When Games Invade Real Life (Ted Talk)

Jesse Schell gave a really interesting talk at DICE in 2010. In the video he discusses how games are invading the real world. He takes a look at some of the unexpected successes within the gaming industry ~ Facebook games, Club Penguin, Guitar Hero, the Wii ~ and discusses what they all have in common; they all use psychological tricks. Club Penguin for example is free to play and in playing the game you earn virtual money. However, to spend the virtual money you need to pay a subscription fee. Another example he gives is Mafia Wars on Facebook, a free-to-play game where you play against real friends. In order to be better than your friends (competition), the game encourages you to spend real money to get better. If you spend a lot of time on the game, you may be more justified to spend money on it — you’re spending time on something, so it must be worthwhile. The free to play model is a system that not only Facebook games have taken advantage of, but mobile games as well. For example, you can level up slowly in a game, or you pay real money to level up quicker. Schell mentions that all of these games are busting through to reality — it’s not just about fantasy anymore or escaping one’s self.

Schell talks about how everybody is gamifying real life now — ex. fantasy football, gas points, frequent flyer miles, weight watcher points, etc. He brings up a really great point that game designers aren’t designing these systems, but instead anyone who’s around is. So he raises the question: what if actual game designers were designing these systems? He mentions a professor, Leo Sheldon, who thought the grading system was terrible, so he devised his own. He gives out experience points in the class so that the students can level up and earn a grade. In doing this, he noticed that class attendance was up, participation was up, and the homework handed in was better.

There are surprisingly not that many TED talks on video games, but this one ended up being perfect for my own project. Part of my own game is about the monotony of life represented in a video game. Jesse Schell, at the end of the talk, actually outlines how eventually every aspect of our own lives will eventually be gamified. Eventually computer processors will become so cheap that every disposable product will have a cpu, camera, screen, wifi, etc. These devices will be able to track you and reward your progress for using them. He outlines a fictional scenario of how life could be gamified:

  • You wake up and brush your teeth – 10 points
  • A sensor measures how long you brush your teeth so you get extra points for brushing for at least 3 minutes.
  • You play a web game on the back of a corn flakes box and get 10 points for eating cornflakes
  • You take the bus to work and get points from the government for taking public transportation. You can trade in these points to get tax benefits
  • You get to work on time – 10 points
  • You were on time the whole week – bonus points
  • You take a walk and get points from your health insurance for walking a mile in one day

The whole segment goes on like this for awhile, but it was actually really great inspiration for my own game. I have a whole segment of my game where you’re trying to leave your apartment, but in order to do so you need to build up your energy meter first. Schell’s segment was a great way to think about my own game and what I’d like to accomplish with it. Although I’m working with a 2D game for this senior project, I also think the idea of monotonous tasks in a VR game is really interesting. Since VR is so new, doing anything in it feels unfamiliar even if it’s something we do every day. This is something that I’d like to look into developing in the future.


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