Gamification is the use of game design techniques for ‘real’ life. In 5 years I’m sure you’ll have a ‘health’ and whatever dashboard that rewards you for exercise, family time, financial management, whatever parameters you want to set for your life. It’s certainly better than the bloatware that passes for reality these days.
Our animal feedback mechanism is obviously woefully ill-equipped to the modern world. Follow its cues and you’ll end up eating massive amounts of salt and sugar, having sex mindlessly, and spending on credit. Indeed, this is what passes for prosperity these days.
Gamification is an ongoing trend towards reversing these, uh, trends by controlling the feedback loops. Foursquare, for example, give you badges for going to the gym a lot. I had an idea which was as follows.
I use the computer a lot. I thought it would be cool if the computer wouldn’t let me use it unless I meditated or exercised or something. Maybe it could watch me through the webcam. This must be possible in some sense with something like the XBox Kinect.
Barring that however, now I simply decided that if the computer goes to sleep, I have to meditate before I use it. This is working out OK.
Another idea was a smartphone app that would lock you out of all functions but emergency calls unless you did some periodic exercise. These things have motion sensors so I’m sure it could track something like push-ups, sit-ups or jogging. Barring that, however, now I’ve set a rule that if I want to do non-work stuff on the computer (ie, non blogging or related) I have to exercise. Which I now do. Only for like a week now, but it’s working a lot better than exercising because it’s ‘good for me’.
In the long-run, I think it is possible to engineer our lives better with positive feedback. Nowadays, as you’re life ‘improves’, it often gets worse for you. When I was young and broke I walked, bused or rode a bike everywhere. Now I drive, and exercise none in the natural course of my day (that also has to do with the city you live in). Getting medical or dental checkups is a pain with no reward. Keeping to an exercise routine or learning something new is hard and has a steep curve before you get into.
With immediate positive feedback, however artificial, it is possible to get quick rewards like you get from short-term crap for long-term, incremental goals. I mean, I track my Twitter responses or Facebook likes sometimes obsessively, other people get obsessed with Angry Birds. With intelligent gamification, it is possible to channel that engagement into real-life goals that really matter.