Jesse Schell's vision of the future - a future where games consume everything and are an unavoidable, universal cheap trick to control behavior, and this somehow improves people, is rubbish.
Click to here to see the video, referenced in Podtoid 138
To summarize the video, Schell has some merit. The first half of his presentation dissected marketing strategies so well that I passed it along to some of the higher ups at my job. I work at a student information system company and our CEO has passions for a similar future. Or at least one that will consequentially make him richer.
Schell initially speaks about authenticity driving sales toward the beginning of the lecture, yet strangely, by the end, he speaks of a future that is entirely contrived. Cereal boxes letting kids compete in eating the most cereal. Fifty points if you stuff your chubby face more than the kid down the street. A hundred points if you beat your autistic brother on the English test. A thousand points and a $10 tax break if your poo tests free of phthalates and the government can sell it to a farmer.
At the end, Schell postulates that playing these games, some of which would be based around important things like protecting the environment or not peeing in the aquifer, could make people value the important things more.
Yet the impact companies would create virtual rewards for activities with intrinsic value is about ends vs. means. Every task in our lives could become about points, a means to keep us addicted and unhappy and buy the mega-corporations' boardmembers new yachts. They disregard and trivialize those ends that make us happiness - time spent laughing with friends, hours learning to paint or speak another language, chores teaching us the value of being organized. Each of these is now a "Quest" that is compared on the leaderboards, and are worth...more quests.
Take Halo 3 on Xbox Live rankings. Players accumulate experience points to grant themselves higher ranks. It sounds legitimate. Until, that is, you learn that the majority of high-ranking players got there by "boosting," using a loophole in the scoring system to rapidly rise in the ranks. You can still even pay people to boost for you.
The results bastardize the ranking system. You have high-ranking players who quit as soon as the odds are any worse than 100,000:1 in their favor, and who aren't any better than the mid-level players. You have the naive boys in awe of them, wondering how they can possibly beat a general. And you have me, asking that high-ranked asshole not to quit if he's on my team or banking on it if he's on the opposite team.
What, then, is rank good for? Nothing. Character is worth everything. A teammate who will communicate enemy positions and share weapons is invaluable. He or she is also extraordinarily rare. How does this player come to be? He or she disregards points and silly rewards and cultivates character by valuing camaraderie and friendship. Good soldiers don't learn accurate shooting because they want a medal. They learn it to keep their friends alive.
Yet so many of the kids I encounter don't care about that. They will do whatever it takes to unlock the achievements and get the points, be it cheating, deceiving, or outright paying for 'em. They'll kill you for the sniper rifle on a non-slayer match and boast about all their useless kills. They don't understand that the points don't matter and won't make them happy. Why would a system that perpetuates that ignorance make people grow up?
So I disagree with Mr. Schell. Company CEOs like to spout about how they are working toward a brighter future, and helping things and creating change and rainbows and unicorns with cotton-candy asses. It happens at my job four times a year, when the CEO tells us how we're making kids smarter when in reality we're only making administrators faster on the taxpayer's dime. Maybe CEOs are trying to convince themselves they're as worthy as anybody else. I would prefer they did it without the delusions.
I don't want a future of points systems, and I sure as hell don't want cameras and computers everywhere I go. That authenticity Schell values would be completely nullified by an inundation of cheap substitutes for joy. And as much as he would want it to improve people's lives, it could only be an artless, worthless manifestation of the desire to make as much money as possible.