The steady progression of technology is quickly turning everything we know into a game, where the only winners will be the companies who want to sell their products.
Carnegie Mellon University professor and game designer Jesse Schell predicts that within five years, your toothbrush will be connected to the internet, and the more often you brush your teeth, the more financial incentives you will be given to continue brushing. This, he says, is but one of the many ways companies will begin developing products to turn your life into a game, a system that rewards you for using its products by offering coupons and price reductions to continue to use and buy the same products.
"In short, we already see games creeping into our everyday lives in all kinds of funny ways," Schell said. "You go to Starbucks, and you get points if you have a Starbucks card. And, in fact, they have a whole leveling system. The more times you visit, the more you move from level green up to gold level, with special privileges and free soy milk."
Schell said the ubiquity of games is increasing as technology allows for easier tracking of our habits and even our very facial expressions. This has created a loss of privacy that has been steadily creeping up on us over the past few years, he said. "We all have choices to make about what aspects of our privacy we want to give away. We're already making choices like that all the time. Anybody who uses Gmail has decided, 'Yeah, I think it's OK for a major corporation to carefully sniff through every word of every e-mail I send and try to automatically come up with a profile of what sorts of things I might want to buy and then pop up distracting messages, specifically designed to distract me, based on my interests, on the side of the page.'"
So why have companies capitalized on games? The appeal, Schell says, is that a game can be won. In real life, most of the problems we encounter do not have a clear winner or loser, which is frustrating. By turning everything into a game, the companies can give us a way to "win" in life, all the while promoting their own products. "The part that I worry about the most is sort of the perverse incentives that these systems are going to try to create," Schell said. "Largely, the companies won't be caring about our health and welfare. They're going to be caring about, 'Can I manipulate you into doing things that help the company?'"
Who would have thought the future of gaming could be so scary?