You can’t deny that our everyday existence is becoming more and more gamelike with each update and every app that we download to our increasingly intelligent devices.

Multiplying categories of gamelike applications such as social media giant Facebook or Trello, the productivity app, contain more and more elements like points, rewards and “power-ups” that reward your time and productivity, writes Nathan Hulsey.

They each promise to enhance daily life, to give it new meaning by distracting our wandering minds with the facade of play while also providing direction with the rules and rewards of a game.

But at what cost?

In the digital age, play becomes a wellspring of possibiltiies and also a wellspring of profitable data. Let’s be honest, nothing is ever truly ‘free’ in today’s world of analytics and datamining. All of our “free” apps are not for charity, Hulsey insists. They expand the base of users via a nonexistent entry price and then profit on the data users’ produce, mining it for their own cause or on behalf of third parties.

Not every game is solely for entertainment.

Just this morning, I had a sponsored post on my Facebook news feed recommending the app TaskHero. After reading the introduction of Hulsey’s book last night, my newly-educated gamification awareness was piqued.

From TaskHero’s Twitter bio: ‘Level up in real life. Build habits and track your goals by playing a game.’

It’s a free app, in its early access stage, that promotes productivity and habit-tracking.

‘Enter a fantasty world where productivity is fun,’ Whetware Inc. begins. ‘Use your productivity to explore a massive world full of adventure, story and mystery.’

Sure, it sounds awesome, but when you log on, you’re immediately asked to register your details. This, in the world of gamified media, immediately infers that they aren’t just offering a free, helpful application to keep your everyday on track. From the outset and on a consumer level, their intentions are primarily to aid your productivity, but be aware of what you are tapping ‘accept’ to. ‘Free’ apps are, ultimately, paid for with your data. Personally, now I’m aware of this transaction, I will cautiously overlook it in certain cases in order to use apps that I think will have a real benefit to me, but I feel like the guise of a ‘fun’ app is often deployed to harvest data unbeknownst to unaware users.

Gaming is, inherently, a fun past-time. We, as consumers, respond well to playing games. Gamifying our productivity-based apps can only lead to a higher level of engagement.

Employers have took this on board, too. Just think about your own workplace. Is there a rewards system in place? Whether it be an Employee of the Month title or physical incentives – badges, vouchers, etc. – workplaces are encouraged to adopt gamifying practices in order to retain our attention and optimised productivity.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but be aware that sometimes, it is not just a game that is being played. Gamification is part of a wider push to assimilate, monitor and manage human populations through a unique brand of seductive design that focuses on power without force and control without discipline.

We’re living in an increasingly technocratic society and games are being utilised to aid it.

If you’d like to learn more about gamification and its influence on our everyday lives, I recommend you check out Nathan Hulsey’s book Games in Everyday Life: For Play (2020).

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