As I was writing this column, my nine-year-old came up to me and with a big smile on his face, pointed to the back of the cereal box where a colorful, high-contrast logo clearly attracted his attention. “Collect 6 codes” to earn a “movie ticket,” it read. Reading the fine print, it advertised the incentive: you get to download an e-movie. This, right here, is gamification on multiple levels: it’s the collection of codes, and you, the player, are expected to spend real money on additional boxes, hopefully finding six unique codes to send in to obtain access to a virtual product, one that the game creators need spend no additional money on to replicate and distribute. I suspect my nine-year-old got more than he bargained for because he got an impassioned mini-lecture on gamification:
There’s a saying you’ve likely heard: the house always wins. The creators of the game always win in the long term. If they’re the creators, it means that you’re the player, and though you might win from time to time (think rats getting their sugar pellets in a lab that’s experimenting with behaviorism), the cereal company wins in the end. Why? Simply because you’re the means by which the game creators make money. They made the rules so that they’ll win in the long run. They win so that the game can be continued. Without them winning, there wouldn’t be a game.
Another lesson my nine-year-old learned: don’t come near daddy when he’s writing about gamification.
Eugene Gan is Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States. His book, Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media is grounded in Scripture and magisterial documents, and is a handbook and practical guide for understanding and engaging media in meaningful and healthy ways in daily life.