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Gamification. Game-i-fi-ca-tion. These five syllables encompass a concept overflowing with hope, fear, outrage, doubt, aspiration, and – most notably – controversy. Schell, McGonigal, Bogost, and Serviss all hold fast to their belief in what gamification is, what it does to and for society currently, and how it will affect us in the future.

In a very awkwardly hyperbolized speech, Schell displays examples of how gamification has not seeped into our everyday lives, but rather thrust itself upon us from all sides. Furthermore, he argues that this overwhelming overload of technological interactivity will do but two things: make us distant from reality, and make big businesses money. He references Farmville, Club Penguin, Webkinz, and Mafia Wars. According to Schell, these actual games have breached the threshold between reality and fantasy. Within these games, we are no longer battling a fantastical rival gang or “interacting” with computer-generated farmers. Instead, we are playing them with our real friends. This metaphorical stepping-over-the-line, in theory, is allowed because of our desire to escape true reality. We are hungry, tired, irritated, bored, sad; we are unfulfilled by our current real life situations. Therefore, rather than address them, we choose to “escape” them, and immerse our cognitive efforts into a virtual reality, where we are in control – but not too much control, because that would warrant sole responsibility for what happens. Thus, we are provided semi-reality games to quench our thirst for having poor character traits. Additionally, he gives a much larger, scarier prediction for the future: Colgate toothbrushes that give you points for brushing more than required, digital shoes that provide your health insurance company with information on your heartbeat patterns and walking distances, Coke cans that provide immediate gratification through “leveling up”. Basically, if we do not acknowledge this trend of making true reality like a game, we have failed to regulate the impact it has on our lives. We fail to hold to traditional (for lack of a better term) human characteristics: being driven to fix problems in the face of adversity or when we don’t like situations, devotion to cognitive reflection, desire to better the reality – true reality- that we cannot escape versus solely developing a reality that dies away once the iPhone, iPad, computers, and televisions turn off. The very basic foundation of how we perceive reality is changing, because of big business, and we are doing little to stop it. (Bogost would be a definite comrade to Schell in the war against big business and their gamification exploitation.)  

In contrast, McGonigal seems overly trusting in her theory that by increasing game play, and very deliberately making true reality “like a game”, the multitude of world crises will be solved. She explains that, based on the constructed games provided by the Institute for the Future, gamers will learn to collaborate, problem-solve, confront adversarial obstacles, and boost their self-confidence. Consequently, these learned skills will roll over into true reality, creating minds that will solve world hunger, religious wars, and global warming. Then she starts to get weird: She suggests dropping cell-tower powered video games into developing countries like India and Brasil, so that the people there can become skilled as well. It may just be me, but … aren’t those people trying to survive? The slums – which account for a large amount of the population in both of the countries mentioned – are boiling over with starvation and illness. I hardly find it plausible that these people, who are scrounging for food so they don’t starve to death, would be viable candidates for learning how to collaborate on a mission during Call of Duty.

After taking a breath from these two very contrasting speeches, I find that the closing statements of Serviss sum up the best conclusion on this subject: “Like any tool or weapon, gamification must be handled with respect and a thorough understanding of its effects on humanity.” Upon further reflection, and heated discussion with my video-gaming boyfriend (I myself have never played a video game), I realized that this argument almost parallels the current political debate around gun control. Guns are objects, so are video games. Both have profound impacts on the lives of those they touch. Guns provide means of revenge, protection, and incoming currency (whether legal or illegal). Video games provide a potential for cognitive advancement, a trap for awkward teenagers, and the opportunity for marketing (again, both good and bad). The outcome of each object is based on two things: the imposition into the user’s life, and the way it is used. So, what can we conclude from all this?

1. Although we cannot individually regulate the marketing strategies of big businesses, we can regulate how much of it we allow ourselves to be exposed to. True, it seems as though it surround us, and it does physically. But that doesn’t mean we have to buy (literally or figuratively) into it.

2. Gamification, like most technologies, has positive and negative effects. We should remain open-minded to both, lest we place ourselves in a situation of ignorance.

And 3. Technological advancement is inevitable. We don’t necessarily have to “go with the flow”, but we shouldn’t spend all our time fighting the current. Forward thinking is just that.

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One thought on “Gamification: The Slippery Slope Between Friend and Foe

  1. I personally am not a gamer and really don’t play games that much besides cards or board games. Gamification is this new trend that builds off of people wanting to escape reality of the real world. I think that this is a great post that exposes the underlying issues of gamification. People should be able to step away from electronics and have a normal social life. Everything in moderation is the key.

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