Arookoo, The Depressing App That “Makes Walking Fun”

The gamification trend–and American laziness–has reached its absolute nadir.

lazy cat


Every empire has its moments of decadence before its ultimate collapse. Those denizens of Easter Island cut down every last tree, ruining themselves. What, for Americans, will be our harbinger of doom? We wager that it’s a new iPhone app/website/Facebook game that launched today, called Arookoo. Societal self-destruction: There’s an app for that, and it comes to us from Vivity Labs.

To be fair to the app itself, it’s very well-meaning. Arookoo, coos a press release, is “one-of-a-kind iPhone App [sic],” together with a companion website and Facebook game, that “makes walking fun.” This it achieves “by sending players on challenges to take more steps and move around their city.” Yes, you read that right. Arookoo represents the gamification of walking.

Arookoo’s aims are noble. It wants to increase fitness, after all. Rather, it’s what Arookoo indicates that troubles us: that we live in a society so exercise-averse and so deficient in motivation that its members need to turn walking into a game. Walking, old-timers may recall, through most of human history has traditionally been considered merely part of the repertoire of actions people performed on any given day, in order to live.

But in case just going for a stroll doesn’t cut it for you, Arookoo has you covered with a collection of features. You can challenge your friends to a “step off,” where you compete to see who walks more over the course of a day. There are GPS-enabled scavenger hunts and “walking challenges.” There’s points and there’s badges, those empty, pixellated markers of computerized approbation. And an integrated Facebook game, Arookoo World Explorers, “turns local explorers into world explorers as players walk around a
virtual world collecting stars and discovering tools and treasures
hidden within the game.”

For the record, we’re not opposed to fitness apps in general, or the socialization of fitness data. On the other end of the spectrum, RunKeeper today announced it was opening its API, potentially enabling a new generation of apps for its pool of 6 million fitness buffs. And indeed, there will even be plenty of users of Arookoo for whom walking is a genuine challenge–the elderly, the disabled, and so on. May they use the app to their hearts’ content.

What troubles us is when people who should be perfectly capable of going for a run can barely muster the will to get up off the couch without the help of an iPhone app or Facebook game. The fact that there’s a large enough market that a freemium-model app (free to download, $2.99 for some advanced features) could be viable is a troubling omen–something like the sight of the last copse of trees on Easter Island.


[Image: Flickr user .Jennifer Leigh.]

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.