I hope this never happens, even though it already has.
If we accept that gamification’s more about finding behavior to reward with points than it is about the act of rewarding, then obviously you’ll need people who are capable of designing for behavioral outcomes. Facebook currently does it: in their design process, they’re always looking for “serotonin,” the neurotransmitter that they say is responsible for the little kick of excitement you get when you see the Facebook notification icon turn red*. Big-name movie production companies put people in brain scanners to fine-tune the editing of trailers so that they’ll give the biggest biochemical kick to the watcher’s brain.
And if we do that, then we end up with services, sites, products, and art that are as focused on inducing pleasure as they are devoid of everything else that matters for building long-term, deep enjoyment. Sure, building deeper and more meaningful emotional connections requires similar thinking, but just because pleasure is the easiest button to press doesn’t mean it’s the only one to aim for. Try saying that to proponents of gamification.
And the people who do make deeply satisfying and engaging art? They’re not called gamification designers, and they’re rarely called designers. Mostly, they’re called artists, and yes. There is definitely a place for them. As for the people who are gamifying things today, they may think that they’re not just adding badges on top of meaningless behavior. But they are. At best, the badge is another step removed, and it’s got a fancy chemical name and an important role in our brain’s reward systems, but it’s still a badge, and it’s a symbol for something that is not the only part of a meaningful human life.
Because Shakespeare says it best:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
What we call “gamified” will always feel so insignificant because it’s not being built off of roses. It’s built off of Axe Body Spray.
*The really funny thing is that serotonin isn’t the neurotransmitter responsible for those feelings at all. Instead, dopamine is behind most pleasure-seeking behavior. I guess this means that Facebook is optimizing for something, but that it’s hardly meaningful, definitely unsatisfying, and they don’t even realize what they’re hooked on. Sounds like a textbook addiction.