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Gamification – sell-out of our play instinct?


Collecting points and stars, killing zombies. Gaming takes up time, energy and motivation. But above all, gaming is fun. It is an archaic drive that is also more and more utilized for everyday challenges. This trend is called gamification, which puts elements typical for gaming in a different context.

Even though the word “gamification” is relatively new, the idea of transferring game mechanisms and principles to routine tasks is not. The play instinct is deeply incorporated in the nature of homo ludens, the playing human. The oldest cultural technique, the gaming, creativity and strength are set free. Structures and monotony are broken through, innovation and ideas are created. Furthermore it is fun to compare each other.

At the same time playing is not only part of us, but also essential for learning. The latest study on this topic of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development shows, that video gaming causes increases in the brain regions responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation and strategic planning as well as fine motor skills. The more fun the gamer has while playing the greater the increase of the brain regions.

Thanks to internet and smartphones gamification nowadays penetrates all areas of life. Everything we do can be tracked and measured. The boarders between real and virtual world blur more and more. Gamification is mainly meant to make unavoidable serious everyday tasks more entertaining by adding a rewarding gaming experience. Especially regarding this there is also criticism. “Games are virtually made to have no influence on real life,” states René Bauer, game designer and lecturer at Zurich University of the Arts, in an interview with the magazine Punkt. “If you play always and everywhere, you never truly play anywhere.”

A total opposite opinion has the game designer Dr. Jane McGonigal. She is convinced that people not only will be happier with a more playful everyday life, but are also able to overcome diseases. In an earlier article “Gaming can make a better world” we introduced the game SuperBetter, which she developed based on her personal experience.

Another example is the mobile app HabitRPG. As a role game it tries to make time management more attractive and motivating by defining personal habits and daily tasks and combines it with fun. When a task such as sports or homework is done one receives experience points, which can be invested in individual treats.

All of these everyday life games have in common that they are only supporting and self-discipline is this necessary.

If gamificiation of our everyday routines is a sell-out of our play instinct or makes daily tasks easier – the truth is probably somewhere in between. It can be said though, that games enrich our life. And probably every one of us already transformed garden work into Minecraft or has thought of throwing bananas or collecting stars while driving a car.

In our gamescom community trailer our community shows how they convert their everyday life into a game: