Reflection on the Game Layer

Posted on September 30, 2012


Journal: The Game Layer on Top of the World
Vanessa Crawford


In this Ted Talks video, Seth Priebatsch eloquently discusses the next major technological shift; the Game Layer. He sets out that the building blocks are in place to create a framework where much of our decisions and behaviors will be directed through ‘games’. Even though these techniques are already in use by video games and marketing platforms, Priebatsch’s goal is to use the game layer to better our lives by capitalizing on our competitive nature.

Although I’m sure the framework is much more complex than what was discussed in this video, 4 of the main components are:

1. Appointment Dynamic – to have this outcome, do this at a certain time
2. Influence and Status – be a better you by achieving this top status tier
3. Progression Dynamic – get motivated by seeing your itemized progress
4. Communal Discovery – work together to achieve a common goal

All 4 of these dynamics capitalize on our human nature; they utilize our need for accolades to alter our behavior to achieve a desired action.


Without outwardly recognizing it, I am already a participant of the game layer; I have a Starbucks App that earns me stars each time I make a purchase. At this moment, I am merely at the “Green Level”. It shows a green star next to my status, with a progress bar indicating I only need 12 more stars to reach “Gold”. Admittedly I get a tiny rush each time I log into the app and see that my progress bar has moved to the right an extra 2 millimeters. I choose to buy my latte from Starbucks over another café to go for gold faster.

It is said that there is no such thing as independent thought. I understand this notion but previously hadn’t put to much stock in the power of external stimuli on our subconscious to drive our decisions. Starbucks’ effective marketing truly pushes me to buy at their stores; this makes me feel taken and I suppose slightly manipulated. Perhaps it is human nature to strive for perfection and out-perform the rest. No one is forcing us to take part in these games, however, we enlist ourselves because of the payoff.


We all like to think that we’re special and have enough intelligence to avoid peripheral influences. My knee-jerk reaction is to feel violated; I’ve been swayed by clever marketing tactics and yet, will this stop me from swiping my Starbucks card instead of trying another café? Probably not. I can’t stop now when I’m over the halfway mark of achieving my gold status. Perhaps I’m being a tad facetious here but in all likelihood I will continue this quest to ‘win’ the game and be part of that elite club.

There is always a price, and yes, we are all encouraged to spend our money on a daily basis. The financial push to buy-buy-buy may wreak havoc on our over-extended society, though, and if not countered, may result in ruin for many people. This is very utopic thinking, but I wonder if the bank would ever consider providing credits each time you make a payment on time. Not likely in this lifetime.


It would be all too easy to take on the stance that these tools could be used for bad, but instead I’ll focus on how it could be used to benefit society and promote personal well being. As an educator, I can’t help but wonder how this could translate into the world of academia. I’ll turn my attention to the online classroom. Installation of a progress bar at the bottom of each page would be a visible demarcation of their advancement. Online surveys often have this incorporated to show that the finish line is close. Research shows that goals are more likely to be reached if the end is tangible and well defined.

To take this one step further, I love the idea of playing off of Princeton University’s experiment to give “experience points”. Students would be rewarded for simply completing a task such as taking a quiz, researching an article, or completing an assignment early. I am a self-proclaimed procrastinator; case in point, submitting this journal on its final due date. If there were a system that would raise me from an A to an A+ by getting my assignments in a week ahead of time, there’s no doubt I’d comply.

I’m going to talk to my Program Head and see if any of these ideas can be implemented. Even though the semester is already underway, I want to try giving out experience points in my Patient Care course; some of the struggling students may benefit from having a redemptive grading system and encourage their class participation. The potential for the game layer in the workplace is beyond huge. Employers are always struggling to increase productivity. Perhaps having smaller incentives instead of cheesy “employee of the month” photos, institutions could hone in on our personal drive to win or succeed. I’m very excited to share these ideas and start playing the game!