At Institute for the Future, we've started a project looking at the future of persuasion and how technology affects behavior. The researchers are blogging on the subject here, mostly as a way for us to share examples, initial thoughts, and essays-in-progress with each other (and anyone else interested in the subject). Today, my friend Mathias Crawford wrote a very thoughtful and provocative post about persuasive game designed to, say, persuade you to eat less, exercise more, or increase your productivity. In his essay, Mathias suggests that the real potential for persuasive games isn't just to change behavior but also to help us understand why we behave a certain way. From the essay, titled "Ends vs. Means and Persuasive Games" on IFTF's Persuasion blog:
As (Carnegie Mellon professor Jesse) Schell points out (in a videotaped speech making the rounds this week), persuasive technologies like the Ford Fusion dashboard, are already being designed with game-like feedback in mind. To him these technologies fall short, however, because they are being engineered by people who are not game designers. If game designers would start to design reward systems that aimed to improve behaviors, we'd have feedback mechanisms that are much more enjoyable, and as a corollary that are much more effective."Ends vs. Means and Persuasive Games"
Though I agree with his conclusion - that there is a clear need for people with game design expertise to design things that can help people improve behaviors - by focusing on creating technologies that aim to achieving measurable ends, Schell misses a much more important use of persuasive technologies: namely, technology that aims to influence means.