Habitica: An Organizational Tool for Retro Gamers

Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Nick Williams

Instead of spending hours upon hours grinding endgame content in World of Warcraft to unlock an epic mount to make your in-game avatar look particularly balling, how about grinding out that Masters thesis instead?  

The space between mundane real-world tasks and exciting virtual progression is exactly where the gamified task management app, Habitica aims to set up its ‘Item Shop’.

Further blurring the lines between virtual and ‘real’ lives, Habitica—available for browsers, iOS, and Android—turns daily organization and to-do lists into a nostalgic 16-bit roleplaying game.


“Gamify your life”

The term gamification has been floating around as a tech industry buzzword for several years now with a huge variety of modern apps such as Duolingo incorporating challenge and leveling systems to hook users.

There’s a reason that secondary markets for Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and anything else from the 16-bit and 32-bit era of video games have skyrocketed in recent years. Kids who grew up in the 1990s playing these consoles are now grown-ass adults, willing to shell out the big bucks to relive their glory days, spending hours upon hours parked in front of the TV on a Saturday morning.  

A Super Nintendo console that may have cost 80$ on eBay a few years ago can now run upwards of 200$. Retro game-bundle systems like the SNES Mini sold so quickly that Nintendo couldn’t even keep shelves stocked.

In that sense, Habitica has targeted a cross-section of markets that is almost guaranteed to print dollar bills—young millennials, who already spend money on apps, and who are more than willing to spend money on retro gaming content, especially if it promotes productivity wealth.


From a Level 1 sorcerer’s apprentice...

In most role-playing games (RPGs), the protagonist starts off as a humble farmer or something, who ends up becoming embroiled in a tumultuous save-the-universe quest flinging them to all corners of the world.

Habitica’s own humble origin story took the form of a Google Spreadsheet named HabitRPG, way back in 2013, and like any proper RPG protagonist, slowly metamorphosed into the bad-ass, katana-wielding giant-toppling beast of an application it is today.

HabitRPG began as a clever personal to-do list formulated by founder Tyler Renelle. To further inspire his own organization, Renelle transferred the document to a website and incorporated basic open-source sprites and tracking systems to share with his friends.

After encouragement from friends, he shared the concept on Reddit, where the idea quickly gained public traction. Before long, Renelle and his newly minted co-founders, Siena Leslie and Vicky Hsu opened a Kickstarter, and the rest is history.  


….to a Level 99 duel-wielding dark mage...

One of the major practical advantages of Habitica, in comparison to its competitors, is the flexibility and nuance of its organizational tools. Habitica isn’t just a basic to-do list with a glossy paint job: there’s actually a lot of power under this application’s hood.

The lists are broken up into three major categories, with the option to further break down more complex entries into smaller lists. The main categories are Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos.


You can use the habits column to organize and reward yourself for maintaining good habits, like going to the gym every day, or conversely, to punish yourself for bad habits, like eating Big Macs for lunch six times per week.  


Dailies are recurring minor tasks that you need to accomplish daily—completing them builds a ‘streak,’ rewarding your character with Experience points and Gold. Experience allows your character to level up while Gold used to buy equipment and items.

If you forget to accomplish your daily task, the streak is broken, and you need to start over from scratch.


To-dos are pretty self-explanatory and are one-time goals that, once accomplished, can be removed from your list.

Awards and difficulty

The different categories have different reward structures—for example, completing To-Dos gives you Experience and Gold, but also might provide you with an ‘item drop’, or the possibility of scoring a ‘critical hit’ against a particularly tough boss.

Each entry can be modified by difficulty, which affects the rewards or punishments your avatar earns for completion.

For example, walking the dog is pretty easy, so your Gold and Experience rewards will reflect that. On the other hand, painting the dining room is more difficult and time-consuming so Habitica enables your character’s progression to reflect that.

Characters + social features

Of course, the main selling feature of the Habitica platform is its gameplay elements. Habitica incorporates a wide variety of well-worn tropes from role-playing games, including an impressive array of customizing options, equipment, a rudimentary class-based system (Warrior, Mage, Healer, Rogue), stat development, and a classic Dragon Quest-style battle system.

Finishing off that daunting task might just become a bit more palatable when it takes the form of a giant black dragon that you can whittle down using all of your buffs, skills, and equipment—all of which you’ve already worked so hard to unlock.

Like all good RPGs, the gameplay aspects of Habitica are so deep that there is even a wiki to help users maximize their character builds.  

Habitica also smartly incorporates and commodifies your achievements by including a social component. The app incorporates some basic elements of MMORPGs by allowing you to form battle parties with your friends, or to share your accomplishments and progression.   

...to the hero that saved the world from annihilation.

Some people organize by way of mind maps, calendars, or minimalist to-do lists...for people that have fond memories of traveling through the Dark World of Hyrule to find Ganon in Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, or traveling via Airship to Kefka’s Tower in Final Fantasy VI, a software like Habitica is the way to go.  

The platform takes the best visual elements of classic RPGs and manages to maintain a level of fun while you achieve your goals and track your habits.

The battle system is not as deep as Chrono Trigger, but there’s enough loot, easter eggs, and practical application to certainly make Habitica worth it’s 9$ a month price tag.

It should be noted, as recognized in early reviews, that as a user reaches higher levels in the gamification system, the rewards teeter out a bit. So Habitica users may run into the same lack of motivation most RPG players struggle with as they advance in a game—after all, once you’ve reached level 75 with the most badass equipment available and 500,000 gold, are you really going to be as motivated to wash your car?

However, these are the types of issues that only the most hardcore users will experience.  

If you manage to reach the endgame in Habitica, you’ve either been cheating, or you’ve accomplished a hell of a lot in the time you’ve used it. Worst case scenario, start yourself a new character because clearly, Habitica has done its job!