Life’s a Game

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Business; shopping; studying; your entire digital life – you could see them all as games. Or at least as areas where game play, and game theories, can teach us a lot about interaction and engagement.

Games were the dominant theme of this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) – the digital sector’s annual shindig in Austin, Texas last weekend. This huge geekfest is where the future is dreamt up, debated and sometimes sold to the highest bidder.

Here the discussion about games was not about consoles or brand extensions for films, but using game theories as the basis for developing entirely new services and products, understanding the gameplay mechanics at the heart of social commerce for example.

Everywhere I went across the vast conference campus, people were thinking about the ‘game layer’ that digital media adds on top of our lives, where ‘people like us’ gabble in social media, buy and sell, engage and market. Entrepreneurs were redesigning it, marketers were looking to harness it, designers aiming to make it ever more vibrant.

It all made for a slightly surreal feel – this perspective that we are building an additional layer on top of our lives. The idea that as a society we’re increasingly trying to lose ourselves in a game layered on top of everyday life.

Of course SXSW ‘people like us’ are not the whole of society. They’re more likely than most to have spent teenage years striving to reach level 14, and far more likely to be a 24-year-old billionaire as a result.

But recent years’ SXSWs have thrust first Twitter and then Foursquare from obscurity onto the world stage. So I for one won’t be overlooking what I saw this year. Whether or not you want to play games with your life, it can’t harm to understand who is setting the rules and how the dice might fall.