Rex Sorgatz has penned a brilliant, must-read article for Wired, making the case that gaming has become "the prevailing narrative our time". It's one of those articles that makes everything seem so obvious in hindsight,connects a number of related themes, and makes you (or, me at least) feel like you hadn't been noticing something right in front of your face.
He cites a number of examples, from our attempts to "game" the system (a la Technorati) to navigating our RSS reader in Pac-Man like fashion. But really, it's a compelling argument for gaming in a very general, pervasive, as the mode of many of our interactions and experiences. Rex states: "Sometimes the interactions are social, sometimes they are you versus a computer algorithm. But once you've noticed them, they suddenly become ubiquitous."
Brilliant, and dead on.
I urge you to read the article, but if you need more convincing, here's something to think about (via Rex's blog)
How did we end up with a world we play like a game? It's no historical coincidence that gaming ascended right along with the rise of the information age. As the ever-rising flood of new data threatened to inundate our lives, we developed tools to organize all that information — sort it, filter it, cut it, mix it.
And from the article itself:
We use game models to motivate ourselves, to answer questions, to find creative solutions. For many, life itself has turned into a game. Our online lives are just twists on the videogame leaderboards, where we jockey to get our blog a higher rank on Technorati and compete to acquire more friend-adds on MySpace than the next guy.
Even on more serious social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, you rack up friends, accrue hipster points, try to score high on identity tests.
Some thoughts that Rex triggered in my mind follow (and hopefully I'll get some inputs from the likes of Leland, Adam, Paul, Russell and Morgan, who have informed some admittedly half-baked ideas around the theme of game/play)"
-I like the fact that thinking about games/gaming as the mode of our experiences and interactions places the emphasis on our individual motivations; the social/cultural context is always important, but it's equally important to concentrate on what motivates us individually to do stuff (in other words, the rewards of gaming address the question "what's in it for me" in a clear, distinct way. The reward with gaming/play is individual satisfaction and/or advantage, which is admittedly a little less noble than some "community" idealists would lead us to believe (?)
-I've been amazed to see the extent to which something like music production/remixing has become more game-like as it's become "democratized", and I've long suspected that the remix ethos has more in common with gaming than anything else, so Rex's thesis makes a lot of sense from this perspective.
-Adam recently made the distinction between gaming and play, and I have to admit that reading Rex's piece, I found both gaming and playing applicable (as Adam defines and distinguishes them). Whereas Rex talks about gaming as in gaming the system, I suspect that unstructured, free-form play is also relevant and applies here.
-Lisa Reichelt recently wrote a post about "gardening tools for social networks", by which she mean tools that help us cultivate our networks. Seen through the filter of gaming, Lisa's "tools" makes even more sense: cultivating our network can mean more ways to play with our myriad connections and interactions (and I'm not talking about biting Zombies!). It's the cultivating of the network that's the fun part, and as it stands, the cultivating part is sorely underdeveloped. You amass friends, then just kind of eventually get stuck with nothing interesting to do. We need cultivating tools that are game-like.
-It can be a bit weird to think about it in this way, but for social networks, the idea that "people are the content" makes sense if we think about what we do there in gaming terms, too. Most of our conversations about social networks and communities focus on the touchy-feely connecting parts, but a lot of what we actually do is more self-centredly playful (yes, I think there is a valid distinction).