Gaming The System
I wrote an essay -- "The Game of Life" -- for this month's Wired where I make a wacky assertion: gaming has become the prevailing narrative of our time.
The whole idea started by noticing how several of my daily interactions -- watching TV, reading RSS, dating -- have become very game-like. At first, I didn't know what to call these instances, but I eventually started using the term gaming moments. And then soon enough, a definition arose: "competitive interactions in daily life that involve play." Sometimes the interactions are social, sometimes they are you versus a computer algorithm. But once you've noticed them, they suddenly become ubiquitous.
"Gaming the system," it seems, has become standard operating procedure for everything from booking an airline ticket to battling your TiVo's automated recommendations.
In some ways, this is an admittedly trite argument. Whether you're watching The Wire or reading Shakespeare, you've heard that life is a game. (Nassim Taleb even coined a word for this: ludic fallacy, "the misuse of games to model real-life situations." His criticism is actually directed at a branch of mathematics and philosophy -- game theory -- but the point is still worth recognizing.) Nevertheless, let's look at the evidence: if you stop and look around, you'll find game scenarios everywhere. Like Poe's purloined letter, the notion of "gaming the system" has become so obvious and pervasive that it's almost invisible to us.
In the closing paragraphs of the essay, I hypothesize why so much of our society (particularly social interaction, online activity, and cultural products) seems like a game. My theory has to do with data. (This will sound familiar to anyone who read my earlier essay on predictions, where I suggest that data availability has led to a penchant for prediction applications.) Because we've opened more data (through search engines, APIs, open records, and so on), we've tweaked consciousness just a little bit: now when we encounter data-centric scenarios, we immediately think about how the information can be manipulated.
Anyway, read the essay for yourself. In comments here, I would like to explore other examples where you stopped and said, "this is a lot like a game." I provided several in the essay (reality tv, search engine optimizers, etc.), but some others that come to mind include traffic, dieting, speed dating, and improv classes.
Also, feel free to throw in some websites -- some examples: Farecast.com (where you "gamble" on the future of airline ticket prices), Reality All Starz (where you make challenges for yourself), and GetHuman.com (where you learn how to game automated voice systems).
So now, your turn.