Imagine if real life had an achievement system. Imagine if you could earn ‘points’ for helping around your neighbourhood, which you could then spend on various rewards, such as movie tickets, or a free flight, or a brand new tv. Different acts would have to be valued and assigned a certain reward. Litter picking could grant a small amount of points whereas volunteering at a homeless shelter would surely deserve a bigger prize. The most startling thing about this is that I may not have to imagine this for much longer. Apparantly, my local council is trying to finalise plans to introduce this system sometime in the near future.
They’re hoping to team up with a well established points system such as Nectar, which rewards customers for shopping in a select number of stores. I have one of these cards myself, and so long as I buy my groceries at Sainsburys, fill up at BP, and even buy my new games via the Nectar website, I’ll earn points. Now, the best thing about this is that I’m going to do these things anyway, so what’s the harm in taking an extra couple of seconds to swipe my Nectar card at the checkout and earn a few points? Once I have enough, I’ll be able to buy a new HD TV!
It’s game logic. All good game designers know that we enjoy any game that rewards us for playing it. They have been doing this for a while now, dishing out trophies and achievements for completing any number of often bonus or optional tasks, but are we really on the verge of applying a similar system to real life? Think about the implications this could have on the way you live. I already hate the way achievements tempt me to play my game a certain way, now I’m going to have to resist the same urges to live my life a certain way too? Cripes. The scariest part is I can see more benefits to such a system being introduced than not! Picture it: chavs actually using litter bins instead of the gutter. Sure, they aren’t becoming pleasant citizens out of the goodness of their heart, but we will still have slightly tidier streets. There’s surely no downside to giving people a helping hand in suggesting what the good thing to do is, and rewarding them for it. And of course none of it is compulsory – if you don’t do these good deeds, you won’t get your points.
Is this right though? Who’s going to value each act? How many points is my neighbour Frank going to get for picking up his dog’s turd off the pavement, compared to me recycling my glass at the bottle bank? Will we start demanding points for every little thing we do? Theres definitely something sinister about this whole thing, even though the benefits seem so obvious.
This entire concept was brought to my attention by a writer I’ve known since I was at school, called Max Barry. He’s funny, he appreciates games and writes good books. Go check out this amusing article he did for The Guardian, which is all about the potential for a perfect society built on points.