Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Being Healthy Is A Badly Designed Game

[Game Design]

I just read this post over at Clickable Culture today, and you should too. No, really, go read it. I'll wait.

(While I'm waiting, thanks to Raph Koster for highlighting it on his blog.)


Oh! Welcome back! You read it, right? About how if airport screening could be more effective by dressing it in the real-life trappings of a successful videogame, there's no good reason not to, no matter how apparently humorous the result? (Well, it wasn't precisely about that, but I extrapolated.)

This is wonderful thinking. There's almost no level of human life this can't be applied to, with outcomes ranging from the sublime to the downright scary, and I say we embrace it with both arms.

I'd benefit from this no end. Filing could be turned into a collection-oriented game; when a file contains a full set of a certain list of prescribed important documents, it could be granted a special shiny sticker, and then go into a trophy case where it could be rotated in three dimensions. Every hundred successful completed files extend my maximum lunch break by one minute; completing enough files will eventually let me upgrade from the horrible files that use wiggly plastic tubes to lock the paper in and start using something with a decent lever-arch system instead. Maybe there could be some sort of filing high-scores board out in reception; man, I'd dominate at that game.

But you know where this kind of thinking is really needed? Healthy eating. No, seriously. Look at my choices. I can get a meal from McDonalds in five minutes, or I can wait half my bloody lunch hour for a salad roll to be ready. Time efficiency would suggest McDonalds; plus I get an instant reward in the form of friendlier, standardised service, and a chemical release reward from the flavour-carrying fat. That's a game system that's designed to encourage me to eat junk.

Take another health food situation. I'm at the supermarket, standing in line. To my right is the fresh produce section, and a bunch of lettuces and bananas and so forth. To my left is a stand of Kinder Surprise. You will notice that the lettuce does not come with a free collectable toy, and does not contain an inherent game-process of eating the fatty chocolate to discover the random reward inside. After eating twenty lettuces, I have found one caterpillar and a mild sense of nausea. After eating twenty Kinder Suprises, I have a toy collection and the illusion of progress (not to mention a significant gut). Lettuces would do a lot better if they came with collectable toys, or at least, you know, made that secret-uncover noise from Legend of Zelda whenever I took a bite. I'd settle for getting to level-up to a tastier brand of lettuce after eating enough of the damn stuff.

A final example. I have a microwavable pizza. Not only does this meal go from stored to eaten in less than a quarter hour, but in the process of making it I get to zap things with lasers. Lasers, people! Admittedly it's all a bit vicarious and happens behind the door of my microwave, but still - lasers! Whereas when I eat a pear there are no lasers involved whatsoever and my fingers end up sticky. If this were any decent sort of game, the clear inference would be that microwave meals are a more advanced food that I have been granted access to thanks to my superior tech level; by dint of requiring more technology to obtain they are inherently more nutritious and have a more positive effect on my game state.

Honestly, if eating a pear required the use of some sort of high tech sonic-scalpel to peel it open before consumption, I'd instantly be willing to eat a lot more of them. True story.

I think the health food industry as a whole could take some clear lessons from game design. I think instead of products displaying their fat content in very small print, they should instead display their "Health Points" (HP) in large colourful fonts on the front of the box. Collecting enough HP allows you to level up and use the internet to request prizes from the makers. Ideally, everyone's HPs would be tracked on some kind of internet high score table, and you could get some sort of a concrete ranking (I'd see myself as a serious contender in the "Intermediate" class). Eating food should probably have some sort of chat functionality, too. You know, where you could beg for chips or form some sort of guild or "family", based largely around sharing meals... that'd be awesome. Whey has no one ever thought of this before?


Doomed_pie said...


Julia B said...

I went to the link and watched a hilarious short clip about comic book wars re-enactments, but not what you are talking about.

Go watch that film. It's great. We should do that. :-)


GregT said...

You went to the wrong link. Click where it says "this post" instead of where it says "Clickable Culture". I gotta get better about making these things clear.

And yes, I do like waffles.