Psychology, Society, Tech

All In The Game

Enthusiastic man and woman.Once upon a time, when there was no internet, no X Factor or Eastenders, not even Chris Moyles on the wireless people had to make their own entertainment and for the well off gentlemen this often meant heading out to their club and indulging in a few little wagers between glasses of port and talk of business.  One such involved which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the window first, the sum wagered?  About the value of a country estate, small change really.

Today the bets are perhaps a little smaller, people still bet on games of cards, dice and even hangman, bookies take bets on the names of royal babies and such like, but it seems that “gamification” is everywhere.  On the one hand there’s the opening up of online gambling whose TV adverts showing well-dressed men playing poker and roulette surrounded by glamorous women promise riches and an opulent lifestyle rather than the truth that you’re playing a virtual wheel on a four-inch screen in front of your telly in your shorts.  On the other there’s the social game.  Just about anything you do that could be compared to someone else and logged by some kind of technology will be posted on Facebook or Twitter in a game of one-upmanship that goes beyond keeping up with the Joneses.

It’s not just Candy Crush Saga though – Fitness trackers, Twitter followers, even your performance in bed, or when you’ve practiced safe sex, can be rated and listed in league tables like a monstrous arcade machine.  Admittedly if it gets people exercising then fine but what happens when someone does too much and keels over and dies, will people just shrug and say “it’s the nature of the game.”

Even mundane activities are becoming games as though we need some kind of encouragement to do something simple like typing in a captcha code to continue on a website – as though people won’t set up an account because they have to type in a handful of random words and instead need something shiny and fun to hold their attention like hyperactive toddlers, are we really that bad?

I’m all for having fun but there’s a time and place for it.  Even the NSA got in on the act, turning part of their systems into a kind of game for analysts with successful users accruing “skilz” points for particularly good, er, analyzing.  There are even To-Do List apps that are also games (or virtual pets) just to encourage you to get off your… sofa, and do something, if not for yourself, for your digital kitten trapped in your iPhone.

If people need to be constantly stimulated to carry out mundane activities how long will it be before we’re encouraged to not lane-hog on the motorway by Mario Kart style reward markers superimposed on our heads-up displays or shopping for food becomes more like Supermarket Sweep?