The Video Game of Life


Whether you are an avid video gamer, a compulsive Facebooker, or none of the above, Jesse Schell’s talk on how technology will soon affect our lives is both inspiring and utterly terrifying.

The easiest way to hook technology and psychology together is to think about Pavlov’s experiments with dogs (Because I couldn’t resist and because it’s a good learning tool, here’s  a small video game on conditioned responses).

Think about credit cards, flying in airplanes, and only grabbing coffee from one vendor. What do they all have in common? They all offer points, and they all give us rewards for choosing them over comparators.

Thinking of life as a nothing more than seeking out rewards and avoiding punishments is a very simple way to view it all, none the less, these ideas do pang at our very core. Think back to the last time you received a good grade in school, how nice it felt to earn that high mark; how nice it is to get a check every two weeks for your hard work at your job? The same idea applies to coffee, you buy one cup and they give you a card with the numbers 1 through 5 on it. Every time you go back to that coffee stand they stamp a cute little coffee cup over the next number. After five cups, your sixth one is free.

Of course, this is just a way to get you to buy more coffee, getting that sixth one free is enough incentive to buy the first five right? It’s not that simple, and the card they give you plays a crucial role in all this. Every time you buy a new cup of coffee, you track your progress, and getting a little closer feels good. When you have only one more stamp to go, you almost make excuses to buy that last cup, to complete your task of filling a card with stamps. It feels good and it drives our behavior.

Video games have utilized these techniques for years. Small observable victories lead to larger victories. Compile enough large victories and you have “beaten the game”, which many know, can be one of the most satisfying feelings of accomplishment. People are starting to catch on, diets and many other beneficial programs are now structured this way.

But this post is not about the positive. As seen in the video above, technology is evolving so rapidly, that we may soon have sensors everywhere. Soon it will be feasible for our insurance companies to give us “bones points” every time we take the stairs instead of the elevator. We may one day get rewarded for carpooling 5 times in a row instead of individually driving to work. If these actions are ever put into place, they will greatly shape the way we behave. Some argue that it will lead us to live better, healthier lives, however I fear that constantly having incentives looming over our head will make us mindlessly subservient to whoever holds the power to control the reward.

Image Credits

Coffee Card

The Nintendo: mattc3004

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About thepsychconvert

I have a few passions and a hundred hobbies. I often wish there was more time in the day.
This entry was posted in Applied, Behavioral and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Video Game of Life

  1. Hanna Wilbur says:

    Check out my newest post. I wonder if you have the same feelings about university too. What year are you in?

  2. Hanna Wilbur says:

    I think Pavlov’s experiment is not complete. Humans have the ability to think, analyse, and choose from different alternatives.
    Who made that theory about S-O-R (stimulus, organism, response)?

  3. predederva says:

    Incentives, incentives, incentives. Whenever something doesn’t happen a certain way, there’s always someone out there that claims “well just look at the incentives and you’ll see why those people didn’t do what we wanted ” . So it is not a big stretch to then say, we should modify or add incentives to our daily life, so we get the desired result. Of course this is assuming we “Think of life as a nothing more than seeking out rewards and avoiding punishment”, which is a very hedonistic way to live. *shrug*. But too keep adding and modifying incentives for everyday life, it may actually MAKE life just what you said it is, and nothing more. I too worry about where this all leads. Hit the button, get the treat…

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