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Making Our Way to the Gamepocalypse

by Erin McHugh / December 16, 2010

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

Gamification – i.e. the use of gaming techniques employed in non-game scenarios – is more than just the buzzword of the month. Tangible evidence of its existence is popping up everywhere online, from badges and mayorships to virtual currency and competitions that boast real world rewards.

Unsurprisingly, a quick look at the iTunes store reveals what I refer to as “trend panic” – applications desperate to latch onto the monetary success of gaming pushing an obvious sales agenda over utility and entertainment value. But, as mobile screens become more and more prevalent in our lives, those apps sprouting up to gamify the minutiae of ordinarily mundane tasks are improving.

Though the concept has been slowly gaining momentum for years now, evolving from the literal gamification of Manhattan with 2004’s PacManhattan to integral games such as Foursquare, 2011 is looking ripe with opportunities for app and game builders alike to make their mark.

Already they are covering ground, gamifying the day-to-day at work (EpicWin is both a to-do list and a role playing game); enhancing dating lives (Urban Signals uses geo-location to introduce local singles to one another in real time, in the real world); and motivating health (Healthmonth empowers players to create their own health-related rules and challenges each month and then places them on teams with likeminded individuals).

The current library of successful apps spans nearly every subject imaginable, hinting at the coming of what game designer Jesse Schell has coined the “gamepocalypse.” In this hypothetical but seemingly inevitable future, gaming will impact every aspect of our lives.

More interesting still is the potential of such a gamepocalypse to redefine systems thinking. It’s already beginning to happen on an experimental level in both education and community planning:

Quest to Learn is a new model of school built with the underlying design principals of games in mind. At Q2L, kids learn, explore and interact with real world problems through less real world environments (e.g., lessons on “enemy movement” learned via a community of spiky-headed robots roving inside a computer game).

World Without Oil – “play it before you live it” – is a massive multiplayer online game which lets users create an alternate reality using digital media to see how their lives and the world around them would be affected by an oil shortage. The result is a crowdsourced story that is close enough to the truth to get people to care and talk about preventing such a crisis from coming to fruition.

Hawaii 2050 is Hawaii’s sustainability plan for the next 40 years, based on what its citizens want for the future of their economy, society and environment. To get the conversation started in 2006, hundreds of delegates were immersed in four diverse scenarios, representing possible futures for the state. These included a high-growth world, a limited-growth outcome, a collapse scenario and even a near-Singularity possibility.

What are some apps and initiatives that you find inspiring? Jane McGonigal, Director of Games Research and Development at the Institute for the Future, predicts that we will see a game designer win a Nobel Prize within our lifetimes. At our current speed of gamification, I’d be shocked if she was wrong.

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