EveryThing: The game of (real)life

Oh McSweeney’s, you’ve done it again.

Gamify Your Life with EveryThing

This part cracked me up:

Or you can just buy points! Money really helps you get ahead in EveryThing! Fame, too, is a major source of points—and the higher you rise on our global LifescoreBoard, climbing over people less worthy than you from all over the world, the more famous you’ll become. Life on, life star!

Gamification is a strange thing, and the scary part is its actually caught on. Companies are using gamification quite a lot to turn the boring, mundane tasks of everyday life  into exciting quest-like adventures that reward you with points upon completion. What do you get for these points? It varies. Usually its your name on a leaderboard of the Most Crops or Most Farmed Animals. Whatever it is you get, you want to get more than everyone else, and everyone knows that healthy competition make you feel like you’ve accomplished something meaningful and evocative. And why not?

Gamification turns tasks into challenges, usually fun ones. With engagement and interaction comes loyalty and investment, so sales are likely to go up. Not only that, but the reward-system takes things that no one would ever be excited about (like filing) and builds the motivation needed to complete that task. But there’s something else going on that’s sometimes overlooked:

What if all you want to do – really, truly all you want to do at work – is to file,  type, or mail letters? The nature of gamification within the workplace requires a seamless integration, so the element of choice doesn’t always come up. Are people being forced to become players in a real world environment, when all they want is to do their jobs? Are their jobs made to look and feel fun, when they’re really not? This brings me back to exploitation: Not everyone can be duped into thinking that making coffee is anything more than making coffee – even if it’ll score you 200 points and put you ahead of whatshisface on the leaderboard. Sure, gamifying life and work can be fun, but where does the element of choice come in? One can maybe choose not to participate in the game, but there can be consequences, both socially and professionally.

I liked gamification a lot better as a concept when Jane McGonigal was talking about epic wins and making the world better with games. Of course, there are issues with her perspective too, but ultimately the epic wins are what make people want to engage in challenges that are moderately difficult but within their reach. Gamifying the boring to make the days pass by more easily may seem like a harmless tool for facilitating learning, but things like data privacy and labour laws are not always held accountable. McGonigal as well as Ian Bogost have criticized it on the grounds that as a marketing gimmick  “exploitationware” misleads those unfamiliar with gaming as a culture and activity. While gamification is more focused on rewards outside of actual gameplay and design, gaming proper  means engaging and playing through a game as the reward in itself.

This is part of some research I’m doing for a conference paper on educational games and interactivity, along with the ethics of authorship and re-appropriation. So, as always, more on this later.

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