I ran my 1st 5k a little over a decade ago around my 30th birthday. It’s been a 10 year love-hate relationship. I really love running – it’s my moment of alone time and it feels good to sweat on purpose – but it is tedious and time consuming. For the last 5 years I seem to have hit rotating 6 month cycle of get in shape, have life get busy, fall out of shape, feel like crud, then get back into shape. I will never been one of those fluid and streamlined runners (in running circles the heavy runners are clydesdales which is…accurate) but even at 42 in my mind I am still an athlete so embarrassing to be winded walking up the stairs!

Participating in 5Ks has always been a motivator for me and I’ve signed up for a March 19th race. I have entered the “get back in 5K shape” part of the cycle. As I searched for a ‘couch to 5K’ app to train from I rediscovered one of my favorite gamified apps of all time – Zombies, Run!

Honestly, I cant believe I havent written a post about this yet. I havent used the app since 2017 and it has made some changes but the core of the “game” remains the same. One big change is that they have made a couch to 5K program.

A core mechanic to the app is role play. The runner/player takes on the role of “Runner 5” and becomes a supply collector for “Abel Township”. In stead of just running through the neighborhood the player is going into zombie infested territories on important missions to ensure the towns survival. The “Runner 5” name is a clever trick that I have used in my gamified class themes. Giving the player a name helps make it feel personalized while being generic to all the players. It makes planning the game easier because there is less customization but provides some intimacy for the player.

The name also allowd the player to roleplay as Runner 5 turning the run into a LARP (Live Action Role Playing game). I’v heard this called Ludonarrative Consistency and is another trick to a gamified classroom. The quick version is that players want to live up to the morals and worldview of the character they are playing. For example, a person playing a Batman game will typically chose not to kill a bad guy if given the choice because they want to play using Batman’s moral code as a model. In the classroom this means that you want to set up situations where students have to play in a way that lives up to the role you want them to demonstrate. For example, in my class the students are given the role of Superheroes that get their power from acting like Historians. By showing them the power in document analysis they will hopefully begin to see this power in themselves.

Anyways, the name and the action take place within an immersive storyline. Every run takes places within the universe of the game. You, Runner 5, have a spotter watching on security cameras that talk to you every few minutes. A deep sense of lore is established through conversations with the various fictional fellow runners and members of the community that chat with you throughout the run. Oh, and the Zombies chase you! So far they have around a dozen seasons worth of content!

That is what engages me – the deep and immersive lore and story but there is also an item and building mechanic, community base ‘rufflenet’, virtual runs, and even merch.