This blog entry is primarily a definition of terms. The language we use when discussing a problem (such as software or game design), has a large impact on the solutions we come up with.
People crave the following three things... and I day dream of software that supports them.
#1: “Play” is learning by doing: People play at things to gradually learn them in a fun way. Once the basics of a task are mastered and its a matter of exploring and mastering whats left, play becomes “sport” or “skill”. If something is mastered to the point where there is nothing to learn, exercising the skill becomes something of a chore or “work”. Teaching can be rewarding but at that point you are more storyteller than player.
#2: “Storytelling” is another basic human quality. We tell each other stories that entertain, teach, surprise, amuse, and amaze. This is learning by listening, watching, and reading.
#3: “Socializing” is connecting to other human beings. Forming alliances, expectations, contracts, and demands. “Build Human Relationships”. People connect with other people by sharing, selling, giving, taking, and doing. Call it love if you like, but competition also builds emotional bonds. A routine purchase from the seller you see every week forms a social bond or social expectation. We have a hard wired instinct for reciprocity.
Games take play off into abstract and competitive directions. But even the most refined game started with play, and introduces new players with play. I would define game as a play with no concrete purpose outside of the human connection. Its not a game to build a house or plant a garden. Its not a game to invest in the stock market or research a product. Refined games become Sport.
Human beings have a primal need for place and purpose in their life. A religious person well entrenched in their congregation has a sense of both their place in the world and the purpose of their life in it... and they experience a greater level of happiness and satisfaction than the average person. Work provides greater satisfaction if it is for a higher purpose. That purpose can be as simple as providing for your family. A sense of place is the security of a position within the social framework.
What made the earlier World of Warcraft addictive was also what made WOW and Facebook destructive. WOW hit on all the core needs above. WOW connecting us with people in far away lands with which we had nothing else in common, most likely at the expense (large or small) of time spent with our existing family and friends. If WOW had not created artificial barriers of level, faction, and server to playing with existing friends, family, and coworkers, I would not be nearly as disgusted. Happily WOW, the anti-Facebook, loosened its grip with the dungeon and raid finders. That and raid game play becoming work after repeated exposure.
Software should support, reinforce, and encourage connections to the people in our homes and local community. I'm not even sure that Facebook does that well.