30 Jun Gamification – The Future
Were you one of the brilliant prognosticators that said that the mouse (pointing device) was a fad and would never catch on, or that iPads wouldn’t catch on, or that the world would max out at, say, five computers? Some may scoff at the value of gamification of computer software – but they must be wrong because it could be a matter of survival of the species. I am not just saying all this to justify the time I spend playing games on my mobile device, though I confess, much of that time is a 100% complete waste. Here are my initial points:
- Computers caught on as an innovation because they act as an extension of our brain, automating mentally difficult tasks
- The mouse caught on for a completely different reason: because humans have used their fingers to point at what they want for millennia – it’s just natural
- Tablet Computers caught on for both the reasons above plus convenience, simplicity, breadth of capabilities and coolness
- Gamification will catch on for a brand new reason: because humans are drawn to activities with strategies and rewards
There is a whole new industry promoting gamification and the proliferation of handheld smartphones and tablets is prompting a concurrent proliferation of apps that perform value tasks in game-like ways. I’m donning my armchair anthropologist hat to make a couple wild generalizations.
- “Culture” is a collection of learned patterns and strategies passed along in a family, tribe, company or society. These strategies are used for survival and advancement and coping. Not all culture is positive, but the patterns or strategies can become so ingrained as to become difficult to dislodge.
- Games require players to learn patterns and develop a set of strategies (“culture”) to advance, earn rewards, and sometimes to survive to advance to the next level.
- People who are more competitive are often more aggressive in learning the patterns and developing innovative strategies for success.
It is in human DNA to observe and learn patterns and latch on to strategies to survive. Games represent a microcosm of the struggle for survival, so it is natural for people, especially more competitive people to seek out games and try hard to win.
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Why are rewards so valuable? We use computers to help us achieve goals. It may be said that success in the goal we set in the beginning is a reward. Successfully finding that stock quote, the weather forecast or missing ancestor is a reward unto itself. Continuing to get paid for successfully processing orders or claims or analytical reports are rewards unto themselves. All the activities we use computers to automate or assist us in can be compared to games, so why not make it official and add built-in progress tracking so people can keep score? I think a better question is: Why has it taken us so long to understand that our apps will be better, faster, more effective and more competitive when users play them rather than fighting them?
In addition to computers becoming smarter (the primary focus of this blog) the gamification of software is the next logical step in the progress of humanizing computers. And, by the way, both human and automatic understanding of- and tracking of context is a fundamental component of many of the most engaging games. I like rewards, and I like to think that someday instead of garbage in, garbage out, we live in a world where people enter cyberspace with anticipation and excitement instead of trepidation and outright dread (well, maybe with a little dread in some cases). Bring it on.
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