Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 30, 2011

It is not that I don't agree with Heather Chaplin's rant against gamification. It's more that I don't have a comment any more, because I wrote all I had to say about the subject a year ago. Short version: Real life is not the same as a game, because the risks are different. Thus you can't easily "gamify" real life.
Gameification is a ridiculous concept as here presented. It's trite, cliched and really quite annoying. It can't, and won't, be applied in the ways its proponents suggest.

Conversely, however, it's not true to say that "real life is not the same as a game". For most people living in liberal democracies, life isn't just "like" a game, it exactly IS a game. Almost all of our activities are circumscribed by a set of rules, which we call laws and regualtions. If we break these, and are caught, we receive penalties for cheating. If we follow them, we are rewarded. There are clear "win" and "lose" conditions, set by the societal norms of our peer groups and the wider siociety within which those sit.

Life is a complicated game, for sure, but it IS a game. Gamification won't work precisely because it justs overlays a superflous set of extra, trivial and unenforceable rules on top of the already-existing non-trivial, enforceable ones.
Bhagpuss, if anything, life is not a game, but a simulation. The pure gameplay is mostly quite bad.

But the potential for creating user-generated stories is fascinating. ;)
I believe that most people have a strong risk aversion. A game is different from real life in that there are clear limits to the possible risk. The absolutely worst thing that could happen to you as a result of your actions in a MMORPG is your account getting banned. The "penalties for cheating" when let's say filling out your tax form is a lot harsher.

Thus I believe that people behave very differently in a game than in real life, even if both are rule-based.
For a fun comparison, consider a WoW Armory page versus the average Curriculum Vitae IRL.

The former is a list of personal accomplishments and titles. The latter is a piece of creative writing.
"If we make the world more like a game, the thinking goes, we can harness all that energy to solve real-world problems." -Chaplin

I like this line of thought and I think it could work. I pay $15/mo to live, and I don't need to eat or sleep. If I jump off a cliff, even if I'm on hardcore life and I die, I can restart at the beginning of life. Typically, though, if I jump off a bunch of cliffs and can't get back up, I just reappear the local graveyard, ready to do it again!

Like tobold said, no risks in video games.
That article reminds me of something that my wife says to me when I groan about having to help her clean up the dishes or something (often when I'm on the computer).

"Come on," she says, "we'll make it a game. It'll be fun!"

It never is. And what she's really saying is "Get your ass in here and help me clean or you'll be sleeping with your purple epics."

In the end, the pleasant feeling of having a clean kitchen and spending a few minutes chatting with my wonderful wife certainly beats the hell out of a 10 point achievemet ding.

So, why does the video game seem so much more "fun"?

Games to me are about escape from real life. If you try to involve life too much in the game, it loses that. And the escape of a game prevents you from focusing on getting something done in real life.
When I first watched the McGonigal TED talk, I thought she was rather inspiring - it's certainly true that most hardworking people miss positive feedback and sense of achievement during their daily routines and that's a sad thing because it can motivate a person a great deal and add quality to your life (hence it being so addictive in games too).

but I didn't like the second part of the presentation very much, it's very utopian and unrealistic and I don't think people want to make everything into a game. when does it stop being a game, anyway? can you really fight world poverty as if it was such a trivial thing, by making it fun&games?

this article takes it even further and I have to agree wholeheartedly, some of the gamification claims are very cynical and benefit very few people. you can't eat pixels and experience points - the real world is a different place than azeroth & co. if it wasn't and same rules applied, we'd probably not even be playing online games.
The missing negative consequences of failure and the easy enforceability of rules are what defines a game for me. You can't take away the negative consequences from failure in life, and you can't enforce the rules as smoothly.

The way I understand the idea of "gameification", it's about transferring motivation ("being glued to the screen") from games into rl. And that's a very unrealistic scenario. Computer games are being finetuned to the abilities and equipment of the player, and they avoid negative consequences of failure. In rl, an entrepreneur that fails will have to fight hard to avoid bankruptcy. How would they want to "gameify" that?!

@Bhagpuss: I agree: Life can be compared to games insofar as there exists a ruleset. But break the rules, and you might very well be highly rewarded (e.g. as an investment banker, inside trader, internet criminal). In a game, the game company would try to fix this. In rl, the rules aren't as enforceable.

on a different note: That rl? Well, send me a link ;-)
Why does it have to be Black or White Tobold? either it must be gamish or real life? or it must be "Super Hero" or "Boring, slow, exactly like real life".

It doesn't need to be like this. I'm sick and tired of the global simplification of games. I don't want to play real-life and I hate extreme sandbox games like Second Life. We need a good compromise, I am bored of being a Super Hero everytime. I long for being a no body but yet it's fun. Gubrush threepwood was a no body and he wanted to be a pirate. What's wrong with that? Monkey Island was my favorite game and Guybrush was just a nerdy sarcastic honkey dude who wanted to be a mighty pirate.

All the games are lineage, simple, with easy rewards. I don't "achieve" anything because things are too easy you can't lose.

I long for a harder game play. I long for playing a character who is not a mighty entity wrecking havoc killing things left and right. I want to be a weakling doing their best just to survive and getting stronger in a slow but satisfying progression.
What annoys me most about this development is actually that when people say 'game' they mean 'achievements'.

Competition and achievements and rankings are part of some games. But they are not what games are about.
It's not that the risks are different, it's that you can't just poof resources out of thin air like games can in order to support it's ladder climbing structure.

Gamification would involve actually building a game based on the resources you can generate in real life in order to support the games currencies - otherwise it is as the artical suggests - why not just drug people up so they feel happy? If there is no connection between feeling and practicality, it's just another step toward the semantic apocalypse.
I read Jane McGonigal's book and it read like a candy manufacturer telling an audience of 4-year-olds that vegetables are gross and they should be more like candy which is awesome and delicious.

Lest that analogy go uninterpreted, what I mean is the book is clearly targeted at gamers, developers, and designers, the exact people who want to hear that games are great and real life is lame.

Real life is hard. Real work is hard. Real achievement is hard. Attaching XP bars is candy, a sweet little illusion that is unnecessary if you can overcome your upbringing in a society where we are fed an IV drip of false achievement our entire lives via video games.

I love games, but most people don't need a layer of artificial work to do real work. Gamers may have come to expect it, but it is not necessary.
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