- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

What MMORPGs Can Teach You About Physical Fitness

As a kid, I used to play online roleplaying games occasionally. One element of the game I always found addictive was the ability to level-up your character. Generally you would start with a character without any skills, and you would eventually have to train your character to become stronger.

As an adult, I realized that life was a lot like an online roleplaying game, except a lot more fun. Carrying over the game metaphor of leveling-up to my personal life made exercising and staying in shape a lot easier.

I’m amazed that some people can spend hours a day playing a repetitive computer game, but can’t find the motivation to exercise. From my perspective, exercising has almost the same reward system as a game. Except exercising has actual benefits in RL [1].

What are Your Stats?

The basis of many roleplaying games are your character’s statistics. How much damage can he take before he is killed, or how much strength he has. These are usually rendered as numbers in the game, giving the player something to track and improve.

Your physical fitness has the same stats. Your weight, the distance you can run, the amount your can benchpress. All of these are characteristics of your personal fitness. Instead of having 20 strength or 120 HP, you can run a mile in six minutes or complete one hundred push-ups in a row.


One game I enjoyed when I was younger was the game Diablo. In retrospect, it was actually a fairly boring game. In order to take your character from a meager level 1, to a godly level 99, you would repetitively click on enemies for hundreds of hours.

The reason the game was addictive was, in part, because it used a progressive training system. As your character became stronger, you had to fight harder and harder enemies in order to progress.

Fitness works in exactly the same way. As you level-up your body, you have to take on bigger challenges to improve. The first time I did an arm curl in the gym, I must have used 15 or 20lbs. Now, I’ve progressed to 40lbs. At first, I had difficulty completing more than twenty push-ups. Now I can practice with one-arm push-ups.

The Game is Entirely Relative

The one element I enjoyed about games is that you rarely felt self-conscious for being a lower-level. In fact, after playing a game repeatedly, I would often start a new character to train her from the beginning.

I don’t see why you can’t carry that attitude over to the gym. It doesn’t matter that they guy next to you can curl 100lbs, or that the woman on your right is running twice as fast. All that matters is that you’re training at your level and directing your effort at improving.

Playing the Game

I started exercising semi-regularly about six years ago, and consistently four years ago. And, I found, that once I get over the initial learning curve, I found the activity more enjoyable than most of the games I had spent hours playing as a kid.

Whenever I view exercise as just something that needs to be done, I lose my motivation and enjoyment for going. Thinking about what my current level is and how I’m going to train myself to increase my stats is what makes games entertaining, both online and in the gym.