Carse (1986 p 38):
..playing at, or perhaps playing around, is the kind of play that has no consequence. This is the sort of playfulness implied in the ordinary sense of such terms as entertainment, amusement, diversion, comic relief, recreation, relaxation. Inevitably, however, seriousness will creep back into this kind of play. The executive’s vacation, like the football team’s time out, comes to be a device for refreshing the contestant for a higher level of competition.
Even the open playfulness of children is exploited through organized athletic, artistic, and educational regimens as a means of preparing the young for serious adult competition.
Physical activity trackers may be thought as subtle introductions of productivity into what have previously, mostly, been fun, recreation, freely expressive, relaxation moments. It is not anymore enough that you are running or working out, it is about how much you are doing it – which is not a reflection in anyway of how much you are enjoying it. The numbers are of interest here, one way or the other, they take the fun aspect out of these activities, or at least minimize it.
When I measure how long I have run, I may be in subtle ways setting a bar for my future runs. This means my engagement in running in the future in addition to recreation … leans towards productivity – my ability to perform a certain task to a certain level. This fits a description of work and when it is not self assigned, it is not fun.
The very first time I went running with the Nike+ system, I ran faster than I had in my entire life. I was motivated by better, real-time feedback and by the promise of online rewards when I got home – Jane McGonigal
Not much may be expected from numbers for example when I quantify myself, but when they are put up against other people’s numbers they get a new meaning. The quantified activities, which may have been done for their fun, recreative and leisurely aspects become competitive. And further quantification is also driven by the need to compete and outperform others. This nutshelled and simplified description also describes how an activity may go from being done out of intrinsic motivations to being done due to extrinsic motivations.
…we’re especially obsessed with measuring our children’s education. Children have become pawns in contests that pit parent against parent, teacher against teacher, school against school, and nation against nation in the struggle to see who can squeeze the highest test scores out of their kids. We are depriving our children of sleep, depriving them of freedom to play and explore; childhood—in order to increase their test scores – Gray
One way or the other, we subtly start turning off the body, so that when we do things, we do not rely on how the body feels (human experience) but on the numbers we are getting out of those activities. We mechanize ourselves; this, Carse (1986) says requires a veiling of oneself, a suspension of one’s freedom, the lack of acknowledgement of one’s intrinsic motivations by oneself and others.
Gamification is an additional level on quantification. It rewards users, mostly with virtual pellets for doing something that they might otherwise not do. And without trying to, gamification is already making the typical fun activities like running, flying, shopping, watching TV, bar-hopping and dining, sharing & socializing, and just about anything you may want to or not do productive (with productivity here referring to actions taken for a gain). Foursquare is a prime example of this – we not only go to places we like for their own sake, but increasingly, we will find ourselves going to those places for gains; the points, badges, mayorships and merchant discounts (coupons and other offers).
Lastly but not least, we have to be aware of the invariable principle of all play, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play (Carse). This means that whatever we have transformed from play to work (productive activity) is no longer play. We are no longer playing. As a result, the fun of play has been replaced by the seriousness of work that we are now doing.
- Carse, J. P. (1986). Finite and inﬁnite games.
- McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world.
- Gray, P. (2012). Can you measure an education? Can you define life’s meaning? Available from: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201212/can-you-measure-education-can-you-define-life-s-meaning