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Social Network Game Can be Depressing Tree of Life

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Campus life at Sacramento’s California State University may be somewhat lacking.

Today it was reported that the school reached a deal to make an online game available to its 28,000 students and staff. Developed by Mindbloom, a startup founded by Amazon veterans, the “Life Game” will help the faculty and student body manage a healthy lifestyle and keep off that Freshman 40. The game normally costs $39 a year; California State is Mindbloom’s first enterprise customer.

Mindbloom uses social networking and a metaphorical tree to keep members on top of their goals. When registering, users select a variety of lifestyle priorities (such as spirituality, relationships or career) which will then appear on the branches of their  tree.

Next, the site recommends small actions aimed at improving these areas (“Take the stairs at work instead of the elevator”). The more tasks you complete, the more your tree’s branches will grow and your leaves brighten. The more you ignore your action items, the more your tree will wither and die.

According to Mindbloom, it’s the competition that spurs you into achieving your goals. Members join a buddy system in which friends’ trees appear next to yours in the game, forever
taunting you with their greener leaves and healthier lifestyles. After all, “you don’t want your tree to look bad,” explained Brent Poole, the company’s CEO.

But aren’t college kids too busy drinking to look after a house plant, let alone a fictional tree? Miss enough scheduled actions, and pretty soon the leaves turn brown, the branches shrivel, and you’re an unemployed, overweight alcoholic. Weren’t social networks  supposed to make us feel better? Where’s the restart button on this damn tree?

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