[App Friday] Finch’s gamification of self-care is a hit and a miss

This week, for App Friday, we review Finch, a self-care app that has been trending on the Google Play Store. It has over a million downloads on the Play Store, with a 4.9/5 rating.
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Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, mental health disorders, specifically anxiety and depression, were the leading causes of global health-related burden, a Lancet study shows.

The situation has only gotten worse since then, with multiple lockdowns, loss in income, isolation, separation from family and friends, loss of loved ones, financial issues, and reduction in general mobility, among other issues, exacerbating mental illnesses.

To top it all off, access to medical intervention has become limited, especially for non-COVID-19-related illnesses, since hospitals around the world are more focussed on treating COVID-19-positive patients.

Suffice it to say that globally, mental health has declined on average since the pandemic to levels last seen during the second world war.

While there is nothing that can replace therapy/counselling, medication, psychiatric diagnosis, and professional intervention, there are a few things one can do in terms of self-care such as breathing exercises, practicing gratitude, actively tuning in to your thoughts, reflecting—basically just “checking in” with yourself and managing your mental health on a day-to-day basis.

There are many apps such as Wysa, Woebot, Bloom, and Aloe Bud that simplify the process of self-care by sending notifications and reminders at regular intervals so that you don’t lose sight of what you want to achieve.

Finch is another such app.

The app, available on the Google Play Store and the App Store, has over a million downloads, and a 4.9/5-star rating on the Play Store.

Finch essentially helps you look after your mental wellbeing by holding you accountable to a virtual pet.

As you complete “goals” that you set out for yourself, such as drinking a few glasses of water in a day, or noting one thing you’re grateful for, the app gives you energy points that you can use to do various activities on the app as well as help your pet grow.

The app

The first thing you do when you log in to the app is pick a name for your pet, as well as its pronouns, and then quickly pick a few basic goals you’d like to achieve every day. These can be anything from drinking X glasses of water per day, doing two minutes of breathing exercises, and checking your mood every morning when you wake up, to putting the phone down 30 minutes before bedtime, practicing gratitude, sending a kind message to a loved one, and reflecting on the day.

You can pick from a set number of goals, as well as create your own.

Once you’re logged in, you’ll be able to see your pet and your daily goals on the home screen. A button at the bottom of the screen pulls up a whole list of self-care activities for you to do, and this is the main toggle button you’ll go back to often.

There are many options the activities list offers such as:

  • First aid: includes breathing and observation exercises that you can do during panic attacks, increased anxiety, waves of grief, etc.
  • Acts of Kindness: You can add your friends or family members if they’re on the app, or add anyone who matters to you (even if they don’t have the app), pay them compliments every day, or tell them something you’re grateful for. You can also journal instances of kindness, or make a list of people you wish you’d been kinder to.
  • Soundscapes: listen to soothing rainfall, ocean waves, the sound of trees swaying, etc., for a set amount of time.
  • Breathe: helps you quickly do a few breathing exercises to either calm down, or wake up
  • Movements: includes morning stretches to start the day, midday exercises to snap out of a lull, and night-time movements to wind down for the day
  • Quizzes: helps “check in” on anxiety levels, understand your relationship with your body image and whether you appreciate yourself, whether you’re optimistic about your future, and how sleep affects your life

There are also journaling prompts you can use to pen down your thoughts and feelings, and rant to your finch pet if you need to.

Every activity you complete on Finch gives you energy points, which you can then use to send your pet on adventures and level up. The adventures help your pet learn new things, develop its own personality traits, and grow, and completing more and more activities when they’re away on an adventure helps them return home sooner.

Verdict

Finch’s approach to self-care is interesting, although it doesn’t stand out when it comes to gamification.

The interface is smooth, devoid of glitches, and quite aesthetically pleasing. You’re truly spoilt for choice when it comes to activities you can do on the app, which is quite refreshing from other popular apps that allow you to do only three-four activities, at most.

In the brief period that this app was tested, it did manage to get me to really care about my virtual pet, Waffles (pronouns: she/her), which, in turn, encouraged me to do some of the activities enlisted.

There’s a paid version— Finch Pro, which is quite pricey versus its competitors, but you can still do more than enough on the free version.

However, what could potentially put someone off the app is the clutter.

There’s no walk-through on the app when you first log in, and, with the myriad of options available, it’s too important a feature to exclude. The app doesn’t explain how the energy points work, what the “adventure” tangent means, what “rainbow stones” are, how you’re supposed to level up, or even what the different options on the screen let you do.

There are too many elements on the app for the creators to have left it up to users to figure out on their own — and because you feel so lost, it’s hard to take an instant liking to the app, or even be invested in your pet’s growth.

Initially, the few times I went back to the app were for its activities. The breathing exercises are really interesting, the gratitude journal really allows you to bring yourself back in the moment, the ‘movements’ feature with its simple exercises is encouraging, and the rant option is super helpful.

There’s a bit of a learning curve, and the random new elements that pop up when you complete different levels don’t let you become too comfortable with the app.

Compared to Wysa, which has a simple chat interface where you can set up reminders and notifications, Finch is quite busy.

But as someone who grew up in the age of Tamagotchis, taking care of a pet, even if they’re virtual, is a good incentive to do self-care activities. Definitely a must-download even if it’s for a short while.

Edited by Megha Reddy