“Everyone writes stories”: A new piece in Public Books
In the old days, people used to talk about gaming the system. It meant manipulating the rules to produce a desired outcome. The term was popularized by software engineers in 1975. Today, we hear a lot more about “gamification,” another term popularized by software engineers. It refers to the introduction of game-design features, like points, challenges, and levels, into nongame domains, like buying coffee, watching TV, or learning math. Games are notoriously good at holding people’s attention, and people are, as we are increasingly finding out, notoriously bad at paying attention. Play is the gold bullion of our distracted age.
Elyse Graham’s Republic of Games helps us to see how much these gamelike mentalities have entered into the world of writing. From spaces like Facebook to fan fiction, she shows, gamification has led to a tremendous outpouring of writing (or user “engagement,” as the industry titans would have it). “Likes” and “kudos” are just another form of points; networks of followers are like players; and the central challenge is to write in a way that will maximize these two things. The only component missing is the money. But as authors have always known, someone else is always making it.
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