Gamification in Our Lives

Humans like to complete things. It is an innate sense of satisfaction wired into our brains. As a veteran World of Warcraft player from years ago (haven’t played in years), I remember how well Blizzard built out the ‘daily quest’ mechanics, so that each time you logged in, there would be a few seemingly easy tasks to get done for some gold or rewards. Those were always crafted in a way that kept you busy and made you want to complete just oneeee moreee daily quest. They used a game mechanic to entice you to continue playing for longer than you would have expected.

If I complete this task, I get X! Ohh, and if I complete five tasks, I get Y! Hey now that I have X and Y, if I go complete tasks A, B, and C, then X and Y turn into an upgraded Z! Yay! Oh, it takes 5 Zs to get a Super Z? Well I’d be silly to not want a Super Z…[hours go by]…

On it goes! And what is important to note is this ‘completion desire’ is applied all over our daily lives to generally hold our attention on one thing or another. Go set up a new bank account, or account on Target.com, or install a new app on your phone. Often the institution will tell you your profile is “10% complete”, and to add a photo, enter your email address, select your delivery preferences, et cetera to get your profile ‘complete’. Why does your bank want your picture? Well, they want a complete profile on their customers, and by making a “% complete” game out of it, they will often subconsciously sway people into spending their limited time and energy to make it more complete, which effectively means you’re helping that institution improve its database. Even Nate mentioned in a recent Laclede’s LAN blog post how Microsoft Rewards has a satisfying gamification built into it where you use their platform and they give you small rewards as you complete steps. There are countless examples, and some you may find worthwhile; the point is to be aware of the strategy as a tool to harness your focus.

In 1973, as the television was becoming a staple in every American household, Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman curated a piece called “Television Delivers People” that coined the statement “You are the product of T.V.”. This is the beginning of the ideology ‘if you are not paying for it, you are the product’. The origin is tied to advertising and television, where consumers would buy a television, pay for a monthly cable service, and then advertising companies lobbied their way into advertising heavily through the medium of cable TV. Every household in the country was signed up to get advertising poured in through the TV for hours a day. A more current way to think about the maxim is the example of Twitter. If you use Twitter, you don’t pay for an account. You’re there to get content that you feel is valuable on Twitter, but ‘users’ is what makes Twitter money – the more daily active users (“DAU” – which is a golden metric for online platforms), the more the company can charge advertisers for access to those users. This is important, not only to see the forest for the trees of how our focus is always being monetized, but to think about when a video game is free. How can they give you a polished video game for FREE? Perhaps their terms of service track when you’re playing video games and they sell that data to other companies? Maybe as soon as you log 10 hours into the game, it will need a paid subscription to continue playing? What about buying hats, maps, characters, skins, weapons, or any other in-game items that can generate significant revenue for the developer? How thoroughly has the developer used gamification or ‘completion tactics’ to make you yearn to spend money?

I’m not saying corporations are evil. I genuinely find it interesting how ubiquitous the subtle control elements can be in our day-to-day lives. There’s not a right or wrong answer here – At the end of the day, what matters is your health and happiness; enjoy gaming for what it is. If you want a Super Z, you get it!

— Adam Kruger