Gamification is a buzzword too big to really mean something. So first just accept it’s axiom that the whole world is a game. Of course that’s bullshit, but just give it a try for a second and by doing so you can see the penetration of the ‘real’ world by strategies used in games as a consequence of the digitalization of nearly every social interaction. By definition Gamification means the installation of game designs into non gaming systems, e.g. virtual currencies, progress bars, levels, awards, rankings, bonuses, etc. …
That’s how Facebook gained global domination and their like-button-blue flag (banner) of friendship marks the new frontier between those being liked and the third world. The sheer mass of apps makes us immune against ideas of new Start Ups, which are just adding to our block-this-app-list rather than making us curious how the web 2.0 will revolutionize our social world again. Media experts like Jesse Shell, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, already think about life after facebook. Web designers fueled facebook with their ideas of opening closed circles of peers and friends for promotion through farmville acres and harvested dislike buttons in return. Next was Zyngification. Browser games from developers like Zynga opened the gates by introducing their virtual currencies and then got sniffed by bonus money banks like Groupon or Foursquare.
Now even venture capitalists proclaim the decade of Gamification. Pitches look like augmented reality game arcades. The good old times, when gamers were a autistic species of their own, when hunting orcs offered a place to hide from the real world are gone. For good.
So where are we now?
Phone cams are the ubiquitous eyes of the GPS grid, geotags outline our selves. Distinction between the ‘I’ and the rest of the world (my friends) was substituted by concepts of the social pack hunting the last barriers separating privacy from being part of something. The amount of friends is a quantifiable metric for self-esteem and an endless progress bar that keeps us in the game. Every quote and post and repost already is cash in the system of social self promotion, defining yourself against the pack and getting promotion giveaways in return. A toothbrush giving you bonus points for extra brushing is already available, animated cereal packages too.
Universities started pilot projects giving experience points instead of grades, with the whole package of levels, guilds, avatars, learning as a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). Next there will be bonus point toothbrushes interconnected with your bathroom scales and your health insurance rates. Fun and total control. Bad game design spurs paranoia, good game design makes obedience fun, sometimes for a good purpose like green trees growing on your SUV’s display as a reward for low carb driving.
So far, the technical possibilities of penetration of gaming methods in the “real” world are still low. But the growing intersection of the visible by net based information – Augmented Reality – will open unpredictable channels, where any interaction – even just being close to an object – can initiate all possible forms of communication. Google Goggles, Word Lens and other apps that connect our analog environment to the data sphere, are only a hint of what Gamification will do to us.
The convergence of bonus point systems gains momentum as you now can sell your AmEx bonuses on facebook. And this is only the beginning. Soon we will be able to exchange Starbucks or Hilton bonus points to pay a Bangladesh Toothbrush-farm to boost our health insurance account. The risks of this cannot be described in the usual terms of monitoring-paranoia or capitalism any more as we already started to undermine every serious issue of our lives by social gaming.
At least we’ll suffer from our toothache with a lot of friends liking it.
Read more on Gamification at de-bug.de