Nike +: An Alternate Reality Game?

First thing I did when I bought my first iPhone, was go to the App Store and download most of the ‘top free’ apps. One app that was highly ranked and worth the 14.1MB of my 16GB phone was Nike +. Having recently graduated, I did not have the pleasure of the elliptical machines at Elon’s fitness center and thought maybe I should get into running. I had never been a fan of running or run for enjoyment (more for exercise). However, with the excitement of a new phone and a cool app that logged my runs, let me know the distance, average pace, duration and calories burned, I figured I would enjoy running at least until the novelty of my iPhone faded. I did not expect Nike + to completely motivate me to run faster, longer, and more often. Just the idea of adding more miles to my total or tracking a new route, got me excited to go for a new run. Little did I know I was playing an alternate reality game (ARG).

Not until I read Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal, did I realize that this mobile application is a game that I was not taking full advantage of. I went to and registered to start receiving my full rewards from this ARG. Instantly, the information logged on my iPhone was updated to my homepage on and my Nike + level went from zero to orange. Nike+ levels recognize the total distance you’ve achieved since joining and include six levels that correspond to total kilometers run. The levels are:

Yellow (0-49km, 0-30mi)
Orange (50-249km, 31-154mi)
Green (250-999km, 155-620mi)
Blue (1,000-2,499km, 621-1,552mi)
Purple (2,500-4,999km, 1553-3,106mi)
Black (over 5,000km or 3,107mi).

When I roll over my orange level, I am able to see that I have 184km until I level up. McGonigal writes, “Like any good MMO, you advance Nike+ levels quickly at first, but over time it takes more and more effort to reach the next level.” The idea of reaching the next level, gives me the motivation to go out for a longer run.

By only using my phone application, I was missing out on the best part of Nike +: creating a “Mini.” A Mini is your personal avatar (okay, now this is feeling a little more like a game) that you can customize to look like yourself, or something completely different. However, as McGonigal discusses, research suggests that ambient avatar feedback, when a gaming avatar looks more like yourself, is highly effective. So I created my avatar on Nike + and as I published my Mini, she introduced herself to me: “Hi, I’m your mini! I stay active to reflect your runs and keep you motivated.” Woah, my energized little Mini just made me want to go for a run, just to see what she does/says next! Not only does the Mini act as motivation for Nike + users, but also the ability to challenge yourself and others, the opportunity to share with friends through Facebook, and receiving rewards of medals, trophies and attaboys from famous athletes.

The idea of Nike + is to make people, who like to run, love to run. It is obvious that Nike + is successful with over 444,504,500 (and increasing every second) miles ran together. That equals 17,880 laps around the world and 17,213,559 pounds burned (these statistics, help a Nike + users feel the epic scale of the game, making them feel like they are a part of something bigger). Nike + is an effective alternate reality game that is designed to make people better. People will feel better from exercising, be happier from the rewards and cheers, and overall be satisfied with themself.

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