Videogames have grown up, why hasn’t the real world?

A couple of weeks ago Vice published an excellent article exploring how the current British 20-30 generation is struggling to grow up. Understandably it focused on the recent economic problems and the subsequent ramifications that this has had, notably on the ability to rent a house, let alone own one, as well as people delaying the prospect of starting a family even later. It’s well worth a read (although just to warn you the header image is NSFW).

After reading the piece it got me thinking about how the “real” world is failing to adapt and utilise aspects which are prevalent in videogames and are especially common place in mobile games which are played by an increasing majority of the population.

There are many industries that take full advantage of the technological advancements that define our lives outside of school and work, yet these industries are basically the ones behind the very items and services that help make people’s lives worth continuing.

The world is a very different place to what it was 100 years when The Great War was just starting. Life was clearly more difficult, yet people were willing to die to defend it. They realised there was something more, be it religion, family, or King and country. Today religion is seen as a cult by many, families are broken, and the country is led by people who are only concerned about whether they can remain in power.

Whilst it is overly dramatic to state that the only thing people can and should believe in are videogames, there is something about them that provide feedback that the real world is struggling to match.

I haven’t had a lot of jobs during my time, but out of the few that I have each has been quite different. The interesting thing with the mix is that half have been overall unrewarding, yet offered constant feedback making it at least tolerable, and the other half ultimately rewarding, but dragged down by an almost suffocating amount of bureaucracy that make experimentation or attempts at efficiency risky.

There has been talk about the need for what’s known as gamification in the workplace. This is essentially adding game-like mechanics to non-game contexts. In theory this is an excellent idea as something is needed to break the cycle where many people find themselves suffering under the drudgery of their monotonous 9-5 job, wondering why they are even doing it, especially as they still can’t even afford a house or even cover the rent for their pokey flat.

In videogames we happily grind through the same areas collecting non-essential items – because of reasons – and we continue to do so throughout multiple games. Why? Mostly because we feel rewarded for doing so. What’s more the reward varies, sometimes it might be a cool new weapon, an upgrade to a base, or just for the sake of getting to the next level. Jobs don’t offer the same instant gratification for doing the same task over and over again. Yes the “reward” might be your salary at the end of the month, but that’s not instant and nor is it particularly engaging.

In some jobs it is possible to implement a leaderboard set up, which is possibly the easiest way of incorporating gamification, yet competition of this nature in the workplace won’t work for every office. I have worked in a sales environment before, and whilst I wouldn’t strictly call what they used as gamification, the basics were all there. You could monitor your progress (so too could your manager) and see which days you “smashed” your target as well as when you had a “bad day”. In addition the managers could see who performed best over the day, or just for one afternoon block, for which they could award a prize to that person (Fact: cheap wine that’s won tastes much better).

I often joke that my current day job is like Papers Please (as well as holding it responsible for me getting the job in the first place), when ironically there are people who include the game in the category of “non-games”. Yet in Papers Please there are fail states, many different ones actually, and you can win as well. Whilst the win and lose states don’t apply to my job, the positive aspect of the game that is difficult to replicate in real life is instant feedback, such as when something goes wrong and even when something has gone well.

We would like to think that we would be praised for doing something well at work, but mostly this isn’t acknowledged and is simply viewed as getting on with the job. It is often our failures that are brought up, but these are often some time after the failure took place making it more difficult to learn from as the original action is no longer fresh in our memory. This is the benefit with videogames, as if we do something wrong, we are instantly aware of it and can learn from it straight away.

How this could be implemented in the workplace is not an easy process, especially when many businesses are more concerned about their costs than novel (and unproven) ways at incentivising their employees. Maybe if there was some way of creating an XP system where ones email proficiency could be leveled up that could result in being rewarded with a better keyboard?

There is no easy solution unfortunately and therefore it will remain that videogames will be the source of most instantaneous feedback in our lives whilst the real world continues weigh us down. The virtual world can seem better because we have more power over our existence and our actions, but the thing to remember is that it isn’t real. However if we try to apply a similar attitude that we employ towards in-game actions to the real world, instead of player agency we can engage life agency.


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