norayoung.ca | At the Corner of Technology and Culture

Games People Play

Image Referring to the Use of Games in Everyday Life
Gamification” is a huge buzz term these days. It refers to the use of games and game mechanics to all sorts of tasks, including those we don’t normally think of as fun, such as chores or public policy outcomes. The popularity of video games shows us that people will engage in focused activity – even if it isn’t in itself ‘fun’ – if it’s structured around principles such as challenge and reward, tension and release, levelling up, and effective feedback. It not only helps people achieve goals, but can also lead to deeper understanding, thanks to the immersive power of games.

Technology Review points to an intriguing example of this immersive power in action with Spent, a game designed to show players what it’s like to live in poverty. Personally, I’ve experienced the emotional power of this sort of immersion in a game called Loneliness. It’s a simple, minimalist game that takes you through what it feels like to be socially isolated – shunned. It actually brought tears to my eyes. Its emotional power is especially intriguing because it’s so simple…abstract, even. It suggests that we don’t need sophisticated graphics or ‘realistic’ games to tap into their immersive potential. These games have tremendous power to teach empathy.

Games are powerful tools. Gamification does leave me with some questions, though. Where is the line between making the most out of the human response to games on one hand, and manipulating people on the other? If we are in some sense hard wired to respond to games, does this mean that using games to ‘get’ people to eat their veggies, say, amounts to a sort of denial of individual choice? Traditionally, art is the way that we develop and refine our sense of empathy. Literature and theatre can put us in someone else’s shoes. Is there something about the subtlety of other arts that we miss in the abstracted world of games? Finally, I know that whenever we talk about gamification to achieve goals like education on Spark, I hear from people who are disturbed by the idea, primarily in a moral sense. The objection is generally that life isn’t always fun, and kids ought to learn to accomplish goals for reasons other than the rewards of successful game play. So, what if we are able to make virtually any task game-like? After all, game designer, Jane McGonigal has even made recovering from a head injury into a game. Is there something else that we are sacrificing in gamification, and what is that something?

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There are 1 Comments to "Games People Play"

  • Cathi Bond says:

    This is interesting stuff to ponder and I can only really talk to the “literature and theatre put us in someone else’s shoes” observation.

    I am a writer of fiction and recently I had a long chat with another writer who is currently working with a games company to create a game to accompany a feature film. My friend, who was very excited about the gaming potential, left the meeting very disappointed about the narrative direction. Or lack thereof.

    It was flat. Lots of killing and lots of cool graphics, but nothing interesting from a narrative POV. She said soap opera had a lot more plot.

    My brother is an actor in LA who does game voice overs. Same deal.

    I worked on a project at the CBC nearly a decade ago that was meant to be an online game. It was fascinating to work on, but when the stories are free they multiply like a virus that simply refuses to be contained.

    There is a strange alchemy in artistic creativity that doesn’t lend itself to the game zone. At least not yet. In a book or a film there still needs to be a Master Builder, or else the project quickly becomes too unwieldy. Of course there is the idea of community story telling, but who is going to act as the gate keeper?

    I don’t know. But I do know that it’s interesting and it would be interesting to talk to extremely future forward gaming companies to see if they’re thinking about this at all. Because right now, as far as narration goes, it’s all sfx bells and whistles, with very little narrative sizzle.

    Oh oh…Talk about a wool gathering session. Thanks for the post Nora

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