A Syrian woman named Karima, 28 years old, left without securities in the middle of a nation’s struggle, with 2 children clinging to her hands. What would you do? Would you try to flee to Europe or to Turkey? Would you go on trying if you’ve experienced several setbacks, or would you stay in the safe but apathetic surroundings of a refugee camp?
You will be faced with these kinds of questions if you visit theguardian.com and take part in their interactive scheme about refugees’ choices.
It’s only one example of the trend of gamification, which is more and more gaining importance in the field of online media. The audience is drawn in by game mechanics, and experiences certain situations that take place outside of the usual game context. It’s often not about winning, but about taking part, reading and processing information, and working (sometimes unconsciously) towards a solution.
After discovering different examples of gamification (from the Speed Camera Lottery to experiencing the Haiti earthquake), I figured that there is one important element missing in gamification: It lacks the connection to reality, and implied consequences. It is a good start to think about the hardships a Syrian woman has to face when she tries to flee to a safer place with her children, because most of us are not aware what problems this journey contains. But there is one question that came directly to my mind: Does this virtual contact with human misery make us participate actively in such events, because we now know how individuals feel in this situation? Or, do we rather become more convenient and sit back, because we reckon we already know what it’s like to be a victim of extreme conditions? Might we even think it’s hopeless to intervene, because we bore witness to the virtual equivalent of a desperate experience? I cannot find an answer, because the answer to this question lies inside all of us. We are the ones to decide whether this process of game thinking got us more engaged or less. And this is, finally, what makes this approach most precious: It offers us this special moment of decision, in which we can either take a step forward or backward. Gamification gives us a potential changing point, and it’s on us if we make use of it or let it pass.
Seen from this perspective, I would say that game mechanics have the ability to help solve a certain communication challenge. The challenge of our time is to get out of our passivity and get in contact with the actual events and the people who are experiencing them. Gamification can help us to find the motivation to talk, ask, discuss, and discover other people’s lives. Because the one thing that catches our attention is the scenario of ourselves in this exact time, place and location: What would you do?