The Gamification of Gaming


I’ve noticed many of my fellow gamers have a tendency to gamify the act of playing games. Gaming ends up becoming a form of work. Gamers have backlogs to work through, games that “need” to be played. Boardgamers lament their shelf of shame, and come up with goals (play a game X times, play X games X times, and so on). Goals and challenges can be a lot of fun, but for some it evolves into a source of stress. I have friends that keep incredibly detailed playlists documenting the fun they’re having. Is it still fun at that point? It certainly can be, but it’s important to self-evaluate from time to time.

I think part of this stems from the fact that games themselves represent a promise. Games are ostensibly fun, and we usually play games to have fun. So if you buy a game, and it’s just sitting there, it’s not doing what it’s supposed to do–give you fun. There are a lot of things that factor into whether any given game experience is fun. Do you have time to play? If it’s multiplayer, do you have people to play with? In the case of video games, do you have hardware to run the game properly? In the case of boardgames, can you properly manage and organize the physical components? I think a lot of gamer dissatisfaction, especially in the tabletop realm, stems from not factoring these elements in prior to purchase. FOMO (fear of missing out), which has heavily influenced tabletop Kickstarter culture, is driven by that promise of fun, or that anticipation of a good time.

Recently on the SGOYT (Solitaire Games on Your Table) thread a few players mentioned feeling pressure to play a game so they could post about it. I think this can sometimes happen to players who write about games: the sense that one must play a game simply so one can write about, or otherwise produce content about, the game. At this point it’s not necessarily about the game anymore.

This represents a consumption-creation imbalance. If you need to consume a thing just so you can create a thing, that means you have creative energy that needs to get out, and there may be more satisfying ways to go about it. There is an artificial barrier (must play game) preventing creation (to write about playing game). It’s not necessarily about the game at that point anymore, it’s more about one’s creative energy. A number of sub-hobbies have arisen to fill gamers’ creative needs that remain peripheral to the hobby: miniature painting, foamcore/insert design, print and play, game design contests, and so on.

Sometimes, as human beings, we just need to make stuff. There is a creative drive that must be satisfied and in some cases the end result isn’t as important as fulfilling that drive. You see this all the time on sites driven by user-created content, NeoCities is a great example actually. I think people can, and should, create whatever they want, but as someone who has a tendency to spin their wheels and make things to make things, I do try to think about which creative outlets are really going to be the most fulfilling for me. I love print and play, for example, but I don’t necessarily want to be a person who makes 1,000 games and never plays any of them because that doesn’t make me feel very good about my labor.

This post got derailed slightly. I’ll talk about backlogs and shelves of shame tomorrow.