I invite you to take a journey with game designer Jesse Schell as his mind goes for a little stroll in the near future. He gave a talk in February 2010 at the DICE summit that is being called the most disturbing presentation ever. I'd like to keep open the possibility of getting my mind equally blown somewhere down the line. So, I'm only going as far as to call it the most disturbing presentation of the year.
In Jesse Schell's future we will still shop, eat cereal, brush our teeth and watch TV. But everything we do and (more importantly) all the information we attend to will win us points and benefits across a vast incentives network engineered by corporations and government entities. Or, more tersely: we will live in a game. Two things need to happen for this future to arrive.
1. Technology, specifically sensors, must become disposable and ubiquitous.
2. Companies need to hire game designers and put them in charge of marketing schemes.
Throughout the video, Schell dips down into the present to point out how close we already are to living in a game. Sensors are all over the place and are becoming more sophisticated every day as new products come out like the body movement tracker, Natal, for the XBox. And a working point system is already there for game designers to build upon and integrate. Earning frequent flier miles is just a beginning.
Schell's apparent goal is not to scare his audience. He's way beyond that. His attitude is that, given how close we already are in theory to experiencing life as a game, it's clearly something that's going to happen and we better make sure it gets done right.
But, sorry Schell. While you may not have wanted to, you scared me and a whole bunch of other people. That's why I urge people to watch until the very end of the video where Schell suddenly contorts his theory into a miraculous bit of optimism, imagining a future so documented and monitored that humanity is compelled to clean up its act, read the right books, eat the right foods, say the right things, and where we are all delivered at last from the vices of anonymity.
Hmmm…I'm still scared.
NOTE: This is only a portion of the talk. The full, 28-minute video is available here and is well worth watching.
UPDATE: Mayor Bloomberg tried to set up an incentives program in New York City that would pay out money to citizens for everyday good behaviors like going to the dentist. The NY Times reported that the program failed. I wonder if it would have been more successful had game theorists designed the system.