My New Running Buddies are Walkers

A renowned child labor productivity expert once said,

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.
You find the fun and snap! The job’s a game.

Zombies, Run! app by Six To Start

Zombies, Run! app by Six To Start

There’s truth to the quotation. Taking a chore or mundane task and building a point system or other soft rewards can make it more enjoyable and engaging. There’s a term for it: gamification (i.e. turning a non-gaming activity into a game). And it can be a great way to engage a community and keep people returning to “play”.

For many of the runners we connect with, running is its own reward, both during and through the sense of achievement thereafter. But for anyone who needs a little extra motivation, adding game elements to an otherwise routine training run might give them the added incentive to to lace up their shoes and hit the pavement or treadmill. I know I need it from time to time.

On Sunday, I launched into my first run using the Zombies, Run! app for iOS, a fun alternative to my usual up-tempo musical playlist to keep me occupied during runs. Created three years ago by U.K. company Six To Start to gamify fitness training, the app turns your regular run session into a “level” of their first-person zombie-themed adventure.

I used it for one 60-minute run, two back-to-back “episodes”, and I’m an instant fan.

Zombies, Run! drops you in the middle of a fictional post-zombie-apocalypse world and its narrative unfolds like a radio play, with characters speaking directly to the app user. In the story, you belong to a small group of survivors (Abel Township) who has to embark on reconnaissance and salvage missions in order to pick up supplies to help maintain the health of the community and, of course, avoid the zombie hoard just outside its defended wall. By augmenting your existing musical playlist with a segments of prerecorded dialogue, they have created roughly 30- or 60-minute chapters of the story to accompany your runs.

And, if you’re brave, you can enable a mode to be chased intermittently by zombie attackers.

Zombies, Run! iPhone app

Zombies, Run! iPhone app. Ignore the pace, I had to stop running to capture this image.

As someone with both an interest in mobile computing technology and experience as a voice-over performer and script writer, I had been eying this application for some time. And I’m not disappointed with the purchase. There are several things I love about this app:

  • The story, voice-over acting, and sound effects are high quality and engaging. In fact, the game was co-created with novelist Naomi Alderman, due to the critical importance of its dialogue and story elements. If you’re a Walking Dead or Resident Evil fan and generally enjoy the zombie thriller genre, that to me is just an added bonus.
  • During your run, the iPhone’s turn-by-turn voice recording interjects announcements of items and supplies you have picked up along the way, and warns you of approaching threats. This element of the app takes it out of the realm of strict audiobook and makes each run feel unique, even if it founded on the original scripted episodes.
  • By enabling “chases”, you can add an interval training component to your runs and a whole other layer of interactivity. Roughly three times each half hour, you are warned that zombie attackers are approaching. As you pick up your pace into a brief sprint, you are further updated as they close to 50 meters and 20 meters behind you. If you successfully keep your accelerated pace long enough, you’ll evade the zombies. If your your sprint is insufficient, you’ll be forced to leave items behind to distract the zombies long enough to stay alive.
  • Your music provides the soundtrack to the game. For me, as the radio operator told me that I needed to make a run for the abandoned hospital, “Sabotage”, by the Beastie Boys kicked in to give my a boost of energy. When zombies were detected and I was told I needed to sprint to escape, Jack White’s launched into the killer guitar opening of “Solute Your Solution”. Loved that my own playlist could be shuffled into the story to keep the run lively.
  • The initial investment in this app gives you access to tons of content:
    • 23 episodes of Season 1 of the storyline, and the first 7 of Season 2
    • One 5K, one 10K, and one 20K special mission to accompany you on race day
    • 6 special supply-gathering missions of unlimited length, perfect for half-marathon and other extended distances
    • “Air drop” missions, that allow you to set a real-world GPS location that you need to reach to recover a special delivery and return with it to the base camp.

Plus, there are whole elements of the game to explore on-line, including the ability to use supplies to expand your compound and better equip the doctors and defenders of the community. Two additional seasons of content are available for in-app purchase and Season 4 launches with a brand new narrative this spring.

Six to Start seems to appreciate that we all run for different reasons. Each of us has our own motivation to hit the trail each day and gradually improve our stamina and pace. But more than any desire for self betterment, weight loss, or a physical fitness, one factor successfully propels people to start running more than any other: zombies and lots of them, closing in.

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