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Does the World Need a Game Layer?

Seth Preibatsch of Scvngr is getting a lot of attention at SXSW this week for his presentation, entitled "The Game Layer on Top of the World". He demonstrated some of his ideas by applying them to our education system, calling it a poorly designed game.

His talk owes a great debt to Jane McGonigal who is a researcher in games and how they can be used to improve society. Her tag line and the title of her new book is "Reality is broken."

Really? Is gaming, used today by many to distract themselves from reality, going to help people create a new reality? Or said another way, do we need to put a game layer on the world?

Don't get me wrong. I understand that gaming is a huge industry. It's the "gaming" talk that gives me pause. Putting a "game layer on the world" seems to me to be a different shade of the "Happiness" craze we're experiencing right now. Where the pursuit of happiness has become a pressure to be happy and world issues have to be spoon fed to citizens like vitamins in a steak to a dog. It makes me curious what would happen if Seth and Jane were locked in a room with Amy Chua.

Still I applaud what Seth and Jane are trying to do—discover ways to motivate people to care about themselves, their families, and their worlds.

Most incentive and behavioral research will tell you, however, that no amount of extrinsic motivation will produce long term, sustainable results and that to truly change someone's behavior the motivation must come from within.

Does it make sense to get there with games? While play is an intrinsically motivated activity, "gaming" suggests a construct that may actually take away from what people like Seth and Jane are hoping to accomplish in society.

If the goal is to leverage what makes us human, I wonder why we can't start with how our humanity affects our reality, instead of trying to change reality to get at our humanity. I don't have a cool made up word for it, like "gamification." But maybe we could just call it getting real.

Get back to life, back to reality at www.aliciamorga.com.

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