The Power of Games

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s had this on my mind lately.

The Escapist just published an article entitled Technology Will Turn your Life Into A Game.  It talks in some detail about how game design principles are being applied to corporate marketing.  Examples are given, like the new Starbucks Gold Card, which lets you earn “experience points” by buying coffee, which earn you “level-ups” that grant you “new abilities” (like discounts, free drinks, free wi-fi, etc.).  The privileges also expire if you don’t buy enough coffee.

Sound familiar?  These are the same principles of addiction that were discussed in the Cracked article I linked yesterday.

Here’s what I’m taking away from this: Games have the power to make people do things.  There are already hundreds of thousands of people out there who know about these principles, and are using them to make money.  There’s only one industry that is founded on the idea of using these principles of addiction to create enjoyment, rather than just money—and that’s the game industry.

We, as conscientious members of the game industry, have a responsibility to look into ways to use these game design principles for GOOD, rather than for evil.  To create games that educate the players, inform them, show them truths about the world and each other.

We need to fight back with educational games—and I’m not talking about “educational games” the way we’re used to thinking of them. I’m talking about turning our classrooms into a game the same way Starbucks has turned buying coffee into a game.  I’m talking about abandoning letter grades, and teaching our kids with experience points and level-ups.

I’m talking about corporate games—internal systems in companies that encourage people to do their best work using game design principles.

I’m talking about games that encourage charitable behavior and volunteer work.

I’m talking about using game design principles to encourage young people to vote, to research local laws, and otherwise get involved with their community.

This is why I think gaming can change the world.  And it’s the people who are in the game industry, who make games and who play them, who are going to change the world—because we’re the ones for whom gaming is more than just a way to make money.

Published by Malgayne

Community Manager at Google. Formerly at Sourcebits, Spark Plug Games, Zynga, and I like chiptunes and hefeweizen.

6 thoughts on “The Power of Games

  1. The Starbucks thing, and maybe the “experience point” dynamic as a whole, is an extension of the “punch this card ten times and get a free X” principle. Elaborated, no doubt, but from the same stock. As far as giving experience points instead of grades, well, they get a letter grade at the end of the class based on the number of points they’ve amassed, same as I did, so all that’s really changed is the words.

    Those things you want to use game principles for – charity, voting, community involvement – all require the same thing that Starbucks does: marketing. Marketing isn’t evil, and neither is making money. And a world that contains them can also contain education and social justice.

    1. This is unquestionably true. There is no good or evil about marketing, and there isn’t even a good or evil about making money. It was a mistake to imply that it was. But the soul of my argument stands—that there are lots of people out there who are interested in using these principles to advance themselves without any concern for others. We need to fight back by using them to advance others without any concern for ourselves.

  2. This is really something burgeoningly new, huh? Games have always been able to make people do things, but never on such a scale. The only precedents I can think of off the top of my head are traditional gambling, trading cards, and stuff like Magic the Gathering.

    1. I think World of Warcraft was the beginning of it. Before WoW, there were huge games, but there’s never been a true international phenomenon on this scale before.

  3. I’m not sure if you’ve mentioned it (I think you made some vague reference to it), but Ribbon Hero really works. I, and more importantly, my stubborn-to-learn-Excel mother, learned a /lot/ from that psudo-game. Games are evolving from the things Jack Thompson would go up on his high horse and rant about to something new and different.

    Though, if you go this route, you have ethical problems (and of course the crazies that abuse and make things up–“Starbucks should refund all the money I’ve paid to them, because I became addicted to the points on my card and spent more than I otherwise would have” and the like).

    As someone said sometime somewhere, the world is changing in directions we can’t imagine (though possibly interesting)

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