Your Life: The Videogame?

Take My Hand I'm a Stranger in Paradise (Image by Elven*Nicky, Flickr, CC)Continuing the gaming focus of the last post, I wanted to look at something that we will likely see in the near future of videogames: the conversion of everyday activity into a gaming context. We’ve already seen a few examples of this take place and it is a form of gaming that has yet to really emerge but one that will take off once the mainstream crowds are drawn into the addictive lure of turning everyday mundane actions into status-based achievements.

If it is the individual that creates meaning in their own lives, then could gaming be the catalyst for increasing motivation, analysing success or just plain ego gratification?

Before you think this concept is too far-fetched, let’s have a quick look at a few examples that have already attempted this in various ways. The most popular of these is FourSquare, a location check-in application that currently has over 6 million users.  The creator, Dennis Crowley, has gone on record stating that he was inspired by videogames, and this certainly shows as you collect badges depending on various milestones achieved – kind of like a social media boyscout troop.  From simple things such as your first check-in, to more complicated activities such as checking in to the same venue as 50 other people (which usually only occurs at web-focused conferences or expos) or whilst on a boat.   The more of these you collect, the more your social standing within the world of FourSquare increases and every badge received comes with a little sense of satisfaction.   Add to this the concept of becoming a ‘mayor’ of a venue (i.e. the person who checks in the most), which sometimes comes with certain perks like purchase discounts, and you can begin to see how the simple act of going through your daily motions has had an extra layer of ‘game’ placed over it.  FourSquare seems to be de-emphasising this gaming aspect over time; but it is undeniable that a large part of its initial appeal to users comes from these mechanics.

Moving on, mobile phones are now home to a number of applications that very specifically try to turn your life into one filled with experience points and levelling up. The appropriately named EpicWin is currently the main contender for this crown, and it is doing a pretty fine job of it.   Unlike the approach taken by FourSquare, which sees gaming elements applied in a more abstract manner, EpicWin directly and openly tries to turn your life into a videogame.  Here you level up a character – with traditional RPG stats such as strength, stamina and intellect – by assigning yourself tasks and completing them.   With each task or chore achieved, you receive a self-assigned amount of points and your character progresses along a map in the game – giving you a sense of accomplishment and encouraging you to be more productive.   Obviously such a system is easily broken, but to do so is to miss the entire point of the application and given that it is a solo experience (and therefore has no real sense of competition) there really is no incentive to do this.

It’s a great idea which unfortunately in this instance is still lacking somewhat, being little more than a glorified to-do list.  However, the proof of concept and market space (the application is not a free one, and is selling well) is there and from personal experience I can say that I was more productive whilst playing around with this application; although admittedly my interest in it waned after a week or two as it lacks the depth and reward structure to be truly engrossing.

Will we see ideas such as these become more varied and fleshed out in the future?  Absolutely and undoubtedly, and there is a simple reason why: economics.   The profit available from any product or platform online is in almost all instances directly proportionate to the amount of time that people spend using it, particularly when we are talking about social media applications.  The more time people spend on your platform the more your advertising space is worth or the more microtransactions you can convince people to purchase. For this reason alone, this blurring of the game/life divide will be explored; as the company that can successfully combine the addictiveness, competition and depth of a game like World of Warcraft with a real-world (socially acceptable and constantly used) utility and convince enough people to use it to achieve critical mass will be a multi-billion dollar organisation within a matter of months.

Consider Facebook and how widespread and addictive it already is.   Now think about how much more engaging a platform it would become if every time you uploaded a photo, made a status update, or wrote on somebody’s wall you were awarded points that went towards levelling up your profile through various rankings.  Or alternatively, if other people could give you points based upon your actions that they approved of (every ‘like’ gives you +1 to your popularity attribute; every time somebody shares one of your links +5 to your town-cryer skill).  They could even make it quite detailed, and have a class-based system which saw you level up different aspects of your profile based on certain activities (tagging friends in photos and videos adds to your ‘social mogul’ status; writing on other people’s walls levels up your ‘gossip queen’ rank). If you thought Everquest or World of Warcraft were insidious with their ability to addict millions; just think about what would happen if such a  reward system was implemented on Facebook!

Whether or not they would actually do this is highly debatable and at this stage of their success probably unnecessary, but somebody will try (if they haven’t already, I’m not sure if third-party Facebook applications can actually implement this) and eventually someone will succeed at gaining that critical mass necessary for this concept to become part of everyday life for many millions of people.

Augmented Reality (image by turkletom, Flickr, CC)There are countless other possible examples of ways that your life could incorporate gaming elements to a greater or lesser extent.   Augmented reality applications, which have been discussed here on Future Conscience before, are a technically impressive way to do this and there are already a number of great examples of developers trying to re-envisage the way we view the streets and landmarks around us.

