Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When businesses discover games

From my friend Esther Ewing, a link to some talks published in TED: When games invade real life by Jesse Schell, and The game layer on top of the world by Seth Priebatsch.

Both talks focus on how gaming is becoming the new money-maker, and how it is possible to learn from game design in order to make more and more money. In Priebatsch' presentation the main topic is the connection between farmville and facebook, and how farmville can stop the world. Schell's presentation is a pretty dystopic discussion of a totalitarian surveillance state where game strategies are used to make people serve the system - mainly the commercial system.

Although it doesn't really bring anything new to gaming, these talks are interesting for a few reasons.

First: They don't bother to mention that what we are really seeing is that game designers are using techniques used in advertising since late 1700, not "new and fantastic" strategies developed by game designers. After all, letting people know that games are just doing what PR departments have done since Barnum would not pay as well - nor play as well.

Second: They don't care about the GAME part of gaming, only about the score, grind and production part. Which means they forget what a game is. An example used by Jesse Schell is Lee Sheldon's grading levels, where he lets students level up in class. That's cool, really, the grading systems in most Universities are outdated and inflexible, and doesn't really provide detailed feedback. However, changing the grading system isn't a novel idea! In Sunday school we got gold stars if we were good, and went there to collect those stars. Well, I was bad, so I hardly ever had any, but what's the difference between a gold star and a level, and why is it novel?

Still, it's an interesting way to spend some time, to see how gaming is now an acceptable metaphor for "new ways to make people do what we want, without complaining." Enjoy.

Update: I tried to remember where I touch - briefly - on games as totalitarian systems, and it's in the upcoming article in one of the next issues of this year's Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds. There, now I pitched myself a little too.

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