There’s an interesting collection of tasks that have been turned into games over at IDEO’s blog. Apparently the trend towards playing games has grown so much that people now spend more time playing social games, like Zynga’s Farmville, than emailing. I wonder if the study that produced that result looked at players of MMORPGs-who probably spend more time in those virtual worlds than any other non-work activity.

(I’m wondering now why there isn’t a full-on MMORPG that is both cooperatively owned and dedicated to supporting a charity. Companies like Sony make a killing off of games like this – why don’t players get together and make their own games? It could work like a credit union where revenue is reinvested for the sake of the clients. On top of that, there could be this charity component that would add value to the game itself. I can easily imagine a sword and sorcery MMORPG with a tellurian basis [with druids, dryads, elementals, a magic system based on the elements, etc.] that donates to environmental causes, or even just carbon offsets. I know this runs into the same problem I touched on below – it attacks the symptoms, not the disease – but at least this captures some “wasted” energy, and directly from the people who are contributing to the problem [in the case of carbon offsets].

I see that there have been some attempts to fuse online role-playing games with charitable causes, but nothing in a consistent, sustained manner.)

Over at openIDEO, a large number of the concepts submitted rely on gamifying processes to attract people who ordinarily wouldn’t participate. I find it inspiring that we can use this bit of social engineering to influence people’s behavior, but it is also depressing. The flip side of this is that people don’t care about things like bone marrow donation or recycling until they are given some cheap token/reward structure. I understand that adding a bit of fun to a process that seems like a chore can make it more enjoyable and compelling, but it’s sad that people aren’t motivated by the intrinsic value of activities. It’s especially dispiriting when we have to invent games to counteract what others are doing. The Terracycle program that enlists kids to collect “trash” that they upcycle is a good example. How do they items they “find” become trash in the first place? There’s a failure of the system in there somewhere. What Terracycle is doing is great, but it combats the symptoms without getting at the root causes.