now. I'm talking about the "game" I play when I use my running watch / fitness tracker - currently the Microsoft Band 2.

Like a "true" augmented reality game, I go out into the world, and my game follows me there. I interact with the digital augmentation of reality via my wearable tech and collect points along the way. I can compete with my friends for these points, track my progress over time, improve my score, and so on. The only difference between my game and everyone else's is that mine is merely augmented information, as opposed to the augmented imagery of a true AR game. Augmented metaphysics, if you will.

The criticism you could offer here is that tracking your health data isn't actually a game. Fair enough, but it's as much of a game to me as anything else is. I don't spend a whole lot of time playing video games on my phone, but on the other hand, I'm always anxious to interact with my fitness trackers and data.