Shall We Play a Game?

In the science fiction novel Ender’s Game, a young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, believes that he is at military school, learning how to play a computer war simulation game.  In reality, Ender has been genetically engineered to excel in military tactics and is the hope of humanity, who have been attacked by an alien insect species.  As his final examination, Ender must defend the earth from a series of attackers. He passes the exam by attempting a desperate aggressive maneuver, which utterly wipes out the attacker’s home world but which also destroys most of his own fleet.  After completing the battle simulation, the young Ender – along with the reader – learns that the simulated “final exam” was actually a real life battle, and that in fact many of the warships that Ender ordered to be sacrificed were manned by his own friends from the military academy.  The Earth won the war but at a great cost, and Ender became deeply depressed.

Ender’s Game and its element of attack by a hostile alien species is, thankfully, wholly within the realm of science fiction.  However, the idea that people could be working while they play a video game – in some instances without even knowing that they are working – is becoming part of our reality.  In the language of cyberspace, introducing elements of fun or game-playing into everyday tasks or through simulations is known as the process of “gamification.”  Gamification is a hot new trend among Internet companies – and that is no surprise, given how much additional attraction a website can attract with the addition of gaming.  It’s not just Angry Birds or Farmville that keep your attention on Facebook – there are whole companies built around a gaming model.   Take the example of Scvnger, which uses a mobile app to send its customers on “treasure hunts” to different local businesses, allowing them to earn points for mentioning the business on social media.  As Danielle points out in her post below, the data collection aspects of many new technologies (including gamification) are worthy of consideration; in my next few posts I’ll analyze the gamification trend and its other legal implications in more depth.

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2 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    “the idea that people could be working while they play a video game – in some instances without even knowing that they are working” — an ingenious combination of the alienation of labor with a (new) opium of the masses. (For younger readers: see works of K. Marx.)

  2. Miriam A. Cherry says:

    Wasn’t thinking about it from a Marxist perspective, but, yeah, coming from that direction… it fits.