Surviving the Gamepocalypse


Gameslinger (and honorary Baxter) Jesse Schell foresees the “Gamepocalypse” — a time when life and game blur into an indistinguishable engagement goo. His momentum-confirming interview is peppered with anecdotes and harbingers of an Applied Gaming future. We have similar visions of the Gamepocalypse, to be sure, but occasionally ours are of the thermonuclear-playground-on-Judgment-Day variety.
Perhaps we’ve grown overly sensitive to marketing’s unwanted intrusions (ham-handed games could certainly poison authentic fun with cold-blooded commerce). Or perhaps we watched Wargames at a particularly impressionable age. But we reckon our nihilistic concerns stem from our love of red velvet cake and our dread of game fatigue.
Frankly, for as much as we hope to augment work, school, and life with the engagement power of games, we’re incredibly wary of the adverse effects of overconsumption. As with that most lusted after slice of cake — buttressed with berms of buttercream frosting on three sides – sometimes a richly rewarding experience can turn you off to the notion of cake altogether. Seriously.
For instance, to say that this Baxter has been dabbling in Words With Friends for the iPhone is to stretch the word “dabbling” far beyond Webster’s intent. She’s a beaut of a casual game and right up my alley. But I found the reward of playing soon supplanted by the anxiety of not playing and then not playing well enough. Indeed, my addictive personality (which I prefer to call “engagement-prone,” thankyouverymuch) glommed on to a Scrabble clone, even, and promptly sucked the fun right out of it.
As worker/players enter a new gameplay environment (particularly one that sponsored or mandated by an organization), they might face huge and discouraging disparities between experience players and noobs. Inevitably, in-game payoffs become tedious (designed, as they were, to satisfy short attention spans). And as game performance maps to job performance, with it might come the baggage of work-related stressors. As we are attuned to the engagement power of games, so too are we to their imperfections. When we expand the notions of game anxiety and game fatigue to the scale of the Gamepocalypse, we cannot help but consider the distopia.
We hope that our game design principles — such as ambiance and player discretion — make our concerns unfounded. But just in case, we’re playing a game of Stock Up on Canned Goods.

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