What will be very interesting to see is how competitive these systems become, which is to say they will prove more commercially successful the more they are able to implement interaction and a sense of ranking between players.   The vast majority of us are already inherently competitive when it comes to other people’s lifestyles and achievements, even if we are adept at masking it, and social media has shown that if you give people a platform to call out their own successes then they will use it – loudly.  Give them a platform where their successes are constantly collated and compared to others in real-time…?

I can easily foresee a future where gaming begins to fuse with our daily existence to such an extent that the two become almost indistinguishable.  It could even be to the extent that your ‘level’ or ‘attributes’ gained could directly impact the likelihood of succeeding at a job, college application or other such competitive placement.  If the system was externally dictated (i.e. tasks and points were not self-assigned), secure and non-exploitable, then your achievements within it would count for a lot more than a traditional game would and could be seen as a kind of curriculum vitae.  After-all, every level/skill/attribute would directly correlate to real-world experience, motivation and successful implementation.  It could act like a kind of independent life-auditing scheme, in which those who are active and succeed at life (according to the metrics of success set by the designers) are given higher levels/skills/attrubutes than those who do not meet these criteria.  As awful as that sounds, I really can see future attempts at implementing such a thing – the ramifications that we would have to consider if it were ever successful and widespread are grounds for another post entirely!

I clearly haven’t covered all of the possible manifestations of this idea – but they can be summed up in a simple dichotomy. Do we bring videogame tropes into various aspects of our life, or do we bring our life directly into the context of a videogame paradigm?  We’re definitely going to see many examples of the former emerge over the next few years and, whilst the second part of that equation may seem over-the-top and a bit ridiculous right now, only a few years ago many people would laugh at the idea of other people being allowed to publicly display photos of them drunk on the weekend to everyone in real-time (to bring out this overused example once more).

Things change, and they change with increasing speed in today’s technologically developed world.  Within five years we could be thinking about how we ever lived without our Starbucks coffee each morning providing us with 5 extra bonus points towards our loyalty attribute, a statistic which other non-related companies might use to then offer incentives to highly loyal customers to try their product too (yes, I can see the irony in that situation)… all of these things easily tracked through our universal personal device (previously known as a mobile phone) that never leaves our side and is even used to track our sleeping patterns (bonus experience in the partying skill for those who can stay out all night!  Bonus points in the dependability attribute for those who get up early for work).

Me me me (image by Nahuel31, Flickr, CC)Combining the rapidly growing sectors of social media, location software, augmented reality, professional productivity and mobile platforms with the ego-stroking peer group competition and carrot/donkey mechanics of massively multiplayer online gaming really isn’t that difficult to conceive of.  In fact, it seems like a match made in capitalist heaven.  We can be assured that it will be attempted on this scale at some stage – the real question is will it be widely accepted? And, if so, what will that mean for the construction of our social identities and personal understanding of self-worth?

6 Responses to Your Life: The Videogame?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Something like this was tried in a low-tech way in a 16th (or 17th?) century in China. A Buddhist monk wrote a book called The Record of Self-Knowledge, listing various kinds of action that a person could take, and either awarding or subtracting points based on the religious merit or demerit of that act. The points you had managed to sustain until the end of your life would determine the spiritual level of your next life. This answers a very human need – hence the title ‘Record of Self-Knowledge’ – for identity construction and self evaluation.

    But you can see how people would react against it. Is not the true self unmeasurable? Is the goal of life to cumulatively become something better, or is true self-knowledge when we step off the wheel of becoming? Or is the truth somewhere in between? I predict that we will see a proliferation of competing ‘games’ along the lines you describe, with perhaps one or two which come to dominate the market. Then there will be a predictable reaction against these. But by that time, will people react by having no ‘game’ at all, or will they only be able to think in terms of new games with opposing value systems?

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s a very interesting correlation there, and one that is perfectly suited. As you say there are some inherent issues with systems such as this – mainly, who gets to decide what is classified as positive or negative. A spiritual component becomes even more difficult, obviously, although in a sense I guess that might be part of the whole point…that by the end of the whole process you realise how futile it really is?

    Your final question is one that really intrigues me. For example, could we now return to a modern society without social networking? I seriously doubt it (bar any major cataclysms that destroy the infrastructure entirely). Once something like this grabs hold, how could you move away from it unless into another system that delineates metrics for success…of course, you always get those who just wish to rally against something by boycotting it – but then what happens if these systems are seen as totally valid ways to display attributes for jobs or other competitive roles in society? Do the people who don’t have or choose not to have access to these things become second-class? Will we have anti-discrimination laws against such a thing…probably.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Just been listening to a great podcast that came out today from Gamers With Jobs which discusses what can be referred to as ‘Gameification’ – very relevant to this discussion.

    http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/node/107764

    It’s about 30 minutes into the podcast, but for anybody into gaming I would recommend them very highly so you should listen to the whole thing!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Baudrillard on simulacra, the cybernetic game, hyperreality, science fiction…. Philip K. Dick gets a couple of mentions too.

    http://www.egs.edu/faculty/jean-baudrillard/articles/simulacra-and-simulations-xiii-simulacra-and-science-fiction/

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