In our last class, we examined the relationship between work and play online, and how often they end up being the same thing. We also looked at the idea of play at work, something that the procrastinator in all of us is very familiar with. Right now, the relationship between work and play is changing, as the two concepts come together with the help of digital technology.
The concept of play covers any activity that is done for the enjoyment of the participant without any specific goal in mind. While this idea obviously applies to things like children playing in sandboxes and on playgrounds in its purest form, by extension it would classify most video games as something other than play. A vast majority of the games we play, from MMOs to First-person shooters to Wii Sports to online flash games, all have a specific purpose that the player is looking to accomplish. This concept in MMOs has been well explained by our readings, the addictive qualities of other reward-based games (which almost all games are) are equally significant. One example of this is online ranking systems. Popular franchises like Halo and Call of Duty have very popular online multiplayer modes where players earn experience points or rankings based on their achievements in the games. From personal experience I’ve found that once you start playing one of these games, earning rankings and therefore a reputation for your skills, it quickly becomes hard to stop. It soon gets to the point where you aren’t playing the game for the game play but for the rewards, at which point it have become work. This also applies to the silliest online flash games, where trying to earn the most points or make it to the next level can consume you after playing for long enough.
The developing idea of using this delusion of play to accomplish real work is fascinating and potentially extremely useful for companies in need of volunteer labor. Online games are immensely popular, and since I’ve established that playing most games involves at least some level of work, they might as well absorb some of that and convert it to productivity. My favorite example of this is a game I mentioned in class called Free Rice (freerice.com). Concept behind the project is that for every vocabulary question each player gets correct, the site’s sponsors will donate 10 grains of rice to fight world hunger through the UN World Food Program. In the past two years, the site has donate over 72 billion grains of rice to starving children, while simultaneously testing and improving the vocabulary of its players. The game itself might sound lame, but I promise it gets extremely addictive, especially because of the tangible rewards involved.
Over the semester we have covered many aspects of multimedia, and I think the work-play relationship could be one of the most interesting and applicable to our everyday lives. The beauty of learning about New Media is that we’re investigating the things that we use every day in an academic and in-depth way, helping us understand our world that much better. I’ve found the topic stimulating, and I can say with full confidence that I’m happy I chose this class to be part of my first semester at Hamilton.