There’s been an awful lot of talk about gamifaction lately – the process of adding points and badges and game-like systems to different parts of everyday life. Some of the talk is about how it’s extremely exciting and incredibly powerful and is going to be, perhaps already is, the best thing ever. Some of the talk is about how it’s endearingly misguided or arrant nonsense or is going to, perhaps already has, ruin everything.
And Hide&Seek is a game design studio, right? We make games. We like games a lot. So we thought maybe we should have some sort of position on gamification – or at least, that we should think about it explicitly, instead of just occasionally saying the word “gamification” in a dubious tone and sighing.
I like neologisms. We need new words because we have new ideas, and ideas are the only things that break the law of the conservation of energy. Where once there was nothing there now is something, and the history of the neologism is a history of those moments of pure creation.
‘Gamification’, that said, can go take a long walk off a short pier. I’m heartened beyond measure to see that it’s been deleted from Wikipedia.
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.
I don’t like achievements, or levelling up, or leaderboards. They make me uncomfortable. I’m as susceptible to them as anyone else, of course. I have a normal human brain, and I’m not magically immune to one-more-turn I-can-totally-do-better-this-time WOOO-I-found-an-orange-feather. But I don’t like it.
I also don’t want to be put in notional charge of a real place just because I go there a lot, or to unlock a special array of pasta recipes, or to get points for doing my taxes. I don’t even want to get a free coffee for every ten coffees I buy.