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July 13, 2010 / Joe Osborne

Coffee Talk: Will Our Second Lives Soon Become Our First?

Welcome to Geekadelphia’s weekly discussion column, Cofffee Talk, where we talk about the finer topics concerning video games, technology and all the other things you can’t talk about with your slightly-less-geeky friends. Have questions or suggestions? Send an email to geekadelphia@gmail.com or tweet with us. Follow me on Twitter if you’d like to keep this week’s discussion alive.

A strange question that inspires visions of our favorite cyberpunk novels and The Matrix, but in all honesty it might be one that we should be considering more sincerely. Our friends at Technabob recently posted the video of Carnegie Mellon University professor Jesse Schell’s presentation at DICE 2010. Let’s just say it was strange (just watch the video), but poignant in the sense that while you may not agree with his ideas, this may not be far off the mark of where we are headed in the next twenty years.

What Schell is talking about here is a future where instead of folks with marketing and advertising degrees telling us how to act, what to like and, most importantly, what to buy we’ll be directed by those with degrees in game design. His supporting evidence is largely the goal and reward based games of Facebook like Zynga’s Farmville and Mafia Wars and the achievement driven meta games that many consoles and PC games host today. Consider what motivates you Farmville addicts and achievement junkies as we take a look beyond the jump.

With viral marketing the norm today and video games becoming more casual mainstream yearly, Schell feels that the unison of marketing and gaming is inevitable. This would be accomplished by designing every advertising scheme and marketing campaign as a mini game that drives our everyday behavior.

He uses an example of how brushing your teeth will award bonus points to be spent on swag from the toothpaste company since the future’s toothbrush will be able to sense this information and relay it to the toothbrush headquarters. Is your head spinning yet?

In all honesty, we already live in this type of a society on a much smaller scale. How many frequent shopper cards, gas cards or credit cards attached to free video game time do you have? It’s as if we’re already headed in this direction, but is that a good thing?

If our minds are constantly fixated on how many achievements and points we have, will the current social system of displayable self worth transform into that? Will people no longer judge others on socioeconomic status but on what could be called a ‘life score’ that’s essentially perpetuated by advertisers? At that point, perceptions of worth won’t change, just the semantics. And more importantly, the same folks will be pulling the strings.

However, Schell does raise a good point: this system of social motivation can be in the designers’ control if it’s handled correctly from the start for the people’s benefit.

“Is it possible, maybe, that since all this stuff is being watched and measured and judged that maybe I should change my behavior a little bit and be a little better than I would have been,” says Schell on the potential benefit of this goal driven market society. “It could be that these systems are all just crass commercialization and it’s terrible, but it’s possible that they’ll inspire us to be better people if the game systems are designed right.”

Schell’s aforementioned words are absolutely key to this system if it’s to be for our benefit. The systems (not just the games, but the motivation and value systems) must be designed correctly and established firmly from the beginning. Is it possible that this will become the lead motivator in our societies? Sure, but whether it’s in the right direction is up for debate.

[Image via Pittsburg Business Times]

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