Gaming Saves Your Life

In prior posts, I've considered the impact that the gaming industry has had on society as a whole. Game developers are looking for ways to make the borders between our real, day-to-day lives and the gaming experience more porous. As a result, there are games that emulate the day to day tedium of life, and games that seek to make the tedium of life into a kind of virtual contest.

Sim City guru Will Wright, realizing how massively successful such projects can be, has just announced his latest project, Hivemind. The goal is to, according to Wright, "create games about [a player's] real life." The game also, he asserts, "could take into account what time of day it is, where you are and how much money is in your pocket." Wright goes on to say, "Imagine if you could open Google maps and it shows you things that are interesting to you on the map."

I presume that by this, Wright means things you like that you wouldn't otherwise think to search for in Google Maps.

As for privacy concerns, Wright dismisses them. "If you entice people with enough game-oriented entertainment, they won't mind sharing that information."

Obviously, Hivemind is in the hype stage of its development. This means any and all details are inconsequential to Hivemind's promised adherence to current popular gaming trends, such as Gamification. This, in part, means:

* Your game never pauses.
* The number of friends you bring in has a massive impact on your in-game experience.
* The number of 'virtual experiences' you purchase, either items or badges or bragging rights, will impact how 'immersed' you feel.
* Augmented reality.
The closest thing to Hivemind that I can think of is Foursquare. I'm addicted to the premise: go somewhere, check in, and collect points for fulfilling certain parameters. There is no 'end' to Foursquare's experience, and the delight comes in seeing in where your Foursquare friends go, and getting credit where you go. If I check into the San Francisco airport, for instance, Foursquare tells me the last time I was there, how many times I've been there, and I will get points and badges dependent on the experience. Foursquare has no goal other than to get the 'player' to actively document the places they visit, and maybe think a little harder about the stuff they like to do. I don't disparage Foursquare, because it's free and it doesn't bombard you with advertisements or 'enticements' to go anywhere or buy anything. It makes money, for sure, but the gamer-end experience doesn't feel like a sales pitch.

Based on the Hivemind hype and some of Will Wright's comments, I can't help but feel a little pandered to. Wright's last project, Spore, was supposed to change gaming, and it was little more than a brief tech demo with massive, massive amounts of user generated content. The game was balanced toward the customization, but at some point, the game itself forgot to catch up. I think that for gurus like Wright, the goal is not to construct a perfect gaming experience, but rather to advance an idea. In this case, that idea appears to adhere to Gamifications's primary edict: life is a game, and this game can be structured and implemented in your life to directly impact your decisions, your friends, your purchases, and your life goals.

For me, games are more fun if their experiences and goals are separate from life. For me, they belong as an escape, a kind of immerse glimpse into somewhere 'not here.' My number one attraction to games is exploring virtual environments, solving puzzles, or some combination of the two. If I'm not doing either of those things, I get bored really fast. As much as I appreciate Foursquare, I often go weeks without using it. I tried Zynga and it failed to capture my interest. I tried Facebook games and managed to alienate a ton of people with unintentional spamming. If I think a game is trying to sell me something, I tune out quickly. If I think I've been used as a tool to hype someone else's product, I'm livid.

When I suffered from panic attacks in my early twenties, gaming was the only activity that calmed me down. Gaming's immersion and interactivity helped to accomplish that. As long as I played in small spurts, I had balance. Reflective, interior, shy people with big imaginations are automatically drawn to video games. The alpha types that I know - with heaps of ambition, charismatic and aggressive personalities, and positive, successful attitudes - are largely ambivalent about gaming. They couldn't care either way. This does not surprise me

It remains to be seen though, how much overlap 'Hivemind' will have with non-gamers. Wright's early comments suggest it is meant to wake non-gamers up to how much inspiration games glean from the goal-oriented rituals of their daily lives. Perhaps, and I suspect this will be the case, Hivemind will be an advertisers' Shangri-La, a place where ad agencies and their campaigns are replaced with quests, and commercials are replaced with recommendations. Don't believe me? It's already happening everywhere, and will only grow more prominent as gaming's quest for mainstream dominance continues.


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