Over on Grantland, Portland writer/professor/gamer Tom Bissell talks about "Gamification," the increasingly unavoidable practice of earning "achievement points for doing things like brushing our teeth or working out." (I spotted this and this taped to the wall of the Mercury's kitchen this morning, which promptly awoke in me an irresistible surge of contrarianism—one that inspired me to not only take the last of the coffee but also bring garbage all the way from my desk into the kitchen and then leave it in the sink. I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR EMPTY GAMES.) The concept of Gamification—and discussion of it—is hardly new, but Bissell has an interesting point: That it has has started to ruin videogames themselves. Like Dead Island:
Someone at Techland, I suspect, played Borderlands, loved the hit-point cascades pouring off the enemies, loved the endless customization of weapons, loved the facile thrill of leveling up, and decided, "I think our riveting open-world zombie game needs all of this." If this is indeed what happened, I would like the party responsible to know that he made a terrible, terrible mistake. For one thing: "Leveling up." Why do this in a game with no naturally occurring RPG trappings? What purpose does it serve? If the goal is to ensure equal difficulty throughout a game experience, so that player strength and enemy strength are always rivalrous, why not, you know, just sort of design the game to do that invisibly? But why level up, anyway, if the game is going to stay equally difficult throughout? You leveled up and rolled the dice in Dungeons & Dragons because it was impossible to run such systems under the game's hood. You know why? Because there wasn't a hood. Video games not only have hoods but also engines, and all manner of delightfully invisible computation can be dealt with and handled there. So I ask: Why isn't it invisible more often? Why this useless Gamification of what are already games? Why do we tolerate it? What do we actually get out of it, other than some mouse-brain satisfaction of knowing exactly where we are in the maze?
The whole thing's here, and it's well worth a read, regardless of whether you play videogames or are desperately attempting to win the fuck out of your office's exhilarating Kitchen Challenge. Thanks to Grant for the heads up.