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Gamification & Popular Culture

Updated on April 15, 2011

Gamification, the process of applying game mechanics to everyday activities, is often seen as a new and foreign concept. The funny thing is that the concept of gamification is not only thousands of years old, but also deeply embedded into contemporary popular culture. The blurring barrier between video games (or games in general) and reality is acknowledged again and again in movies, short films, music, and even literature.

Don't believe me? Have a look at the examples below.


Gamification in Feature-Length Films

Gamificaiton has made cameo appearances in many contemporary films. Some of the most interesting ones include Stranger Than Fiction, TRON: Legacy, Sucker Punch, and Gamer.

Consider the gamificaion themes in these films, and you will realize that the concept has tiptoed into many more films than these.

Stranger Than Fiction

Oh, I know what you're thinking: "Stranger Than Fiction?  Whaaaa? That's no game film!!!!" 

Ah, but there are some key elements of gamification here.  Note in the intro the overlay of data logging.  This perfectly illustrates the kind of Quantification of Self that so much of today's gamificaiton entails.  

What's more, Stranger Than Fiction turns a real person into a fictional character... or rather, melds a fictional character with a real person.  That's another key element of gamificaiotn: when you gamify your life, you turn yourself into a character- one who engages in a plotline, has a purpose, one who is fighting for something, and one who is essentially controlled by another.

TRON: Legacy

While Stranger Than Fiction involves the game entering the person, TRON: Legacy involves the person entering the game.

This film is interesting in that it explores the concept of leaving normal reality behind and literally entering the game.

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch is another contemporary film that touches on gamification. In this case, the gamification takes place all within the delusions of a rather odd, traumatized girl.

The noteworthy meme floating around in this film is that one can retreat into a world in which one has control over one's own world. In this case, the protagonist retreats into game-like delusions, but thanks to the rise of gamification, one need not retreat into one's mind- one can actually control one's world by making it more surmountable using funware.


Gamification takes a very interesting turn in Gamer, which introduces an interesting game called Slayers, in which prisoners allow themselves to be played like gamepieces in modern colloseum-style action games with the hope that they might win their own freedom.

The user interfaces are highly interesting, as is the concept. You know gamification has reached a new level when the characters you're playing are real people.

Gamificaiton in Short Films

Several short films address the concept of gamification.  

Some are more passive, such as PIXELS by Patrick Jean, which introduces gaming elements with urban architecture.  Others, such as PLAY, part of the ITVS FUTURESTATES series, explore gamification as it might exist in the future.  

You can watch both short films below.

Gamification in Music

Gamificaiton is all over music.  Gaming themes and references in songs are all over the place- clearly video game flourishes are making their way into all facets of popular culture.

If I were to include all significant gaming references made in songs, this overview would go on forever.  I'll simplify things significantly by only sharing my favorite gamified music video of all time: "Happy Up Here" by Royksopp.  It does much the same thing that PIXELS did, but I think the production quality is higher... plus the song is brilliant.

Emma gamified relationships
Emma gamified relationships | Source

Gamification in Literature

Let's wrap this quick exploration up by touching on a more traditional form of media: literature.  "Surely," you may say, "books cannot have any of this new-fangled gamification in them."

Oh, but they do.  It would be too easy to discuss gamification in modern literature, since there is simply so much of it.  Let's stretch into an older time to prove that gamification really is an ancient practice that has been prevalent in society quite consistently over the years.

Consider, for example, some of the old English classics.  Take Jane Austen's Emma as an example.  What does Emma do?  She plays other people.  Like they're video game avatars.  She plays them so much that she could almost be compared to a hard core video gamer today- so busy arranging the lives of simulated characters that she remains largely ignorant of the goings on in her own.  

Not an Austin fan?  Not to worry.  Consider Dickens' Great Expectations.  What is that story about?  More gamificaiton, of course.  One man decides to direct his hard work and resources toward creating a real gentleman through which he receives vicarious enjoyment.

As these literary cases demonstrate, humans have always gotten a kick out of manipulating others, or manipulating the world through the lives of others.  Humans have also gotten a kick out of competing against themselves as well as others in activities that extend beyond the card table or playing field.  

Gamification has always been a part of society- and it always will be.  The only thing that is changing now is the means by which we gamify various elements of our lives.  In short, interfaces are changing, but our culture remains unchanged.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      friends and I say that to each other all the time, Everything is Marketing . It's a simple rule to keep in mind as you conmamicute with customers to keep them in the loop of innovations, while understanding their needs and solving them. While they might say they want a faster horse , what they're really saying is I want something more powerful and faster to transport me where I need to go, so you meet that need by building a car.a0a0Thanks for the insights and comment Leon!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Thank you for the the thought prniokvog commets. The challenge I have is that many of my clients are in the B2B space and social media and B2B seems to be a few years behind the B2C space. We're trying to engage with our own clients to see how they want to use Social Media of course this all falls under Customer Experience. One of the key challenges is that some of our clients won't allow staff access to facebook, Twitter and in some cases LinkedIn. These are really the big players, the other social media sites seem to be waste of time unless you're a niche player and your audience wants to engage via foursquare etc. FYI I work or an Oracle CRM On Demand reseller in Australia.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Oh, what smart design! I hadn't known about them - I'll have to check devhub out for myself!

    • danmit profile image


      7 years ago from Moscow, Russia

      Cool hub. Gamification was also applied to the webhosting company devhub. As you use the service you earn points which you can use to buy new features and it's incentive to continue using them as your host. I tried it out and it works.

    • Simone Smith profile imageAUTHOR

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Hahaa, EXACTLY!!! Thanks for reading XD

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      "humans have always gotten a kick out of manipulating others," Great line, Simone. "Humans have also gotten a kick out of competing against themselves..." Yes! Just like in the April Hubchallenge, LOL.

      Wonderful hub about gaming, Simone. Thanks for sharing.


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