Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Today, a close friend directed me to the About page of Gameful, which is part of an initiative to use the powerful behavior-influencing motivators in games as a tool for good in the world. What do I make of addiction control for the sake of good in the world? I have weird feelings about it.

I downplay the worth of games that push the addiction button over and over again but wind up caught in their grasp over and over again (I'm currently addicted to the carroting in AC: Brotherhood despite getting little else out of it), so the idea of being addicted to world improvement is a deeply compelling one. But I've had a lifelong interest in delivering human experience and emotion through artistry, and advancing art, which I feel has a slow yet positive impact on human morality. It feels weird then, to skip that step and just trick everyone into being good.

What better way, though, when human instinct drives so much else? I should just be happy the two ideas aren't mutually exclusive.

Update: I've been rightfully called out on my Gameful take. See comments for more.


  1. It is indeed an interesting idea full of questionable ethics but I'm really not sure what on the about page could translate into addiction or addiction control for you. I don't see any direct mention or allusion; though no less valid it is perhaps a personal attribution?

    My personal take, though I've only begun to investigate - on the philosophy of Gameful is quite the opposite - to me the rewiring or hijacking of human psychology present in these psuedo-life interactions is exactly what they aim to overcome within the medium. Light overcoming darkness rather than fighting fire with fire (Which logically only makes a larger fire).

    "As long as the project has a stated goal of making our real lives, or the real world, better — and not just to entertain us..."

    "games specifically designed to a have a positive impact on the real world, or on our real lives"

    Though I will say it's not as simple as intent - there is plenty of evil that has been done in the name of good. I believe evil controls while good provokes.

    On a related note to your thoughts on addiction, I'm struggling with the purpose of escapism in our lives.

  2. Hey Alan,

    Thanks for stopping by Gameful. +10 points.


    Co-Founder, Natron Baxter Applied Gaming

  3. I agree with you that there are ethical implications to a lot of the commonly-used mechanisms in game design. Like Tom, though, the page you linked to doesn't immediately jump out at me as being focused on that. I agree with the goal of designing games to have a positive impact on people's lives.

    I recently read this interview with Jonathan Blow; it's a lot like the presentation he gave recently which I sent you the link to. But something I found interesting there and which kind of relates to the idea of incentivizing real-world actions with some kind of "achievements" system or other rewards schedule is the point that for activities which aren't boring, those systems make them seem boring.

  4. Nice catch. It is personal attribution brought about by skimming instead of investigating, though tokyocrunch didn't help by giving me +10 points.

    My reaction comes from conflating Gameful with a "McGonigal mission" I imply from her TED Talk and the EVOKE game, the latter of which I also skimmed and may have the wrong impression of (though not necessarily a bad one). In her TED Talk, McGonigal uses World of WarCraft as an example of how gamers are capable of accomplishing great things with the right motivators. This implied to me that the goal and achievement structure commonly used in addictive play -- and that looked like the backbone of EVOKE -- would motivate positive behavior. I'm reacting to this notion.

    But it is personal attribution to push this reaction onto Gameful because also listed as an example on the About page is flOwer, which is not about pushing buttons to motivate behavior, but pushing your buttons to motivate positive emotion, and emotions are exactly what I want from games.

    Muddying things further, I have really fuzzy lines about the use of addiction. I rather don't mind it, and even think pure addiction with nothing else can sometimes impact lives positively. I just always wanted something more than addiction motivating fun behavior. That "more" was always artistry and emotion. But what about addiction motivating action to feed homeless people, cure disease, and solve poverty? It may do so with no emotion other than fun, but could indirectly usher experiences and emotions more powerful than any artistry would have, otherwise.

    The weirdness is that evoking emotions other than fun may be less effective than evoking fun that results in indirect emotion. As a simple example, a goal & achievement structure may motivate me to be a Big Brother to someone, and convey the emotions of protectiveness and caring in Ico much better than Ico ever would. It doesn't invalidate Ico, but as an artist, I have to be curious about this.

    Finally, if I take fun out of the mission statement and focus on artistry that bears positive results on life, I understand flOwer being on the short list but hate vilifying mainstream games because Silent Hill and Call of Duty can have just as positive an impact. (They just don't need a defense nearly as much as flOwer needs an offense.)

  5. I am impossibly upset right now. I lost a huuuge reply that covered all my bases, that I spent all morning writing up, that Blogger rejected for size and wouldn't let me recover.

    To summarize:
    (a) You are right, I am reacting to McGonigal's Ted Talk and EVOKE, not Gameful.
    (b) My weirdness comes from comparing the effectiveness of artistry that provokes fun versus artistry that provokes other emotions, and am interested in talking about it.
    (c) My weirdness also comes from wanting to defend the positive value of games like Silent Hill and Call of Duty, which don't need defense nearly as much as flOwer needs an offense.

    I'll try to drum up a post on these points without throwing Blogger under the bus. Grumble, grumble...

  6. Nevermind! I can only curse Blogger for claiming to lose my post when it didn't!