A setback. I spend more than an hour a day on average playing actual videogames. But how to gamify an activity that is already a game? Rather than doing the sensible thing and excluding videogames or, conversely, incorporating my extant scores into the larger experiment, I made the (ultimately unfortunate) decision to go meta. Fortugno had an approach: Since I’m the type of gamer who plays from start to finish as quickly as possible, he suggested that I instead become a “collector,” the type who pursues every hidden treasure or trophy. That way I’d not only increase my score dramatically but also become a better gamer—and therefore a happier, better-adjusted person.
On my way home from the airport in New York, the first thing I did was buy a new videogame, Batman: Arkham City. It included a gauge, running from 0 to 100, that charts the percentage of the world that a player uncovers. Getting the gauge to 100 requires completing several side-quests, including the hunt for hundreds of Riddler trophies, which sit in shadows and air vents and, in one case, on top of a chimney, hundreds of feet above the choppy waters of Arkham Bay.
I played for six hours straight, swooping across the shadowed city at a lunatic pace. I uncovered a small bag of trophies and managed to beat the bosses at the end of a couple of levels. But playing as a collector was pretty unfulfilling, and it didn’t seem to make me a better player. At 2:30 in the morning I turned off the Xbox, wired, frustrated and red-eyed. The gauge was only up to 3 percent. Meanwhile, my story was coming along sluggishly, the dishes were still dirty, and I’d forgotten to call Katie.
I woke up at 9:30 and logged my six hours of sleep on SuperBetter, which awarded me with a level up. I did the dishes, did some writing, and entered my information on Chore Wars and EpicWin. It occurred to me then that I had spent almost as much time entering my various scores as I had doing the tasks the applications purported to track.
In the afternoon, I went for a quick run and then showered, folding my towel and keeping the bathroom clean. At around 3, I compiled my scores from the various gamification platforms. On my iPhone, I opened up Foursquare, and on my iPod Touch I booted up EpicWin. I plugged my Nike+ USB drive into the computer and opened two more tabs for SuperBetter and Chore Wars. Last, I dug up the points from the Build a Better Fiancé game, which I had entered a day earlier into a Word document. Lines of information rolled across the screens—numbers, figures, gold coins, experience points, badges and trophies, gauges and power-ups—none of them a perfect match with the other, all of them purporting to quantify some part of my gamified existence.
I remembered that Wong had predicted the creation, in the not- so-distant future, of a unified database, where all the scores from all the gamification applications would be collected and rolled into one big number that would represent the grand total of our achievements in business, fitness, love, and so on.
I wondered whether gamification would really go that far. I thought back to what critics of the trend such as game designer Ian Bogost had told me, that it is little more than a crass point-based marketing ploy. After a week, I knew what my score was, but I still had no idea what all the points added up to.
With the experiment over, I could still sense, under the familiar rhythms of my daily routine, a trace of the games that had dominated my life for the previous week. I washed the dishes and took out the recycling. I left Foursquare on my phone—I had grown fond of it—and when I ran that afternoon, I was wearing my SportBand. But I also played Arkham City the way I really wanted to, crushing the bosses with well-placed punches and leaving the byzantine side-quests alone. And I did not open EpicWin, Chore Wars or SuperBetter.
I did faintly miss, as Gabe Zichermann had predicted, the experience points and gold earned on Chore Wars and EpicWin; those numbers were, after all, real evidence of my newfound diligence. But I also enjoyed being able to talk to my fiancée without worry- ing about my score. Even though I was, despite the howling protestations of Calcium Facebone, going to be late with this article, I sat at my desk, and I remembered that I also enjoyed writing. I enjoyed doing things because they needed doing, and not because I needed to level-up.
I called Slavin and asked him to imagine how gamification might evolve over next few years. He predicted that gamification as a buzzword would eventually lose its luster. “The idea that gamification requires certification programs and specialists and O’Reilly books— that is going to fade away,” he said. “Still, there are real things, valuable things” we could take from gamification and incorporate into the design of, say, Facebook, or a new fitness gadget. In the coming years, he said, e-commerce sites will probably continue to incorporate various aspects of gamification, from VIP points to tangible prizes. Our social networks, too, are likely to become even more gamified, with users competing for rewards, badges and, of course, the approval, in the form of a small upheld thumb, of our peers.
That afternoon, I rang up Fortugno to report on my progress. I told him my total score—3,494— which I had compiled a few hours before. He asked me how I had gotten it, and I explained that it had been a matter of simple math. It was just a crude amalgam of various scores racked up on the various applications, along with my Arkham Asylum percentage. He laughed. “Hey,” he said, “it’s a big number. You should be proud.”
Matthew Shaer is the author of the book Among Righteous Men.single page
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