Mindbloom: When self-help and video games collide

For a while, I was an enthusiastic gamer. I  blogged and reviewed video games on a gaming site and for a (very) short while, freelanced for 1up.com. But then I gave up gaming in favor of getting my life back (I tend to fall into video games like bad guys in Star Wars fall into sarlac pits) and lately, the only games I’ve been playing are Facebook’s Scrabble and Bejeweled. Then, last week, a friend of mine mentioned  this game on Facebook and, since it was free, I thought I’d give it a try. But only for a week. That was last Wednesday.

It’s called Mindbloom, and it’s a cross between the casual games of the Internet (think Bejeweled or Farmville) and the self-help movement (think vision boards and movies like The Secret.)

It’s really not so much a game as it is is a fancy to-do list, visualized as a tree. You start with three branches, each of which represents an area of your life important to you: Finances, Relationships, Career, whatever. In each of those areas, you create small, scheduled to-do lists. Mine are “write 500 words every day,” “yoga every other day,” “share a smile with a stranger every day” and “one to two hours of project every day.”

I check them off if I did them, and I get points for doing that. Sounds dull, right? That’s because it is.

Until earlier this week, I was ready to quit, actually. But then I realized something: It’s working. It’s seriously, honestly working. I’m getting much more work done. I’m working out regularly. I’m trying to be nice to be people, and I’m more or less succeeding.

Why does it work for me? I’m a list-maker. I make to-do lists all the time, in my head, on the backs of envelopes, on my computer’s Stickies program. But I rarely get through the lists, because I lose them, and there’s no accountability. Now here’s this game that awards me points for checking off my to-do list.

Thus far, the rewards are really unexciting – new backgrounds, new music – but the game does offer motivation:  If you don’t do something on your list for a while, your tree starts to die.  That happened to me a few days ago, when I skipped yoga two days in a row and didn’t make my 500 words over the weekend. My tree started to turn brown. Do you know how alarming it is to watch a tree labeled “My Life” begin to wither?

I don’t have any friends on Mindbloom yet, so I don’t know anything about the social networking/support aspect of the game, but for me, so far, Mindbloom offers more stick and less carrot as encouragement for ticking off my goals. Yet, completion of the goals is – and should be – encouragement enough.

After nursing my tree back from the brink of death to full greenness – and after checking off a lot of the items on my to-do list – I’m hooked. I do feel a little odd about using the Internet to complete my life’s small goals – I feel like Big Brother somehow is reading my list of things to do – but I can’t complain, because hey, I’m completing my tasks.