Game talkGameifying everything

 Posted by (Visited 12283 times)  Game talk  Tagged with: ,
Feb 182010
 

Just a little meditation here…

Lots of chatter this morning already over a speech given at DICE by Jesse Schell (author of the excellent Art of Game Design) on games Beyond Facebook: How social games terrify traditional game makers but will lead us to gaming everywhere.

I have a long long article brewing on Facebook game snobbery by traditional gamers… and Jesse touched on this in his speech. But he also touched on something that folks like Jane McGonigal have been talking about for a long time: the gameifying of the world.

Where is this going? Schell says that the achievements and incentives that have wired us into playing Facebook games compulsively will soon be built into everything. Your toothbrush, for instance, will give you 10 achievement points for brushing your teeth in the morning, Schell said. Then it will give you more points for brushing for the right amount of time. Then it will give you points for brushing every morning in a week.

You may also get credit for eating your Corn Flakes. If you take the bus to work, your local government will give you 10 achievement points for reducing traffic. You will get credit for walking to work, as your digital shoes will testify. If you kid gets straight A’s on a report card, he or she will get 2000 points. And the Obama administration will give you 5,000 points for being a good parent.

The quote starts someplace that sounds amusing to innocuous, and ends on a note that probably sounds disturbing (“good parent by whose definition?”) to many, particularly to those who are freaked out by the microscandal over Cass Sunstein’s behavioral economics approach to politics.

Some will find this questionable on the grounds of who sets up the incentive structures — I can hear the echoes of the “games teach you to obey the rules, and who sets up the rules?” argument, perhaps most famously articulated by Chris Suellentrop. We don’t have any issues with rewards that are even more tangible, like giving your kid money for a straight-A report card… as long as we are comfortable with who is setting up the reward and what criteria.

Others will see it as a big invasion of privacy, something that today is a tad more resonant than usual given that some enterprising folks put together a site that datamines players of the location-based Twitter game Foursquare in order to demonstrate that they are telling thieves that they aren’t at home. (The site is tongue-in-cheek and intended just to make a point).

Yet another group will worry about the fact that the incentive structures here are likely to be based on psychological hacks and reinforcement tricks. In other words, playing with the brain structures of addiction — something that has repeatedly been raised as an issue with games (though there’s news on that front, as the draft DSM-V is being circulated for comment on the Internet). Some recent research has found (inadvertent) brain hacks even in things like the optimal length of scenes in movies — and there’s certainly plenty of prospects for this sort of thing to be used for purposes somewhere between commercial and nefarious. They’re calling it “neurocinematics.” Hello, future.

Extrapolating this from Facebook games, as Jesse does, is valid. The social games market makes extensive use of psych hacks, datamining, and incentive structures, in a small way very much like the above three concerns:

There are plenty of valid concerns to be had here. But it’s not going to go away. Instead, we need to be thinking about what our accommodation is with these technologies and approaches. Almost all of this arises simply out of better knowledge of ourselves and our psychology paired with improvements in communications technology. And that is not a new problem — it’s an old one.

Are games in the vanguard here? Maybe, maybe not. After all, the world is changing around us pretty quick. If anything, we already need to distrust what we see and what it tells us to do, because quite a lot of the perceptions we absorb from media are not so much “wrong” as just “non-factual.” Spotting it has become a cottage industry, from Photoshop fails to political fact-checking. And we shouldn’t by any stretch think that games or game tactics are the only place where this stuff will be used or even most impinge upon our lives.

All these things are linked and are essentially part of the sweep of history, and the concerns that arise from gameifying the world apply in larger measure to non-games.

Just food for thought, as I leave you with a fun example of that convergence…

  32 Responses to “Gameifying everything”

  1. Is addiction always a bad thing? Virality used to be a bad thing, until the concept was applied to marketing.

    If there’s a game that can make me addicted to brushing my teeth, eating well, exercising regularly, and anonymously enriching other people’s lives, i daresay it’s worth my time and money.

    - Ryan

  2. PS a guy named James Cutting led that study on film editing? *rolls eyes*

  3. We’re having a great discussion on Buzz regarding this article. From my comments there:

    I don’t necessarily think that becoming “point-driven” any more than we already are should lead to rat comparisons. Designing an effective game requires taking into account different playstyles (cf. Bartle), so for players that don’t get jazzed by accomplishments, you find an alternate way.

    Hmm, that actually gets me thinking about the Bartle spectrum and its applications to understanding audiences outside of the gaming arena.

  4. The neurocinematics article is useful in that it gives numbers for effects most professional entertainers are aware of and use. In fact, given edge cases, it is sometimes very necessary to steer the party toward one emotion or away from another. Any late night bar gig player can explain this. It’s critical to picking pieces and set order depending on the nature of the gig being played. There are even popular formulas for it.

    Games have the distinction of sub-second stimulus locks and may focus on content types that make this easy to do (combat, leveling, etc.) just as bands pick songs and instrumentals designed for effects that limit their selections. What becomes a bone of contention is the question about the lasting effects on behaviors. I can only speculate about that but I’ve seen first hand what the short term effects are and why they can be useful and how they can be dangerous.

