Interview: The Cyborgification of Humanity

Interview: The Cyborgification of Humanity


Editor’s note: Buster Benson is founder of Health Month, and previous creator of 43Things, 750Words, and Locavore. He has been working on gamification since before the term was coined, and recently sat down with contributor, Eric Bruenner, to share some ideas on using software to help us achieve mastery and accomplish our goals. Selections are below, and a full transcript is available here.

I sort of see a general trend in the world in making things more entertaining, rather than useful… With gamification, you’re tapping into parts of our brain, very deep motivations, that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. We’re just trying to tap into those with software now instead of trying to put all of the software on the app or the service. Rather than giving someone every single way to accomplish a goal, like on 43Things, you just let people cheer each other. That has a much more solid impact on their motivation than giving them every single tool available.

There’s been a few things that have made real-world games less awkward. GPS is one. Everyone having a camera is another. Everyone having access to the Internet at all times. You don’t want to necessarily have to play games at your computer, and definitely not these types of games. These are games you want to play in the real world.

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You can think of a smart phone as a very large step towards the cyborgification of humans. Our senses are beginning to become tied to the objects that we carry around with us now. We all know where everyone is, we know who’s around us, we know the map of where we’re currently navigating, we know our altitude, our speed. All this data is represented within our brains to some degree, in terms of balance, equilibrium–and we can start think of other ways to extend our senses to make our engagement with the real world more interesting, more useful and faster and more connected.

There’s a definition of games that Jane McGonigal mentioned, that “a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”. Gamification comes in and removes the ‘unnecessary’ part. We’re no longer only trying to overcome obstacles merely because we want to, or because it’s fun, but we’re also trying to overcome real obstacles: how to be healthier, how to learn, how to stay connected with our friends and family. That’s really what makes it interesting to me.

I’ve learned a lot just from [750Words and Health Month] about what exactly works and what doesn’t work. There is a lot of talk about using gamification for different purposes. A lot of people see it as a loyalty program on steroids. Other people see it as a waste of time, or businesses trying to coerce their customers into doing things they don’t want to do.

On the other hand, if you can find businesses or games that tap into what the players naturally want already–and this is the area that I’m most interested in exploring–it’s always health, its a mastery of a skill, creation of habits, improvement of life, improvement of happiness, all those things that we’re trying to always do. This helps me avoid the whole other side of the gamification conversation which is all about loyalty. I’m really only interested in the portion of the conversation thats about helping people and empower them to do what they already want to do.

The things that work for me are finding rewards that are almost completely empty except as a representation of what the user is already getting out of the system. If the creation of a habit is what you want, for example in 750Words the habit is ‘writing every day’, there’s no way to game that system. If you get a ‘streak’, there is no way to write every day and not have a habit. You can’t game that system. You can’t go through the steps and win the game without actually getting something out of it yourself. It’s a very fine line. That’s how HealthMonth came about. People can come up with their own rules they want to follow for a month, then they win by following those rules. There’s no point in trying to game a system like that.

A full transcript of the interview is available here.


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