People are competitive.
In the workplace we “climb the corporate ladder.” In our playtime we compete in sports, video games, cooking contests, and every other kind of competition you can name. Some games are cooperative and some games are not and there are game theories developing for almost every discipline, especially economics.
Influence as is Game
So, why would it be surprising that social media would be ripe for gaming? Twitter was devised as a simple group messaging service, but over time, people made it into a status symbol, and thus Klout and its competitors were born to measure status.
Before Twitter, blogs were King, and Technorati ranking was as popular as Klout is today. Plenty of people are talking about measures like Klout, its problems, its purpose, how to increase it (all the while telling you it doesn’t matter), and why you have to spot influential people before they become influential. Beth Harte even recently talked about the problem of the slide from Influence to propaganda. Before blogging there were bulletin boards, forums and many other venues. Gaming in this way transcends technology.
Gaming on Location with the Social Web
Social networking applications such as Yelp, Gowalla, Foursquare, Whrrl, and now SCVNGR are pioneering location-based gaming, with other competitors like Facebook Places (which has no gaming elements yet) starting to pop up everywhere.
SCVNGR’s Seth Priebatsch argued at SxSWi this year that the social layer of the web has already been built, and now the gaming layer is the next logical step. You can see him in a TEDx presentation last year making the similar, and somewhat persuasive, claims. Funi Gabe Zichermann, author of “Game-Based Marketing” and “Funware in Action,” predicts that, “Within the next 10 years, almost every consumer interaction will have game mechanics built into it.”
Gaming for Good
What if we could harness all of this energy to reach higher status, and channel it toward solving huge societal problems? What could we accomplish together in a big, cooperative game?
People are already trying this to varying degrees of success. One example of an organization benefitting from gaming tendencies is Crisis Commons, which uses a short weekend format to accelerate the development of standardized tools to solve problems. This kind of interaction plays to the gaming theory of coordination, with the “profits” being the successful resolution of the situation. Another example of this is the mapping of Boulder Country homes that had been destroyed by fire using the #crisisdata tag on Twitter that had been formulated at a national coordination event led by the American Red Cross (client).
Jane McGonigal, author of Reality is Broken, is evangelizing this idea of gaming for good in a number of presentations and media interviews throughout the country. I have dropped in one of her TEDx talks below.
What do you think? Are games just the latest marketing trick, or (as mobile becomes the norm) will they change the way people behave in the real world?