In a widely disseminated talk at DICE last month, Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center professor Jesse Schell made a provocation: can game-like external rewards make people lead better lives?
To answer the question, Schell explored hypothetical scenarios that might combine awards of XBox Achievements-like scrip with emerging sensor networks that would track our everyday behaviors. Teeth brushing might earn sponsored awards from Crest, for example, and taking the bus might earn awards from a government mass transit program.
Sounds far fetched? Schell points out early signals that support his vision, including the dashboard of the new Ford Fusion, which features an image of a plant that flourishes and droops based on how efficiently the driver pilots the vehicle.
Reactions to the talk have been mixed, with some heralding him as a brilliant oracle of a desirable future, others wondering how he could have failed to mention related, high-profile work by Frank Lantz (Area/Code) and Jane McGonigal (Institute for the Future), and others dismissing Schell’s prophesy as dystopian nightmare.
Here, I want instead to explore a few philosophical problems that arise from Schell’s position, problems that proponents and detractors should both consider.