The Game of Life

According to this new TED talk from TEDxBoston by Seth Priebatsch, there is a “game layer” under construction in the world, and we should all care about how it’s getting built.

The game layer is a framework for interacting with other people that allows us to influence their behavior.  This framework involves various dynamics: the appointment dynamic requires players to return at a predetermined time; the influence and status dynamic manages players’ behavior through social pressure; the progression dynamic allows players to advance gradually through stages or steps; the communal discovery dynamic calls upon an entire community to solve a problem.

For example, restaurants set up happy hours that draw in customers at particular times; the color of credit cards varies with their spending limit, making us desire the prestige of a gold card; LinkedIn warns us that our profile is only 85% complete, an incentive to finish filling it in.

It would be interesting to explore how individual agency operates in this dynamic.  Presumably, people will not change their behavior unless it is to their advantage to do so; happy hour draws us in because the deals are pretty awesome.  But Priebatsch hints at an interesting phenomenon: sometimes, people get sucked into the game and act against their interests.  If Farmville required players to water their plants every half hour, he claims, people would do so, to the detriment of their productivity elsewhere.

So why do games appeal to us, and how do they affect our ability to make good decisions?  Why kinds of new skills do we need to live in this game world?