Saturday, April 09, 2011

"Play teaches us skills. Stories teach us what to do with them."

--- Harry Dewulf, in a letter to New Scientist (subscription required), 23 March 2011

Dewulf responds to an article about the "gamification" of everyday life, arguing

The best computer games exploit two basic desires. The first is to learn: a well-designed learning curve provides satisfaction from the achievement of mastery of the game. The greater the complexity, the greater the satisfaction.

The second desire is for a story. First-person "shooter" games involving one participant have the player follow a predetermined story path, deriving satisfaction from discovering the twists and turns.

He then offers the quote above. He concludes
Much of the gaming described in your article is light on play and storytelling, and heavy on "cumulomania" - the mindless racking-up of points, powers and achievements. Even the games strongest in learning and storytelling, like the Civilization series, eventually deteriorate into steady statistical accumulation.

Apps which rely on our attachment to endless accumulation of tokens and whose value is derived from potentially divisive social competition will have to be continually refreshed or replaced with new content - with diminishing returns as all the niches for apps that teach something useful are occupied.

If I am wrong about the games bubble, then the world will become increasingly divided between dopamine freaks endlessly indulging their cumulomania and those who prefer to use their time accumulating real value.