Making Tasks Fun Distracts Us From The Fact That We’re Working

via Michael Harper @oh_okay,

Foursquare has badges, Klout has influence and Twitter has retweets. In the same way we used to boast how many friends we had on MySpace, we know brag about how many friends we have on Facebook or how many simultaneous Words With Friends games we are currently involved in.

Social networking has become a game, an online playing field with winners and losers. But in the end, we all get to have fun and play again the next day.

This might be one of the reasons Facebook, Twitter and their ilk have taken off as well as they have. Playing games is fun, and even more so if we can play in brief bursts throughout the day, the game never any farther away than our pockets.

Like the campus-wide marshmallow-gun or water-gun wars of yesteryear, social networking lets us earn badges, points and trophies, tag and poke our friends, and compete with one another as we carry out our everyday tasks. For better or worse, these gaming techniques can distract us from everyday life. After all, who doesn’t want to have fun?

These points and rewards and imbedded game features are all a part of “Gamification,” or the incorporation of game-like play in modern day life and technology. While it’s an emerging and popular trend in online interactive design, it’s also beginning to show up in the “real world,” as scientists are asking the multitudes to play along in experiments and corporations are using game-style techniques to train and educate their employees and their customers.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released a study about gamification and whether or not neuroscientists and other experts expect the trend to continue or die out in the future.

Neuroscientists, for example, are beginning to study gamification and the effects it has on our brains, our personality and the way we learn. They are discovering gamification can increase learning and participation by increasing feel-good chemicals in our body, thus making us more responsive to learning and more willing to take it on. Technology consultancy agency Gartner believes these reasons will help drive the adoption of gamification. According to the Pew Internet research, Gartner “…has projected 50% of corporate innovation will be ‘gamified’ by 2015.”

And it’s not just the way playing games makes us feel which will drive the adoption of these techniques; Many, if not all, social networking sites employ the use of gamification, and as more than 70% of all American internet users also use social networking, we’re quite accustomed to the way the game is played.

As an example of the way these game techniques can be used for more than just accruing retweets and points, a team of international scientists created a way to involve an entire conference to understand the way diseases such as malaria can spread from one person to another. During a two-week conference, these scientists handed out slips of paper which read “You have been infected” to a few participants. These “infected” participants were then instructed to email one of the researchers to inform him they had been infected, then use a random number generator to determine how many more people they should “infect.”

During the course of the game, the scientists were able to gather some great data about the way outbreaks occur, therefore helping these scientists discover ways to handle and prevent such outbreaks.

Whether or not gamification will catch on and transform the way we learn and work is still yet to be seen. One of Pew’s anonymous respondents gives a particularly affirming argument for the cause of gamification:

“(Gamification) will allow people to understand complex topics faster and with more nuances, and make the learning process more anticipated and less to be feared or avoided. New ideas will spread faster as the ability to educate more people becomes easier and quicker.”

By the year 2020, we may feel more like we’re playing games than working or learning. But you can always have too much of a good thing. By 2020, will our games have become so spectacular and so eccentric so as to separate them from the games we already play at work? Or will we simply be tired of the games by then and want to just get back to work already?

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