  5. In the marketing world, point systems are known as loyalty programs and incentive programs. Airlines, VISA, grocery stores and more all have these point systems that they use to incent different behaviors from their customers.

  6. I’m not used to being the doomy person, so I’m just going to throw this link out there:

    “Punished by Rewards”, by Alfie Kohn.
    http://www.amazon.com/Punished-Rewards-Trouble-Incentive-Praise/dp/0618001816

  7. Raph, great post.

    I and some other guys made a toothbrush like that a few years ago at Waseda University. It’s described here together with some other persuasive technology prototypes. Our ethical basis for developing persuasive tech was that these systems are intended to be used by people on themselves, to effect changes in behaviour that they themselves want to see happen, but can’t achieve through willpower alone. Various devices and systems that try help you quit smoking are a good example.

    Of course, persuasive tech and addictive game mechanics will be used in marketing as well, where someone else defines the incentive structures and tries to impose them on you. I’m “guilty” of contributing to ideas on how to do that effectively here.

    But I’m not convinced, actually, that we are now at the verge of developing a scientific methodology of persuasion that will finally tip the scales in favour of the advertiser and render people into helpless consumers (or political subjects). Vance Packard, in a book called The Hidden Persuaders, was concerned about this possibility already in 1957, as theories from psychology and social psychology were being heavily exploited in American marketing. But we humans are reflexive subjects: as some new “brain hack” gains popularity, to some extent we learn to identify it and negate its effects. Scientists and managers are trained to identify common biases in their decision making. Schoolchildren are taught media criticism. Gamers learn to break away from addictive mechanics (or grow bored of them?), at least healthy ones.

    To an untrained and unaccustomed mind, though, I suppose persuasive technology can be frighteningly effective. At least in Finland, marketing towards children is strongly regulated, and I support that. The online environment presents regulators with a whole new set of challenges, though.

  8. Where is this going? Schell says that the achievements and incentives that have wired us into playing Facebook games compulsively will soon be built into everything. Your toothbrush, for instance, will give you 10 achievement points for brushing your teeth in the morning, Schell said. Then it will give you more points for brushing for the right amount of time. Then it will give you points for brushing every morning in a week.

    You may also get credit for eating your Corn Flakes. If you take the bus to work, your local government will give you 10 achievement points for reducing traffic. You will get credit for walking to work, as your digital shoes will testify. If you kid gets straight A’s on a report card, he or she will get 2000 points. And the Obama administration will give you 5,000 points for being a good parent.

    Sounds like the sort of excessive handholding that leads to “overparenting” and the emasculation of society. Napoleon Bonaparte wrote, “The only conquests which are permanent and leave no regrets are our conquests over ourselves.”

    What we achieve in our short time on this earth should have far more meaning and worthwhileness than a point value. After all, a point value as an epitaph is just sad. But, hey, we already say the same thing about money: there’s more to life than wealth. I don’t believe in this point-y future, and I wouldn’t want to live there, but we do already have social and evolutionary incentive systems in place, such as wealth and beauty.

    And, quite frankly, “gameification” sounds a lot like the ideas about self and the world that trended after the first The Matrix movie was released. In my opinion, “gameification” would appear to be merely a popularization of centuries-old WYSIWYG “reality doesn’t really exist; that which we sense is only our perception of what we call reality” philosophical thought… just with points and games overlaying the terminology. I’ll stick with Sartre.

  9. You can tell people forever that brushing their teeth, staying reasonably clean and using proper sanitation is better and healthier for them and will yield longer lives. In the 1920s-50s, health insurance companies — who make more money when you live longer — discovered that advertising the health benefits of healthy living only went so far. If you can link the desired behavior to fear of losing your job, not getting married, being a social outcast, etc. you do much better.

    My students like to debate the morality of that… helping people “do the right thing” and, thus, live longer by manipulating them.

    It would be interesting to pair up a game company with an organization concerned with health; maybe the government, maybe insurance agencies, maybe a doctors’ collective. “Lower your BP by 10 points and get access to the ‘Lionheart’ armor. For every 10% closer to your ideal BMI, gain a 10% increase in the speed of your character.”

    Combine that with some Wii Fit type mini-games… hell, I’d play it and I’m a total potato.

  10. “who sets up the incentive structures”
    “games teach you to obey the rules, and who sets up the rules?”

    You sound like you come from some crazy place where computers don’t do exactly what humans tell them to.

  11. One more data point: where I work, information about corporate information security policies and practices is now being communicated via a game.

    The “game” aspect is trivial almost to the point of non-existence, and they haven’t quite latched onto the notion of rewards yet. But it’s clearly the intent of the developers to try to take advantage of the link between entertainment and attention to convey a particular message about desired behaviors. (The notion of “talking to young employees in a language they understand” is probably a factor here, too.)

