10 Ways the Internet Is Gamifying Real Life (for Better or Worse)
Ever since the dawn of modern gaming, we’ve been a bit more drawn to worlds that mimic life rather than flout its rules. Games are more gripping when they give us access into corners of the real world which we otherwise can’t engage with, or when they let us make decisions that, otherwise, either aren’t ours to make (like building skylines and communities in SimCity), or would get us in trouble if we were to make them (like joy-riding in Grand Theft Auto).
It’s this necessary but disappearing parallel between real life and the illusion of reality that makes open-world games so addictive. Their infrastructure is the Internet, which we tap into for a bit of role-playing with friends from all over the world. Such fun!
So, of course, if we allowed the Internet access to our virtual personas in order to connect, interact and play together across borders, taking the next step was a piece of cake. It was only human nature that, in the interest of augmenting the fun, we allow it to further trespass. For one, giving it permission to bring the principles of gaming into the real world. That could only mean more fun… right?
1. Exploring As A Game
Augmented-reality gaming, the next step in MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), was made possible by the wild proliferation of pocket GPS, aka smartphones. Google’s Ingress takes full advantage of the ability to track users’ movements and adds a layer of gamified reality over the mundane map of our surroundings.
The actual traipsing that you do while in the game – you have to go on foot to different locations dictated by the game and hack Portals on behalf of your team, which will be either "The Enlightened" or "The Resistance" – makes it so much easier to suspend disbelief about that added layer.
Also, playing Ingress has the added benefit of meeting new people and stretching your limbs – which you maybe won’t do for the sake of your health, but you sure will to level up! It essentially blurs the line between your IRL self and your in-game avatar. Budding explorers can find a primer for Ingress here!
2. Dating as a Game: Tinder
Tinder is the popular dating app that is redefining modern dating chats up possible dates in a game-like setting. The learning curve is as close to zero, which helped it spread like wildfire among millennials and gen Z-ers alike: just swipe right on profile pics you find to your liking, and swipe left on those you’d rather pass on, and, assuming your pick swipes the right way on your own pic, the courtship can begin!
This new spin on mating is very much in keeping with the no-frills, no-lag user experience we’ve come to expect from every app or tool we use these days. We’re not willing to snail-date like our parents anymore, and Tinder cashes in on that, every single second.
Considering its new foray into non-romantic aka business networking (among Forbes-picked 30-under-30 influencers, for now), it’s safe to say the experiments Tinder can make with its growing userbase can apparently keep the game going for… ever?
3. Shopping as a Game
Loyalty programs are a tried and tested way to help businesses’ profit, and stocks jump or even to completely rejuvenate dying breeds like brick-and-mortar shops. Success stories of coffee shops using tech to improve the punter’s experience abound, and the shift from punch cards to apps for providing rewards (free items and such) has been a boon to the service industry.
Of course, aside from the apps that gamify the coffee-shopping experience, there’s another growing type of apps that aggregate all kinds of shops and items, offering up rewards in exchange for social shares or for using a certain payment app at check-out (like Wish did for users buying through Google Checkout).
And then there’s community-driven e-commerce that’s also benefitting from the growth spurt of gamified shopping: Pinterest’s buy button is integrating shopping at the tail-end of pinners’ idle browsing, and apps like Fancy or Spring are making shopping for brand items easier than ever.
Last but not least, there’s shopping in game, a booming strategy adopted by game devs everywhere, from mobile to console: the in-app or in-game purchases that inject revenue into the now pervasive free-to-play gaming model is everywhere and not likely to go away anytime soon.
4. Stalking as a Game
The best thing about Foursquare, the geolocation check-in service, when it first rolled out six years ago was, let’s face it, the ability to stalk our friends. The introduction of badges and mayorships only added another gamified layer of fun on top of this initial permission to stalk and one-up outgoing friends.
And then Swarm was introduced by Foursquare, essentially splitting the company in two for no apparent reason, which nearly alienated Foursquare’s long-time users by making them shift to this other app. The Foursquare app itself remained as somewhat of an awkward Yelp-like afterthought, and no one could figure out the reason for the move. A couple of months back, the company reintroduced mayorships and collectable badges, inside the Swarm app this time, in a bid to rekindle its users’ love by playing up the game factor for all it’s worth.
And that bet will probably pay off too, because everyone loves competing for virtual titles and watching their social clout score shoot up.
5. Fitness as a Game
There’s probably a conclusion to be drawn from the synced rise of doom-and-gloom warnings about sedentary lifestyles and fitness apps. But that’s beside the point here – what is, though, is how sport is becoming a game, on the back of fitness apps that prompt users to work out in exchange for all kinds of rewards.
