Yesterday (actually two weeks ago. I’m lazy) I watched a TED video
Seth talks about bringing game mechanics to how we influence those around us. As he states, this ‘game layer’ is already under construction, and I would say it been around for a very long time.
Seth mentions four game dynamics one can use to get people to participate:
1. Appointment – one must return at a predefined time to a give place to take a predetermined action (e.g. Happy Hour, Farmville)
2. Influence and status – the ability of one player to modify the behavior of another’s actions through social pressure (American Psycho business cards, AMEX Black, school grades, academic titles)
3. Progression – success is granularly displayed and measured through the process of completing itemized tasks (LinkedIn profile completion)
4. Communal discovery – wherein an entire community is rallied to work together to solve a challenge
Sadly game mechanics to date have mostly been used to prey upon people’s weaknesses for addiction to perceived achievement.
Credit cards are the classic example of game mechanics gone evil—you get “points” for using your card. There are penalties for breaking the rules. But the points are nearly worthless, and the penalties are unforgiving. The worst part is, credit card companies are also the referees and lawmakers, who change the laws as they see fit, often without explaining those changes in easy-to-understand terms.
But this love of game mechanics is creeping into other industries, starting, ironically, with console platforms in 2005 when the Xbox 360 was launched and introduced the gaming world to achievements.
What is an achievement? Normally, it is something that takes a respectable amount of effort to accomplish, and will give you some sort of status recognized by your peers. Now I won’t make a blanket statement like “not a single Xbox Live achievement takes any effort to attain,” but I will say that 74% of them don’t. That figure may or may not be accurate, but it is startling. My point is, a good number of Xbox Live achievements, and PSN (you’re not getting out of this you bastard) trophies, are for figuring out how to press the left trigger. Unfortunately this cheapens the point of having achievements, but even more unfortunately it succeeds at Seth’s rule #2, influence and status. The result? Jersey Shore. No, but you do get achievement whore douchebags who enjoy (are addicted to) achievement gathering more than the game itself. These are people who don’t understand why people play chess because there’s no immediate gratification, no false sense of accomplishment to kick their serotonin inhibitors into high gear.
I’m not against recognizing achievement so much as I am against achievements. An achievement should mean something. Sony and Microsoft should not allow for effort-free achievements to exist. They should all be hard and require skill, not just the inevitable progress of game play. For every chapter I get through in Uncharted 2, I get a trophy. Why? What amazing talent did I possess to complete the level, other than an astounding level of laziness that I’d rather press buttons than take a shower? Sure I could crank up the difficulty level, but that doesn’t really change things. Reserve the trophies for pulling off difficult stunts, beating a game without dying, or beating a game without killing anyone.
I’m not completely against Seth’s rule #2 in real life either. I like #2. #2 is actually quite satisfying. I do #2 every day, sometimes twice. But I want it to actually mean something.
The trick to making people actually do good things that improve the world, is helping them forget that that is what they are doing. This is where #2 comes in. By giving participants a sense of achievement, real or not, spurs them on not because they’re feeding starving kids in a shantytown somewhere, but because they GODDAMN REACHED THE FINAL BOSS AND DROVE A SHOCKOBLADE DOWN HIS THROAT.
But could such an amazing use of #2 actually exist? It seemed unfathomable, despite by best efforts to fathom. Nevertheless, fellow writer-in-arms at Waggener Edstrom Rudi pointed me toward a website of all things, that does just this. It’s called Free Rice, and it’s dastardly simple. In their own words, “For each answer you get right, we donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme to help end hunger”
Scoring system (grains of rice)? Check. Leveling up? Check. I’m so excited I’m getting ahead of myself. All the game is is you reading a word, reading four other words, see if the word’s meaning matches one of the latter four, selecting said word. That’s it. Every word you get right, 10 more grains of rice (your score) that go to feed some hungry soul. It even goes an extra step by MAKING YOU LEARN WERDS. Superman himself can’t end hunger by improving his vocabulary, so you’re kinda proving yourself to be more awesome than Superman when you play this game.
It’s not perfect, it should have some tool for sharing your score on Facebook/Twitter, but that’s an easy addition. Now I’d love to see this mechanic carried over to some indie titles on XBLA or PSN. Wouldn’t be too hard would it? Sony, Microsoft—are you listening?