The seductive promise of gamification is that ‘Games can make [insert your thing here] BETTER! EASIER! MORE REWARDING!’ – and even if we were to posit some kind of perfect gamification process where that were genuinely true, and access a great big swamp of money to build with, I’m still certain that there are a great many things that could never, ever go within those square brackets.
Take fatherhood. I intermittently enjoyed Heavy Rain, but one moment where the game failed utterly was in a sequence where I had to soothe a fractious baby. I know it failed because just before playing it, I had been soothing an actual fractious baby. My daughter is now 7 months old – let me tell you, there is no timed combination of button presses that could magically bring her to a state of calm. No consistent solution – just trial and an ever-evolving and mutating array of errors.
I can’t even begin to describe the radical, wonderful, enlightening and often painful process of becoming a father, but I’ll tell you this; I don’t need any flipping badges for it. I am undoubtedly learning, and there is definitely a great deal of pleasure in the mastery of some things, and there are a whole bunch of really powerful feedback mechanisms that let you know when you’ve got stuff wrong (see: nappies, crying, sleeplessness), but it’s inconsistent, messy, human, and absolutely not a game. And no game design, no matter how smart, no matter how well-researched the psychology that underpinned it, no matter how un-gamelike the presentation, could improve the experience.
Picture by Dino Olivieri.