Bringing Gaming to the Social World

Playing video games has long had a reputation for being an alienating, anti-social way for someone to entertain themselves. A way to selfishly use free time in the afternoon for one’s own enjoyment.

But as with all things, gaming has evolved substantially since its roots. Now, with the help of social media and smart phones, gaming has become an extremely social, fun way to communicate with friends. Whereas, at one point in the brief history of gaming it was limited to at the worst yourself, or at the best you and a few friends, social media has now turned gaming into an extremely social affair. One that can involves hundreds, if not thousands of players at the same time.

Take games like Words With Friends, for instance. Essentially a carbon copy of Scrabble, Words With Friends allows for any individual to connect to one of their friends through the smart phone app (and now Facebook) and play a game regardless of location. Additionally, because it is a turn-based game, there is no set time commitment for any individual game. Simply, it allows people to play at their own leisure, and respond at their own rate. Further, games like Farmville and Mafia Wars utilize the viral aspect of social media by rewarding users that invite their friends or interact with other players in the game.

But social media isn’t the only medium that games have begun to sink their large talons into. Real life, too, has become increasingly crowded with ways to invite interaction through rewards, or ‘gamified’ as it has been dubbed, in an effort to better motivate people to follow particular procedures or reach certain goals.

In Sweden, one result of gamification tasked a speed camera to take pictures of individuals regardless of whether they were going over or under the speed limit. Essentially, those that were speeding would receive a ticket in the mail. On the other hand, people that traveled under the speed limit would be entered into a lottery to win a portion of the revenue that the government would receive from speeding.

The experiment met with huge success. By creating incentive for driving under the speed limit, drivers clearly felt more inclined to do so than when the only reward was that you wouldn’t receive a ticket.

Even reality T.V. shows such as The Biggest Loser have turned to gamification as a way to create incentive for cooperation and participation. By rewarding participants with nominal rewards, the show’s creators found that those participants were far more willing and far more receptive to the harsh, and often challenging measures that they were constantly tasked with on the show.

And when you look at it, gaming wasn’t always a selfish endeavor, either. Sure, it’s been a way for us to seek pleasure mostly for ourselves, but it’s also been a way to interact with friends. A way to embarrass our friends privately without all of the emotional damage of publicly chewing them out.

There was one point in which the world of video games and gaming were entirely separate from the real world. Two entirely different pieces of a person’s persona, even.

But with social media and gamification, the lines between those two separate worlds have become increasingly blurred. Now, we play games with as many as hundreds of friends and even strangers at a time.

The next step is for gamification to invade mundane, everyday tasks. How does a coupon for Starbucks for working out for a half an hour every morning sound?