Gamification: Does it bring us together or does it tear us apart?

As our technology-driven society progressively grows more and more individualistic, and digital social platforms are separating us from our physical realities, the concept of “gamification”, the mobilization and implementation of game elements into shared physical environments, serves as a solution to bring us together. The inclusion of rankings, scores, levels, rewards, and other game mechanisms into applications, websites, and public spaces promotes competition in game-like environments, in which participants can playfully interact and at the same time achieve the desired sets of behaviours and goals of the game-makers. While the games themselves are competitive, gamification in real world scenarios is successful in connecting people and promoting a less individualistic and more cohesive society. Could the competitive elements of gamification connect us in an era dominated by a digital realm tearing us apart, while also increasing social productivity and civic participation in the process? Can competition truly be ruled as “bad” if it increases social interaction and innovation?

In “Cities and the politics of gamification”, Alberto Vanolo explores the impacts of gamification on urban environments as well as highlights the various methods of gamification successfully implemented in today’s society. By presenting an array of real world examples ranging from city “playgrounds” to democratic engagement, Vanolo illustrates the effectiveness of gamification in urban contexts in stimulating enthusiasm and participation in social, cultural, and political activities, ultimately employing the competitive instruments of games to increase social communication and interaction as a means of bettering the general population. Collective action as a response to gamification is exemplified through the mobile app Pokémon Go, a competitive game that allows for urban exploration within a digital world, greatly contrasting the general perception of video gaming as a socially reclusive activity, and instead promoting the importance of physical exercise and social interaction in a shared city landscape. One can also compare this to WeRun, a WeChat game that tracks an individual’s strides and allows them to compete with their friends over their average daily step count, promoting external interaction as a means of beating other competitors, and encouraging healthier levels of physical and social activity in the process.

In agreement with @malwedy’s post, in which social media applications were argued to be harming our ability to interact with our surrounding environment as well as fostering competitive relationships among users, a consequence of digital technology as a separating force rather than a coherent one. Gamification serves as a contradiction to social media in this perspective, promoting healthier uses of technology by allowing individuals to interact in a space beyond the digital realm while still using current trends in technology to make it equally as playful and enjoyable. Her response additionally mentions Nelson and Dawson’s analysis of the importance of competition as a driving factor in generating productivity and excitement, a phenomenon that Vanolo argues is essential to unifying individuals under the notion of gamification.

Ultimately, “Cities and the politics of gamification” describes cities as unique social environments in which competition in gamification serves as a primary means of physically connecting individuals in an era where technology has dominated every aspect of our social lives. While the implementation of gamification is understood as a positive use of technology in increasing social interaction, Vanolo’s article made me wonder that as technology begins to dominate the various different aspects of our lives, and is implemented in city landscapes, is it distorting our understanding of reality itself? As our physical and virtual lives become increasingly intertwined, and with the rapidly developing technologies of virtual reality, will technology reach a point where the real world and the digital world will become inseparable? Vanolo’s “Cities and the politics of gamification” offers a comprehensive contextual background for future research in the field of gamification and technology, hopefully leading researchers and technological developers to a future in which technological competition continues to exist within an urban environment, and not an urban environment existing within a technological reality.

A still from the short-film Hyper-Reality by Keiichi Mastuda, a visual demonstration of a terrifying future in which technology has dominated every aspect of human life to the point where the real world and the digital world are no longer separate. (Source: http://hyper-reality.co/)

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for your response. First, I found it brilliant and interesting how we had similar examples, and drew evidences from the same article, yet we have totally opposite opinions… haha. As I was reading your response, I’ve come across this particular quote where you stated “as technology begins to dominate the various different aspects of our lives, and is implemented in city landscapes, is it distorting our understanding of reality itself?” and connecting this particular sentence to your idea of gamification being positive, I wonder if gamification is perhaps distorting our understanding of reality itself, is it really an effective means of communication?

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  2. Thank you for your great post! I agree with you that the competitive feature in gamification can promote interaction and social cohesion, making technology “less bad”. However, people will be more reliant on mobile phones when gamification is applied to every aspects of social life. Since real face-to-face communication is becoming less and less, are people becoming more and more lonely in the future?

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  3. @tose1028 Thank you for your insight! In response to your question, I would again refer back to Nelson and Dawson’s article, in which moderation is stressed as an important factor in successful implementation of competitive processes. Similarly I would argue that while gamification and digital technology drive productivity in social environments, an excessive amount would distort our understanding of reality as our focus would shift away from the relationships and interactions we build, and towards the technology itself. Ultimately, moderate application of gamification and technology is key in increasing successful social interaction, and as my argument suggests, gamification is a response to a trend in digital technology that is distancing individuals from one another, a trend in which they are living merely in the digital landscape and not bringing their digital world outside to meet and interact with the real one.

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  4. @Rong Yu Thank you for your response! The concept that the reliance on digital technologies such as the mobile phone is central to my argument in that the features and applications of the mobile phone are geared towards a social lifestyle that is spent almost entirely within the digital realm, with little need for communication or interaction beyond what is inside the mobile phone itself. Gamification serves as a solution to the trend in digital social platforms that is physically distancing individuals from one another, as it provides them with an opportunity to meet face-to-face in an era dominated by technology and create genuine social relationships, whether that be through competitive or cooperative processes.

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