Games and Personal Development

13 03 2008


Ubisoft are making a weight management game. It sounds like Nike+ Lite (or maybe heavy). It’ll use a pedometer coupled with the DS and game mechanics to help people set goals and manage their weight. I love this kind of interactive work, and the technology to implement it has recently become a lot more basic and thus cheaper. Interactive has an incoming dark side though…

I’ve been using Nike+ since last October, and i love it. It’s a very game-like service. A sensor in your shoe connects to a sensor on an ipod nano, recording data and, as you run, periodically giving you vocal status updates on your pace, total time, distance covered, and distance to your goal.

Once you’re done, iTunes connects to the Nike+ website and uploads your run data, where each run can be graphed, compared to others, and mapped. As well as setting a mileage goal on the iPod each time you go out, the site also allows users to set and track long term goals, which keeps me motivated and thinking about running even when I’m not doing it.

Given that I prefer VLC to iTunes, and feel very queasy about Nike’s labour history, Nike+ has to be quite a compelling service to have snagged me so deeply. Tying things to game mechanics works, and providing access to data also turns people into self-educating geeks: From knowing virtually nothing and being prone to injuries in previous years, I’ve gone to knowing about running gaits, foot types and the right kinds of shoe for them, and as a result, am now able to run much further with far fewer injuries.

What’s really lacking is a social aspect. I know several people who use it, but we have no proper way to search, connect, share or look at each other’s data. There is no real way to communicate through the site or find others. The furthest it goes is to create challenges and either open them to everyone, or invite friends who’s screennames or emails I already know.

There’s a palpable sense of a next step that’s missing: That I’m on my own when I’m using Nike+, or that game mechanics are missing when I’m using Facebook.

It appears that this growing bubble of interactive services is going to turn my life into an MMO, and I largely welcome it. I’d like to shape its future development too, as I’m acutely aware that the technology is ethically inert. Jane McGonigal and Raph Koster talk about using games to save the world and that they’re the best medium to contribute to that, and I think they’re largely correct, but points and data alone are quite compelling when you present them to people in the right way.

Technically, the same kind of system could be devised to work with “sitting on your ass eating junk food and watching TV”. The Obama campaign is using Twitter right now, how long before a campaign actually uses game mechanics for influence? How sugar coated a pill could game mechanics be for drip-feeding people ideology or propaganda?

At first blush it seems like self-interest would limit the power ARGs and MMOs could have over people, but reading something like The System by Cao Yunwu makes it all too apparent that people are not always rational choosers. Of course there are going to be cultish, astroturf ARGs that exploit this one day.

(CC image by portfolium)



One response

12 06 2008
The Dark Side of Play « Pixel-love

[…] I’ve pointed out here before, like technology games are for the most part morally inert, and specific manifestations can […]

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