We are all familiar with the phrase “grow up!” Some of us have heard it on multiple occasions, when people feel that we have somehow crossed the line into childish and, thus, unacceptable behaviour. This assumes, of course, that being childlike and playful means that you are somehow in the wrong and can´t be taken seriously.
This is potentially bad news for an industry, such as the computer games industry. We all want to be taken seriously by investors, journalists potential employees, the government and industrial bodies we need to interact with to thrive. At the same time, the industry needs to retain the playfulness and imagination at its core, which it will need to create the experiences that its customers demand.
The idea that the gaming industry only creates experiences for male teenagers is a well-worn cliché. This is no longer the case, as gamers have become a much more diverse bunch. Pinning down the ´typical´ gamer is probably impossible, these days. In any case, you could probably argue that the average gamer is now a middle-aged woman rather than a teenage boy.
This is good news. It means that games studios and publishers can now make a nice living by catering to individual niches, even if some will go for the increasingly elusive mainstream. Perhaps the only commonality among gamers these days is the fact that they are all looking for a playful experience. Because of this, and to the dismay of all of those “grown-ups” around us, being childlike and playful is actually crucial for the industry to thrive.
But does the computer games industry have the ability to change other industries, or society itself, for the better? Gamification is a buzzwords that has been used much over the past few years. Wikipedia defines it as “the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications.” To the consumer, it can mean a smart phone app that gives him or her points for finishing household chores (Chore Wars), a digital dashboard at work that shows performance and stats in real time, or advertising such as the brilliantly executed Magnum Pleasure Hunt Accross the Internet.
Gamification can be combined with crowdsourcing, as is shown by the the DARPA submarine hunting simulation. DARPA makes a game based on submarine warfare, distributes it widely and monitors what tactics and strategy works based on the simulation outcomes. Our friends at CCP make the economy of its vast Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, Eve Online, available to economists for research and analysis.
The applications of gamifaction are endless. Think firefighting, policing, search and rescue, navigating, driving, urban planning, financial and commodities markets, etc.
Playfulness can be used to create countless hours of fun and escapism, but it can also be crucial for serious, and even deadly, situations in life. Who would have thought?