On Wednesday the New York Times Magazine published a really interesting article that talks a little about gamification and a lot about specifically the type of games, often found on Facebook and mobile devices, that capitalize on the snippets of “free” time everyone has between doing other things. It’s definitely worth a read; go check it out.
The author of the piece believes that this is more likely to lead to a dystopian future of rampant corporate manipulation of consumers for profit than a golden age, similar to what I suggested in an earlier post. I agree that that is a far more likely outcome than what is imagined in Reality is Broken.
Also in the article, the creator of Drop7 talks about these games as personal experiments in addiction, allowing us to find out more about how our brains work in that regard. That may be how they work for him, and he obviously finds that to be beneficial, but I don’t think that’s how most people see them.
There was an article in Wired in October last year about the importance of boredom. It turns out that mind wandering is basically our default mode of thought, and that being aware of it when it happens (so that we can notice those interesting thoughts that pop up and jot them down) is a strong predictor of creative ability. These small games threaten to steal away the time we’d use for that normal, healthy function, which in turn would be expected to hamper creativity.
This agrees with my personal experience and that of the author of the New York Times Magazine article. I suspect it agrees with the experience of most people who embark on creative endeavors, whether as a hobby or a profession. When my free time is filled (with Twitter, Facebook, games, RSS feeds, etc.), sitting down to write is the last thing I feel like doing. When I resist the inclination to reach for my phone during every slow moment, I often discover I the beginnings of new ideas spontaneously throughout the day.
Of course there must be a balance; all creativity is a synthesis of the ideas we’ve taken in, rearranged into new configurations. With no exposure to the ideas of others, that fuel would quickly dry up. But I think the threat of these small games to creativity (among other things) is something people should be aware of.