Whether it’s the in-your-face monetary kind, or a cuddlier kind, the same principle applies: pushing your body to its limits is its own reward, of course, but it’s obvious from the rising obesity rates that for many, that’s simply not enough of an incentive.
Enter fitness trackers that let you boast about your jogs on Facebook, pay you to keep at it or even dock your pay if you don’t. On top of the apps, the gamification of sports has also spawned another global phenomenon: running marathons has evolved into a myriad of global events, the most game-like of which being the massively popular Human Race.
6. Driving as a Game
If you’re not familiar with Waze, it’s an app for motorists that relies heavily on its users to work well. It uses crowdsourced information to keep its map up to date, lets users chat in-app and integrates with social networks for bragging purposes. Also, as an added layer of gamification, features a system of points, with the attendant scoreboard, which drivers can gain or lose depending on how they use the app.
But the gamification of driving has branched out in a whole host of other directions thanks to the advent of electric cars – nowadays, your car can actually make you a better driver by providing incentives (like the badges and/or points that are ubiquitous in gaming) as well as challenges.
Ford’s MyFord Mobile app for Ford Focus drivers is one of the first to introduce this sort of interactive in-car gaming element, and also to open it up to app developers, so that drivers can get more fun out of their commute, achieve more on a charge and so forth.
7. Childhood as a Constant Game
The youngest Gen Z-ers are experiencing childhood in a wildly different way, even to millennials (incidentally, it’s now more important than ever that parents evolve in step with the times). Games are more important than ever to kids growing up in the noughties, and they tie in with cartoons, amusement parks, Happy Meals – you name it.
The billion-dollar business of gamifying childhood has been a not-so-subtle affair since the Game Boy, but the franchise frame of mind, where any popular product gets the game makeover, is relatively recent. Since the dawn of video games we’ve seen, for instance, a movie-based game development trend shaping up – and that’s exploded in recent years.
Kids with a flair for online gaming, and permissive parents, have tons of options to choose from nowadays – regardless of what type of product they might be into this week. One need only check out Disney’s game page to experience the extent of childhood gamification – type literally any kind of toy or kids’ movie or TV show into Google, followed by "games", and you’re left wondering if there’s any hope of weaning a child off these once they’re hooked on the online gaming experience.
8. Movies as Games
Cinema has been around for a while now, and yet nothing much has changed about the way we experience it – uni-directionally, with the viewer remaining passive from beginning to end credits. But efforts to change that have already been made and technology is increasingly making it easier for innovators to pioneer new features that give the viewer a more active role in the movie’s narrative.
With 4D technology now widely available, we’re inches away from realizing Aldous Huxley’s prophecy in Brave New World, the arrival of the “feelies,” or movies that provide tactile sensations during the screening, that are virtually indistinguishable from the actors’ own. In a move even closer to gamifying the cinematic experience, the push for the interactive movie introduced during the ‘90s by forward thinkers like David Wheeler is now seeing a resurgence, mainly thanks to VR getting such a buzz of late.
The idea bouncing around the industry right now is all about bio-feedback tracking software that is capable of changing the plot of a movie based on the information it receives from the viewer’s brain (see this short horror by MyndPlay for instance). It’s still in the first stages, but, all in all, the trend of the interactive movie is set to take off – if done better this time around.
9. Money as Game
Mining for money, or bitcoins, is perhaps the best example of how technology has enabled us to transform even the most basic of human actions. The cryptocurrency that has been alternately on a high or in the dumps for much of its lifespan could achieve some kind of a balance in the future, if the practice of mining became easier to understand.
On the other hand, opening it up might result in breaches of trust – which would instantly sink a financial system created through crowdsourcing and with no centralized bank or state behind it. Simply put for the layman, it is a game, where miners compete against each other to solve so-called "proof-of-work" puzzles.
Their work gains them newly-minted bitcoin, which means more of it is put into circulation every time the miners verify a transaction.
10. Learning as Game
If you’ve been looking around the web for online courses to further your education, you might have been struck by how almost every provider from the Khan Academy to Duolingo nowadays includes some sort of leaderboard.
Gamification is at the core of the online learning experience, as it alone can motivate students to come back, strive for more accomplishments (than their peers) and achieve their goals seemingly without putting in that much work – because we intrinsically think of competition as fun.
Video games have also been making their way into the classroom, as teachers now understand that children are more open to being taught if education comes in the form of fun – and game developers are happy to adapt their games for this higher, state-subsidized purpose (see MinecraftEdu, or SimCityEdu).
Homo Ludens, Man the Player, has extended to describe pretty much every one of us now. Gamification is seeping into all our everyday lives – and we’re mostly the better for it… Or don’t you agree?