The Technium

The Game-ified Life

[Translations: Japanese]

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You should watch this talk on the future of games by game designer Jesse Schell. It is the most mind-changing talk I’ve heard in many years. There were so many new ideas in it, and they went by so fast, that I have already watched it twice and will probably watch it once more. It’s that kind of talk.

I became a fan of Schell when I discovered his book The Art of Game Design which is not only the best book on designing games, but a great book about designing anything complex. (My full review of his book is here.)

Schell begins his talk with very narrow concerns about Facebook games, which is not surprising since his audience here is other professional game designers. He makes the point that some of the largest and most profitable games today are not on game consoles but run on Facebook or other nonobvious platforms. He admits that most of these non-game platforms for successful games were unexpected — even for pros like himself.

In the second part of his talk he notices how many of these unexpected hit games have the common element of “breaking through the reality barrier.” The Wii, Guitar Hero, Webkidz, fantasy football, and so on all have one foot in fantasy and one foot in the real world — gestures, plastic guitar, stuffed animal, football games — and so are part of a greater movement towards artificial authenticity.

It’s the last third of his talk where Schell really gets going. He offers a vision where ordinary life is gameified. Cheap tracking technology turns whatever you do into a “game” that accumulates points. As the gameification of life becomes ubiquitous, you go through your day racking up points and “getting to the next level.” Instead of getting grades in school you graduate to the next level. It’s a head spinning scenario, with lots to love and hate, but well worth considering.

On second viewing I realized that Schell had also outlined a version of an attention economy — where points are distributed for paying attention — to ads, or other activities, or other people. Some aspect of his vision seems pretty inevitable.

I bet there’ll be a movie based on this scenario soon enough.

PS3 GamesE3 2010Guitar Hero 5

  • wsquare

    rob, i’ve similar sentiments too. not that connectedness is no good, but i strongly advocate the point of incentivizing disconnectedness might lead to better control of connectedness as well. And this may lead to some disruption to the wave of connectedness trend.

    i’ve been thinking of how people can get engaged through physical outdoor gaming through mobile & social networking. the concept of gamified-life is intriguing & refreshing.

  • Rob

    I disagree with the vision of the future that is put forth at the end of the video. I object to the implicit notion that there would be widespread buy-in to incentive schemes of all sorts because the barrier to entry has been lowered by pervasive sensors.

    In order to create an incentive scheme an entity must create a virtual currency (what the video refers to as points). Every organization, the government, pepsi, general mills, etc. would have a separate incentive structure and a separate currency. The prospect of keeping up with all those incentive schemes and keeping track of all my virtual currencies is nauseating to me. Why bother with all that when I already have money?

    This is not to say that some of the ideas are not good ones. I like the idea that workouts could result in lower health care premiums and that taking mass transit could be a tax credit. But to imagine that I would allow advertisements to be played into my dreams so that I could get a free pepsi is absurd.

    Anyway, the video got me thinking about ways to “opt out” of all this impending connectedness. How to construct an anti-connectedness game, if you will. My first thought was of farmville. If you’re like me, you can click on facebook and see evidence that people you know are playing it while they’re at work. As a way to increase their score, these people are willingly broadcasting evidence that could get them fired. What if there were a way to make those wall posts searchable for their bosses?

    Facebook is built on trust and the idea that the privacy controls actually work. But is there any reason to trust the people who are your facebook friends or the computers they check their facebook on? If not, the privacy controls are irrelevant.

    You’d surely let one of your acquaintances use your facebook account to check out the facebook page of one of your friends. What if they used it to see something the other person would’ve wanted kept private? Now, imagine if you magnify that a million times and turn it into a game played by sharing your friends’ info. Players would get points for allowing access to the private info of their friends. Those points could be accumluated for a high score or spent to view the profiles of others. Non-participants would be put in a tough spot. Do they root out who among their friends is a spy? Do they blindly slim down their network to include only those they trust? Do they simply choose to share less information?

    Would it then be possible to incentivize disconnectedness?

    I’d love to build the game just to see if it’d work. However, if it were successful, I can’t see any purpose for it but evil. The point of the game is to keep people mindful of sharing too much. But it comes at the cost of destroying the privacy people believe that they have on the internet.

    The idea behind the game, crowdsourcing private information, is troubling. I suspect it will become an issue in the future.

  • Keith

    I first saw the idea of an attention economy in the Cory Doctorow story “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”. The collection of ‘Whuffie’ or attention replaced money and determined what you could ‘buy’. The rapid gain or loss of attention could radically change someone’s life in a short time.

  • TxBubba

    Your description of the last third of the talk evokes the novel “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez, where the players controlled by the daemon are plugged in to a ‘darknet’ and are awarded points for successfully performing tasks. Interesting parallels that I suspect are already taking shape in the global technium.

  • Kingsley Joseph

    I believe that technology evolves along this path: unusable -> usable -> enjoyable -> entertaining -> addictive. Most software now is somewhere between usable and enjoyable, but it wont be long before we cant stop engaging with technology.

  • Lance Miller

    Daniel Saurez is way ahead on this one.

  • chrisco

    Not a pretty picture of the future he paints.

  • Michael

    The novel “Daemon” by Daniel Suarez and its sequel “Freedom(TM)” set up an entire online scenario in which the traditional economy is replaced by an online economy that is based on gaming platforms. It is both scary and visionary.

  • Roger

    check this out:
    and the “million” video at

    give students in NYC cell phones
    students earn minutes by paying attention in class, etc = gamified life

  • Parker

    How many points do I get for watching the whole video?

  • Rodrigo Luff

    My god, its so good! I wish Philip k Dick was around to see this, although I’m sure these ideas popped up in his head more than once. I can just imagine a character in his novels struggling through this and discovering it’s all an illusion, that gnostic concept shining through!!

    oh and…


    Do not watch video before going to sleep because you will be thinking about this talk and find it hard to drift to the land of nod. REM dream advetisement machines haha!! gahhhh!!

  • y r


  • MenuBar

    See the movie “Idocracy”

  • Tom

    This was an excellent and thought provoking video.

    I have a feeling that many of the concepts that he discusses will come ture, but it is a long way off.

    I did laugh a fair bit at the eInk tattoo concept though :)

  • david knowles

    Great Talk……………all about the current Western construct of self absorption and how clever we are. It sits in total contradiction of the other paradigm mentioned of products especially food products having to be ‘real’. By the time we wake up someone else will be in control !

  • Thomas

    It’s just, that besides being interesting, the whole thing is mighty scary too. He talks about “more reality” but the future he paints is less authentic – making us care about meaningless points.

    And doesn’t it bother you at all that much of the income of those new games is basically fraud? Google for “scamville” and you can read where the facebook game revenue is coming from. Jesse actually mentions that the kids game is tricking the parents. He just doesn’t seem to mind that.

    Using the reward-chemicals and social twitches of the human mind is nothing new. Casinos do it all the time. That’s why there are legal boundaries for those – and if games don’t get regulated, games might go out of hand too.

  • Yood

    Dwight Schrute, imo.

  • Ugacoming136

    I find plenty to discover in The Art of Game Design. When I have some free time I often find myself cracking the spine and simply picking a chapter at random, I always learn something new when I do.
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  • Albi504

    its always been game on…welcome aboard!