  12. Jim, I do believe the discussion is about which humans. :)

  13. [...] should pay attention to the non-RPG markets closely. No [...]

  14. Raph’s gamification of everything, Homo Interneticus and the Octupus…

    I was catching up on some blogs before jumping on a train and heading to London to discuss one of my major threads of work at the moment which could be described of gamification of a particular genre of interaction. Up on the feed reader pop’s Ra…

  15. I’m looking at the certificates and awards scattered around my cubicle. One celebrates my years with the company (although my unit changed corporate ownership three times in the past five years). One is for exceptional “customer service” for a project where I went above and beyond the call of duty and got a glowing review from an end user. One is “tech guru”, which as far as I can tell is a category they invented in honor of the fact that nobody at work really understands what I do.

    And I realize that I’ve been playing a game all my life. But it’s always been a social game, with amorphous and shifting rules, awarding performance review points, raises, and promotions based less on accomplishments or aptitudes than on the subjective views of my supervisors on how much they like me.

    If I was awarded badges and titles, if I could unlock an upgrade to my work computer, if I could increase my level, gold flow and challenges through a concrete set of rules rather than schmmozing a network of connections (something I am rather inept at)…well, I have a hard time thinking of this as a bad thing. I’ve studied behavioralism, but that doesn’t mean I won’t press levers for food pellets.

    I just think the designers need to fix that permadeath issue. I might respec into a class less mind-numblingly safe.

  16. I’m somewhat suspicious of the notion of “brain hacks”.

    Certain forms in art have always been appealing. Rhyme and meter makes someone declaiming an epic much more compelling – Homer knew this.

    These techniques – and their modern gaming equivalents – are simply good art. Compelling, griping entertainment.

    To cry “my brain was hacked” so I had to take a sickie is to abdicate personal responsibility in a culture of “it’s not my fault”.

    I do recognise that there are these sweet spots that will get people incredibly drawn in but I object to the terminology.

  17. Ack typo: “griping” should of course have been “gripping”. Griping is what I do, not what my games do.

  18. Stabs, may I recommend Robert Cialdini’s book INFLUENCE? There really ARE specific cognitive and social hooks in the brain that can be exploited by savvy marketers.

  19. [...] ThisHappened-Utrecht-0210 ThisHappened-Utrecht Interactiondesign Ixd Virtueelplatform) Raph’s Website » Gameifying everything Some great thoughts from Raph on the proliferation of rewards systems in 'real life'. I [...]

  20. OK, thanks, I’ll read it.

  21. There really ARE specific cognitive and social hooks in the brain that can be exploited by savvy marketers.

    Unquestionably. But can they be exploited much more effectively than Marc Anthony exploited the populace of Rome to riot against Brutus and the Senate?

    Demonstrating the neural and social dynamics behind it is cool, but people have been manipulating each other for a very long time. This is just more honing of well-established techniques. While the manipulators can and should bear responsibility for the consequences, that doesn’t absolve the followers from ethical responsibility (save in rare circumstances of such extreme duress that the person is incapable of rational thought).

    The downfall of any mechanistic model of human behavior is that while behavior may be consistant in the aggregate, it’s wildly unpredictable in the individual. We’re less Pavlov’s dogs than we are Schrodinger’s probability clouds.

  22. Unquestionably. But can they be exploited much more effectively than Marc Anthony exploited the populace of Rome to riot against Brutus and the Senate?

    Sam, I think the answer to the historical question is “yes” and as evidence I would adduce Vegas casinos. We do make scientific progress, after all, and sometimes those findings turn out to make us better at doing something… sometimes that something is exploiting weaknesses in the brain.

  23. @yukon: It depends on the behaviors. For some, we are probabilistic and for others within some ranges of variation, we’re Pavlovian. I’m with Raph; gameifying everything has issues. Note that people and dogs can become very bored with games and react badly.

    “43 bottles of beer on the w…” SMACK!!!

  24. A generation with ENDS but no MEANS.

    idiots.

  25. And I still believe that things have been gamified all along. The science is fascinating in revealing the mechanisms, mass media makes it more profitable than ever, but the sharps have been fleecing the greenhorns since before we were human (if studies of primate social behavior are any indication). I see the quantitative difference between a Vegas casino and cleaning out your cavemate in a game of knucklebones, but I don’t see a qualitative distinction. You’re pushing the same buttons.

  26. I think the breadth of distribution, mass media, and user aggregation are the changing factor. Basically, it is both more scientific and more widespread against large audiences.

  27. digital..always a medium, never really a tool.

    and she told two friends,and so on, and so on…

  28. @morgan: and now we know we have to keep pony tails away from killer whales (hmm.. lyric coming on) boxes of cigars from women hockey players from canada.

    Game on!

  29. @cube: We are hypermedia artists. The web IS our canvas.

  30. then we truly are artists without any artifacts.
    well, maybe a few old press releases and conference badges.

    and culture gets the celebrities it deserves;)

  31. [...] Ian Bogost / Dice 2010 / Gameifying Everything [...]

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