Sunday, March 6, 2011

Gamification

There's been a lot of buzz over the past year about gamification. That is to say putting games in everyday objects. Jesse Schell gave a speech last year at DICE where he talks about putting a game in a toothbrush, so you get points every time you brush your teeth.

On a personal level I don't want games everywhere. I look at it in terms of game design as what comic books are to oil paintings. Don't get me wrong comic books are great, but I don't know if they will ever reach the point where there is a comic book displayed in the Louvre. It's a different art form, valid in its own right but at a different cultural tier, if you will. They serve different purposes.

While I think that people naturally want the most of a good thing that they can get, I'm not sure putting a game in a toothbrush would give them that. It really becomes then more about marketing than fun. Ultimately this sort of takes away from the the reason for game design in the first place. Also I don't use my frequent flier card because it's fun in and of itself. I use it because it saves me money.

That's not to say that gamification isn't going to be something we see a lot of in the future. If it improves profits it will probably get used a lot. I just don't know that its the new frontier in game design. I think the new frontier is probably taking the real world and putting it into games. That's how games evolve in the first place, I think. They emerge from the world around us. Some games capture the world around us more realistically than others.

This emergence factor makes games much like art in my opinion. Art captures a lot of different emotions in a lot of different people and communicates it to them. One particular piece of artwork might mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, that's what makes it art. Games emerge at another layer though. They can come from the same places that a piece of art comes from but also from art itself. Add to that an interactive layer and games become much more complex. Add to that a social layer and games become even more complex. This is why MMOs interest me so much. I think its the pinnacle of expressiveness in a society.

Because of this heavy level of emergence, games are naturally embedded parts of societies. Take the localization of Asian MMOs to US markets for example. People in the US complain about the grind in many Asian games because our society has more of an instant gratification mentality. I'm not arguing whether that's good or bad or even where that difference comes from. What it produces though is games from Asia that require a lot of doing the same thing over and over to progress. An interesting problem is making a game that allows for both of what we call grinding and instant gratification. There are also other areas like language and losing nuances in meaning in translation that point to the heavy level of emergence in games.

I covered a lot of topics in this post but I'll probably come back to them more in depth later on.

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