The End of the Zero-Sum game


For the last post in my A to Z of Gamification, it feels fitting to end this series with Z, on the potential end of the Zero-Sum game.

Us versus Them

In game theory, a zero-sum game, is one in which the outcome will always be equal to 0. A winning state must be balanced by an equal losing state, so in your classic two player competition 1 winner means there must also be 1 loser.

Life, however, does not really work as simply as that. Whilst it might be tempting to boil down the world to people against you or for you, in reality most of have developed past the idea that you could split the world into some kind of extreme death match social cliques.

From work colleagues to friends, cultures to nations, these groups and relationships are a non-zero sum game, we only win when we help other’s win. If like me, however you struggle to hold onto  the powerful zen like empathy, as demonstrated by the Dalai Lama that this implies, you might Robert Wright’s more cynical and entertaining explanation of the non-zero sum game from his classic 2008 Ted talk.

So creating win-win’s in the game of life, means recognizing that there is a very real threat of lose-lose. Keep playing only looking out for yourself and in the long run there isn’t a game to be played.

The progress to the more connected world we see today through commerce, technology and our affect on one another through even the air, water and food global systems we rely on, hammers the importance of this message home.

Game versus Life

This dynamic is also true, however in the way we view our own lives. We pitch real life on one side and those gaming hours on the other. In the limited time we have to spend we see the minutes ticking down and the trade-offs to make. Either doing the important things in our lives versus experiencing the well-formed enjoyment of playing a game.

Gamification is about changing this zero-sum mentality and finding the sweet spot between life and games. Living a gamified life, audaciously sets out to remove those trade-offs and perhaps its not so ridiculous to believe that successful gamification can even create more time.

Awe is one of the most powerful emotions that game designers create, it is also the emotion that research has shown to expand your perception of time. Giving people the feeling like they have more time available, to be more positive and more generous.

If we can learn from and combine the repeatable experiences game designers have given us, with the awe that our daily lives has to offer. If we can wonder at own place in the world and our capabilities within it, just as we’ve quested as heroes through many a game-world.

Then perhaps the game of life is neither about winning or losing, but a pursuit of the well-played life.

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