The Metaverse Pretends That Life Is A Game. That’s The Whole Problem.
Do you remember gamification? I do.
As does, I imagine, anyone else who was avidly following the rise of silicon valley social tech companies like Facebook from about, say, 2010 to 2016, the last moment when said companies were still generally portrayed in the broader discourse as innovative and genuinely helpful.
In some ways, gamification was the last big hurrah of silicon valley before the Trump era, exemplified by a mega-meme moment from a Hillary Clinton campaign event in late 2016. ‘Gamification’ was often hailed as the idea that with a few little bits of technocratic finetuning, our life could be perfect. This is exactly the kind of Nudge-type thinking that liberalism in the pre-Trump era often took an easy comfort in, before the aftermath of 2016 made anyone paying any attention to tech (or anything else) realize that small nudges wouldn’t do the trick.
For those who don’t remember, here’s quick and dirty summary of a lot of different people’s work:
‘Gamification’ is the process of ‘gamifying’, and to ‘gamify’ is to, well, turn something that’s not a game into something that at least has aspects of a game — reward-punishment patterns that make progress addictive, being hard but not too hard, making it clear what you’re supposed to do without getting too monotonous/boring, etc..
Many attempts at gamification aren’t about transforming something into a game wholesale, but about exploring how to lift the mechanics of gameplay into areas that we don’t usually think of as games, with the goal of making them more rewarding, perhaps more conducive to the flow-state you find yourself in before you look up at the clock and realize you’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda, or Candy Crush, or Elden Ring for five hours.
Gamification, we were told, would make our lives better by, say, devising education programs to help students catch up, or fitness programs that’d assuage the frustration early in a new health regimen, perhaps even programs of civic engagement that could make becoming a ‘better citizen’ painless. Maybe even aid in making us better neighbors, better people. What if you could look up and find you had spent five painless hours in committed self-betterment? What a score that…