Should we be gamifying our lives?

Posted on November 15, 2011 | 5 minute read

I remember debating about this with Ellen months ago at her house. I haven’t yet decided what my stance is on gamification, although I’ve definitely been leaning toward the positive. If there’s something that can make things we don’t particularly enjoy doing fun (or even make things that we already enjoy doing even more fun), that’s awesome. This is already happening with apps like EpicWin and Zombies Run (which is in development after a very successful round of funding at KickStarter). However, I definitely admit that there are downsides to turning your life into a game on a large scale.

Games have concrete rules. Life doesn’t

Sometimes when I’m having a dilemma or I’m not sure what to do, I try to imagine what the best winning scenario would be in this situation if this was all a game. If I was an in-game character controlling myself from the safety of a keyboard and mouse, how would I want the story to play out for my avatar? I then have a clear vision of where I want to be, which already brings me a step closer to getting there.

Sometimes this works, but sometimes it fails miserably. Games try to imitate life, but they can’t do it perfectly. Not yet, anyway. It’s kind of silly when I think about it - games try to create immersion and here I am using them as a way to dissociate (I already wrote about association and dissociation in games in relation to POV earlier)

Life does have rules - all kinds of them. The problem is that they are much more complex and convoluted and sometimes the creators like to change it up just to screw you over. We’re all playing blind here. Trying to apply the rules and mechanics of a game to real life seems like putting a bottle cap on the potential experiences that fall outside of the game. Can someone find a way to gamify without sacrificing the more unpredictable, human aspects of life to rigid rules and mechanics?

Does gamification condition us to the “if it’s not fun, don’t do it” mentality?

I’ve heard this argument a few times. And it’s a good point. We live in a world where we have jobs and responsibilities. Does attempting to turn these activities that we may not like but have to do into something fun trivialize them and lessen our appreciation of the value of hard work?

Yes, I think it would.

But on the other hand - why are we so conditioned to expect having to do things we don’t like and why should we not try to turn them into something enjoyable? Why are we so accepting of the constant grind as if we’re each our own Sisyphus, perpetually rolling a boulder up a mountain until we get old or crushed under the weight?

All I know is that I do not like to cook. If a stupid app can give me bonus points for cooking a delicious meal and make it fun, bring it on. The actual mechanics of this would of course need to be a little more advanced and thought out than “Cooked a meal. +5 XP” (i.e. then what?), but it’s the concept that I’m talking about here, not the technical details.

Who watches the watchers?

As a brainwashing and control technique, gamification could potentially be very powerful. We already have people whose lives revolve entirely around WoW or SC2 or other games. And that’s totally fine if it works for them. But many (all?) games are designed to be addictive to some extent. If regular games already can and do control some of our lives and influence our lifestyle, imagine the potential for behavioural modification in the case of a game that’s integrated with our day to day activities. If buying a cigarette gives you 9001 XP while buying a banana gives you 9, which will a dedicated player choose?

And who, aside from the designers, is the controlling body that reviews these things? Is there one? Should there even be one (after all, that’s just another layer of people making policies for our lives)? And if not (or heck, even if so), how much will it take to bribe the decision makers? Or should we call it “sponsorship”?

Are all the risks worth it?

Are all of the potential risks above worth it, or even valid? Sometimes it feels like I’m missing some really big and really obvious piece of a puzzle when thinking about these sorts of things.

This entire post may be full of speculations that are very far from reality right now, but heck - I’ve written about everything from strong AI to cryonics here; you all should know that my brain is full of this crap.

And these are just the three potential downfalls of gamifying our lives that I’ve bothered describing in any detail. There are so many questions and I’m afraid the people who can answer them don’t exist yet - is gamification an effective motivator? What will the definition of a game even be in the next few years? Will there be ways to implement different levels of immersion? Will one juggernaut of a company gamify the whole world and take over? Is there a way to achieve true gamification without one company controlling it all? And possibly most importantly: what is the impact on people who don’t want to play?




Categories:featured technology
comments powered by Disqus