by Kevin E.
I’m hooked on this new computer game! Its an MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role-playing game for all the n00bs out there. I’m only at level 5, but I’ve already earned some cool wardrobe items and I’m about to unlock new steeds for my character. There’s a lot of grinding involved but the PvP (player vs. player) gameplay is fun. I could sink a lot of hours into this game, if only I could find more time to play.
Its called Zwift.
A Zwift Kick In The Butt
Zwift is the latest in a long line of products aiming to make riding inside for hours less eye-stabbingly boring. But what makes it more compelling than a bumpin’ playlist or a Netflix marathon?
Interactivity. Its not just a distraction, its an active part of the experience. If you happen to own one of the newest crop of Smart Trainers, like the Cycleops PowerBeam Pro, Tacx Neo, or Wahoo Kickr, its even more active.
I read a lot about Zwift during its open beta phase, but nobody seemed to know how to define it. But within minutes of my first session, I knew exactly what I was dealing with:
Zwift is a video game. No more, no less.
Game-ify Your Training
I’m a 90’s kid, so it should come as no surprise to learn that I’ve been playing video games for most of my life. Nintendo, Sega, Playstation, Xbox, PC; you name it, I’ve probably played it. So as a gamer, I felt right at home playing Zwift with the other gamers making their way around Zwift’s virtual island, Watopia.
What’s that? You use Zwift, but you’re not a gamer?
You are now! Welcome you to the party! Come on in, the water’s fine!
Ever wondered why online games like World of Warcraft and Call of Duty are so attractive to “the youths”? (Since you’re here reading this, I’m assuming you aren’t one of those proverbial “youths”. Sorry?)
If you’ve played Zwift, you’ve already experienced what drives the kids (perhaps your kids) to whittle away hours and hours playing those games:
1. Character Progression
Just like World of Warcraft players earn XP (experience points) for each quest they complete, Zwift-ers also earn XP and unlock achievements for logging saddle time and completing intervals successfully. In both games, earning XP leads to leveling-up, which unlocks clothing to display your status to other players and power-ups to improve in-game performance.
2. Competitive Multiplayer
Call of Duty players know that the only way to prove your skill is to throw down in Player vs. Player matches. Getting the top spot on the end-of-match leaderboard earns bragging rights (and lots of XP). Zwift also has leaderboards for the various sprint points and climbs on the virtual roads, goading players to throw down the watts and shoot for the top spot.
Don’t Hate The Player…
Ok, so Zwift is a video game. But Zwifters aren’t your typical “gamers” right?
We’re athletes! We’re not sitting around pushing buttons, we’re training!
And we’re adults! There’s no bragging, shaming, or cheating. And definitely no Swatting. We’re mature!
Not from what I’ve seen. I’ve closely observed the text chat and the banter isn’t much different from any other gaming community.
Mom jokes? Check.
Bragging? You bet. (Mostly humble-bragging, at least)
Shaming? Oh boy. A lot of the chat messages I’ve seen are calling out the “cheaters”.
Yes, players cheat at Zwift. But I’m not surprised. Gamers want to win, some by any means necessary. Zwift is no exception.
But its not all trolling and peacocking. I’ve also gotten plenty of encouragement, props, and overall good vibes from players. The first time I got a virtual thumbs-up from a fellow Zwifter halfway across the world, I couldn’t help but feel good about the Zwift community.
…Love The Game!
Games like Zwift, World of Warcraft, Call Of Duty, StarCraft, etc. encourage players to keep playing through progression and competition. It immerses you in its virtual world, builds your skills, tests those skills against digital and human opponents, and rewards victory with access to new skills. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Zwift is unique in one crucial aspect: Players can take their character progression into the real world. Leveling up in Zwift takes work; work that will pay off on the real roads. That’s more than you can say for World of Warcraft. Being a level 90 Paladin won’t get you to the front of the line at the grocery store.
Zwift is proof that video games can be more than playthings to distract kids from their homework. They can impact our lives in positive and constructive ways by motivating us to improve ourselves along with our virtual avatars.
Zwift is a great way for “non-gamers” to experience the power of video games. I don’t expect Zwifters to suddenly start spending hundreds of hours and thousands of real-world dollars playing EVE Online, but they might gain an understanding of what makes those games so attractive and engaging.
Zwift is just a video game. But video games are so much more than you might think they are.
Screenshots courtesy of Nick Paglia. He’s done more cool stuff in Zwift than I have.