Future fun

Things that are fun in computer games are often the same things that are very unpleasant in real life. Transposing an ostensibly tedious task into a game can transform that task, turning ennui to enchantment.

Take for example Eric Zimmerman’s brilliant game Diner Dash, in which the player essentially waits on tables in a busy diner, trying to satisfy customers’ needs throughout a high stress shift. In real life, this could be a nightmare. But when you’re playing it as a game, it’s fun.

I think this disparity may have great relevance for future reality, as we become able to use the tools of virtual and mixed reality to seamlessly merge physically lived experience and simulation. Ostensibly thankless tasks performed within the “magic circle” of game play may end up feeling like great fun, even if the tasks themselves remain exactly the same.

Traditional computer games are played while sitting in front of a computer screen. But emerging virtual and augmented realities are going to allow those tasks to be performed in the real world itself. What if the difference between “fun” and “not fun” turns out to merely be a question of context? What if the same physical act can feel very different, based on what we believe is going on?

Perhaps in future reality, all physical chores — doing laundry, taking out the garbage, shoveling the sidewalk — will be recontextualized as games. While doing those activities we will be able to gain points, move up leader boards, master tutorial levels and play challenge rounds with our friends. What today is the most thankless chore will become a fun pastime that we cannot wait to do again.

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