Ode to Elevate
Brain-training is one of those fishy new concepts born burdened with an overpromising name. So is gamification. But behind the hype there is clear promise and Elevate is an iOS/Android app that surprised me by truly delivering a fun, gameful way to get a bit smarter & sharper every day.
It’s now been 43 days that I’ve used the app EVERY single day, almost since the very first day I found it. It’s the best morning routine I’ve ever had —far surpassing snoozing, coffee, porn, checking up on news, messages or social networks… even exercise, which works better for me at nights. After a few minutes of my daily session at Elevate I just have to start my day and can’t get back to sleep —grogginess magically dispelled by focusing on the set of 3 different games it presents me based on my training program.
It’s a free app but the PRO version with more games & features goes for $5 a month or $45 a year. I was so impressed that I went for the $80 lifetime plan in a sale they had a while ago . I had never done something like that and it marks the most I’ve ever paid for an app . I don’t know how long this will be a daily habit, it seems that within a couple more months I should rise to the top level (Master, level 6) in all 6 areas (in everything but Listening I’m currently at Expert, level 4). But like a favorite movie you buy instead of renting, Elevate is so beautiful that I know I’ll want to replay it once in a while just to be inspired again.
No, I’m not getting paid to write this nor am I affiliated to Elevate in any way. It’s just that good. Even Apple named it its Best App Of The Year in 2014. (I’m very late to the party as you can see.)
And besides being an inspiring & energizing routine, it does work as brain-training. I feel much better already at doing mental-math, listening or remembering names, my short-term memory seems bigger, my vocabulary, use & processing of words feels sharper.
There’s 2 things that most impressed me about it and I take them as object lessons on the importance of how you do things:
On every detail Elevate oozes quality, professionalism, attention & thought . If you have to read or listen to something as part of a test it is always intringuing and well-written, like you might find in a particularly good general-interest magazine. Even single words or numbers are carefully selected not to just be hard for a particular test but to be useful & interesting. Its audio recordings are superb, the voices pleasant, the diction professional (and before every game that requires audio you always get a helpful warning).
Every visual —button, icon, color, graph, image— is polished and aesthetic. The names, instructions, tips when you fail, and study-material are well-written & actually helpful. In sum, you can tell that at the other end there’s bright people who work hard and care.
I don’t know how else to describe it but Elevate demonstrates clearly that the ultimate gamification technique, the one still sadly underused, is to add charm to interaction . Even innovative tests with quality content could fall flat without this charm. A brilliant game-dynamic is neither necessary nor sufficient for fun. The gameplay of several Elevate games is often extremely simple, not unlike what you might get at any dreadful exam for school: the Substraction game is literally just substracting 2 numbers. But the charm makes all the difference. By charm I mean how every interaction detail —sounds, timing, animations, metaphors, styles, flourishes, responsiveness, input methods, reactions, intros, outros, transitions, celebrations, misses— is fine-tuned to be appealing & engaging (without being cloying or distracting, though it can be a fine, subjective line).
Consider stone skipping. Yes, quantification is part of this game (and certainly of Elevate too): counting your bounces introduces challenge, a clear sense of progress, the basic feedback loop towards mastery & flow. But even more importantly is simply that stones make beautiful ripples when hitting water, and the way a stone can skip on the surface of water is unexpected and graceful: it’s charming. You can call it the Flower & Journey approach to games.
What makes Elevate unique is that it offers quality, quantification & charm.