“the only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian”

Ever since “boredom” became an unnecessary part of modern living, the trend has been to turn everything into a game resulting the trend coined: gamification.  In other cultures and eras, boredom (i.e., the antithesis of stimulation) was a critical part of self-actualization and achieving nirvana, and it was even sought out (think: monasteries, reflection gardens, chapels). Our culture prides itself on productivity and shuns laziness. So, spending time doing nothing and not being “engaged” or “stimulated” is akin to failure.

Today, the most mundane task or communication strives to be “entertaining” to capture and keep the attention of an ADHD nation. “Engagement” has become an overused business term. Most business schools now offer classes in CE (customer engagement). This is driving the gamification trend, and using games to engage is sly because…

Neuroscientists have found that our bodies give us a jolt of the chemical dopamine, which creates a “high”, when we play games. Especially when we win.  Dopamine is responsible for the good feelings we get from sex and chocolate. And, you may have heard of video game addicts in “gamer rehab”? As pleasure-seeking animals, we become addicted to feelings that are triggered from the chemistry of games.  You’ll look at your Sudoko in a whole new way now.

‘tainment culture

This pursuit of happiness has spawned “entertainment + anything” industries around portmanteaus, such as edu-tainment, promo-tainment, eater-tainment, retail-tainment, digi-tainment, brand-tainment, mobi-tainment, etc.    And now, with the 2012 Olympics, we have the birth of a new one: “spec- tainment.”

For many, it’s no longer satisfying to simply watch a sporting event or concert; the ante has been upped and there is now an expectation that there will be additional entertainment while spectating. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are an analog form of this. In today’s digital world, the mobile phone is playing a key roll in gamifying life (and sporting events).

gamified Games

These Olympic Games are different from those held in the past 114 years, as we’ve experienced huge technological leaps in the past Olympiad. Namely, the ubiquity of smartphones, and the omni-presence of social networks. Pundits have called these Olympics the “social games” and the “mobile games”, but they’re also the first “gamified games.”

The IOC launched an official “Mobile Game App” presumably to entertain spectators during down time. It’s a simplistic child-like video game featuring different athletes  (avatars) playing a variety of games.  But, dozens of independent Olympic game Apps are on the market. For example, the Finger Olympics game App for iPhones can be downloaded from iTunes. Samsung has launched the Take Part 2012 App, which is a suite of games designed for it’s Galaxy phones, and even exploits Augmented Reality. Cool, but whatever happened to being in the moment?

While these Olympics were only partially gamified, the gamification trend will likely result in the 2014 Winter Olympics being much more gamified. Expect more “spec-tainment” in the future.

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One thought on ““the only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian”

  1. Very interesting perspective, Sarah! I only peripherally experienced the Olympics, but I definitely noticed how pervasively they infected the twittersphere.

    I wrote about gamification recently, focusing mostly on using it for my own personal development. I think it’s important to consider the use of it in marketing, though, and I appreciate your points here.

    If you’re interested in another view, you can find my post at http://theinterestingtimes.de.nu/2012/08/interesting-times-the-game/

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