Games are EVERYWHERE. It’s scary. It’s like everything is being turned into a running joke via video games. It’s like …peak hedonism, if we may. Gamification, when abused, teaches us that we ought not take anything seriously. Just think about it: Gamification means we take some ordinary routine human activity and turn it into sport in order to encourage us to want to engage in it. So we consume games on every topic imaginable with a strong emphasis on violence of all varieties (physical, emotional psychological, etc) for the purposes of entertainment. This isn’t an essay on how games create murderers, but it’s important to point out the ways in which companies use gamification these days to sell us things we’d ordinarily find repulsive. As an experience it feels like they think that if they just make a game out of a serious topic it’s some how less serious, something we can be cool about and regard as No Big Deal. Happens all the time? Prevalent on every corner? Are games are trying to send the message that if you just “level up” in your life you’ll overcome and things will be better and you’ll win recognition as one who has triumphed over the evils of the world? Or something like that.
It’s not clear why we need to gamify homelessness. Not sure at all why we gamify rape. What in the world are we trying to achieve by gamifying war? No, really – what is supposed to entertain us about war …or even ask: are we supposed to be learning something? Why is this a game? Why do I enjoy this? Maybe the real question is whether war is actually just a game and societies just try to make them into something we should take seriously. Hmm, maybe we’ve got it all wrong …
And what are games supposed to be doing anyway with these topics? There was a time when our fascination with games was their ability to work up our imaginations and make our brain cells sizzle with delight as we solved problems. It didn’t matter if it was leaping from platform to platform, aiming objects perfectly, stacking blocks at high speeds or anything else. Today, however, games have the ability to teach us things without us having to actually do them. The lesson is more potent when there’s a realistic chance that the thing we’re doing in the game syncs with things we need to do everyday. In this sense, games broaden our experience and extend skills, while also being capable of showing us the problems of things we may previously have believed to be harmless.
All of that depends on developers actually giving a damn about more than shits and giggles. It depends on them seeing the nobility of their own craft, its potential as something far greater than an instrument of entertainment. In the cases of poverty and violence, it means less focus on glory or comfort, and more emphasis on the realities of how and why these things happen. Humans love learning. We find it immensely satisfying and exciting. Games won’t suddenly lose their appeal if we begin to actually benefit from their mechanics. All the same, every game doesn’t have to be a serious thing. I just think they don’t ever need to trivialize serious matters to be entertaining. I think this is precisely where many games go completely wrong.
On the ultra nerdy side of things, if we look at gaming for what it is we’ll see it’s just really elegant and fascinating equation design for human behavior. Games are translating the rhythms of our daily life into algorithms, mathematical expressions predicting how people work, how things happen, and how we can mechanize our daily activities. Just think about that for a second: Games are basically well designed loops which predict and encourage human behavior in order to entertain us. You can’t play Super Mario without jumping, thumping gumbas, and banging your head on boxes. But why would someone feel compelled to keep doing that? There’s an equation for that. What about the more complex games like Dragon Age? It’s like swordsmanship can be reduced into simple arithmetic. How hard you hit that monster relies on a simple formula that calculates just how much force is required by a character of your skill to lop his head off in one stroke. Just an equation.
Of course this is a gross over simplification. There’s way more maths involved in programming our most complex games. The ones with the AI that’s spookily responsive, like say an old favorite, Demon’s Souls. The computer knows you’re there and there’s a lot of thought that goes into making the computer recognize human activity …AND RESPOND TO IT! Math, math everywhere.
So gaming is essentially a history of how developers are getting better at mapping out human interaction through equations. And who says math is useless?
As gaming ages, it becomes important to think more about what we’re doing with gamification. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes its weird and sometimes it’s totally inappropriate. Games are one of the most important developments on the map of human progress. For the first time, we can learn about the consequences of our actions without killing living things. That is, of course, the other edge of the sword: consequences are important to training our morals. As we age with our newfound technology, we will have to be conscious of developing ways of maintaining our humanity and reverence for life.
Scree Tags: #gamification #socialissues #gamertalk