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One of the primary tensions brought up by the readings this week (especially the Caillois) is between the make-believe realm of games and the real world outside of games. Opponents of video games claim that video games exist purely in the make-believe and are unproductive, or worse, counterproductive to real-life. At the same time, opponents of video games also say that violence in video games influences behavior in the real-world (as in all the recent debates on gun control).

 

To further complicate this tension, I would like to discuss the idea of gamification: the use of gaming paradigms to engage users/operators in a non-game context. Gamification depends on our ability to distinguish between game and non-game in order to make the non-gaming action more like a game. gamification expands our cultural definition of games and further blurs the line between game and non-game.

 

A popular example of gamification is the fitness social network Fitocracy. Fitocracy awards you points for completing fitness activities, which allows you to “level up,” acquire badges, and as the website states “get addicted to fitness.” Community members can also offer you “props” for completing certain fitness tasks. Fitocracy has had tremendous success with Reddit users and had a big spike in its user base after it got featured on popular webcomic xkcd. Fitocracy creates a machinic structure for motivation, enforcement, and rewards. This places exercise inside a gamic software system. As gamification becomes more popular, I wonder if we will begin to have difficulty discerning the boundary between game and non-game. If we are always setting up external machinic systems for life tasks, when do we leave the game and return to the real world? Gamification seems to be collapsing that distinction, and I will be interested to see how it changes our cultural perception of games over time.