Can being an avid, albeit malcontent, gamer and a hypocritical self-described male feminist amount to an idea for a society-changing mobile app? Yes, it can. Is the app (or the idea, for that matter) any good? You will be the judge.
Since my early years I have had an affinity for computer games. An affinity, I have to admit, I have not completely grown out of despite having already celebrated my 30th birthday.
I have been part of the first Polish generation, who had a chance to learn letters on a keyboard and to play their first game before going to school. My precious Atari, paired with an audio cassette player, introduced my to Adventure, River Raid and Dungeon Master. And then, as if being an introduction to the 90s, and for me to the primary school, I got my first PC. 386SX 33MHz processor, 8MB of ram, almost 200MB of harddrive and a floppy drive (the big one of course). It was magnificent.
What this hardware needed was, as is always the case, software. And the 90’s supplied generously. These days much of my cunning went into making my parents believe I was fast asleep those late nights when in reality I was guiding my civilisation towards world domination, becoming a railroad tycoon or, a bit later, saving the world from a hell lord and his countless minions. The games were different but what remained the same was an intellectual or tactical challenge and the thrill of a hard earned victory.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW
Knowing all this about my youth you can’t be surprised to learn I continued to play games through high school, college and even beyond that. This means I’ve had a first-row seat to observe all the changes that gradually crept into one of my beloved means of entertainment. At first look the most prominent is of course the huge technical quality leap – in terms of graphics, sound and interaction methods. But this development was not surprising – just natural evolution. The changes that really caught my attention don’t concern technology but game writing.
First of them was, in the biggest part, brought by the popularisation of game consoles. They moved gaming into the living room reaching broader audience, making gaming sessions more frequent, shorter, faster-paced and, more often than ever before, involving more than one person at a time. The results were in line with what happened in the other industries (think music, literature, cinematography) in the period of their popularisation. The shortest (and least dramatic) way to describe it is: giving in to popular demand.
By no means did this affect every single game. However on average they became much simpler and more accessible, less challenging (at the cost of being instantly fun to play), with gameplay requiring dexterity and reflexes rather than intelligence. The challenge, and satisfaction in overcoming it, gave way to arcade entertainment that you can easily share with others.
Needless to say, I was disappointed.
A MASSIVE TWIST
Fortunately, this disappointment quickly changed to hope at the sight of a new development. Somewhat ironically, what allowed games to get their complexity back was the next step of what made them lose it in the first place. Increasing amount of simultaneous players. The new name of the game spelled MMOG.
MMOs, following the success of World of Warcraft, started featuring advanced mechanics, offering never-ending challenges (best of them PvP oriented) and demanding long-term engagement. Oh, and one more thing. Farming. Now if you think it involves crops or livestock, check out the definition here. Alternatively, you can take a much more fun route and watch experience farming South Park style.
So there I was, playing such MMOG – Guild Wars 2, looking at my dungeon raid party. Out of five members three of them were wielding the mighty Eternity – hardest legendary weapon to craft in the whole game. One you can’t get without a significant amount of farming. How much exactly? This is what I was wondering at that moment. Promptly I laid out the resources needed to craft Eternity and estimated farming time needed. You would expect it to take hours, right? Well, wrong. It doesn’t. It takes weeks. And if you make it a full time job – 8 hours daily with weekends off, it would take over 3 months!
Now think of the dozens of such items in this game – since players need multiple to complete a functional equipment set for their character. Think of the number of people playing Guild Wars – 8 million worldwide. Finally, think of how many MMOs are there out there and that Guild Wars doesn’t even make it into top 10! What if, I thought, this same mechanism could be used to make people use even a fraction of this massive (pun intended) amounts of time do do something better, more useful…
I had the tool. What I still needed was a goal.
A HYPOCRITE LIKE ME
I have long believed, that in modern world every industry, even the most money-driven of them, offers opportunities to contribute to the good of the society and the world. Opportunities each of us should actively look for and seize. Marketing is a profound example for this thesis, due to it’s exceptional capabilities. I encourage you to read more about how brands and agencies are already changing the world in this article. No wonder then, that what I started looking for, was not a business application of the tool, but rather a cause.
Another thing apart from (game-enthusiast) I have been for quite a while is a feminist. Male feminists are a curious bunch. They can be mostly divided into two groups. Those who know they are hypocrites, and those who don’t. Painstakingly, I belong to the first, far smaller group. Vast majority of men when asked are going to speak out for 100% equality.
Unfortunately, as statistics tell us, almost none live up to those ideals (even if they honestly believe otherwise) in everyday situations. A crime I am guilty of as well. I have thus chosen to tackle one such area, which perfectly reflects this tendency. Area where women do most of the work (especially in conservative societies like Poland) despite both sexes ageing that should not be the case. House chores.
IT’S AN APP!
The concept for the app slowly crystallised. Yes, an app. Don’t act surprised, everything is an app these days, so why not this? Anyway, we were looking at a gamified rivalry between two partners, with points awarded for doing real life house chores and the goal for both partners being to achieve a split as close to a perfect 50/50 as possible. It felt like a good fit between the cause, the mechanics and, importantly, the target group.
Women were never going to be a problem. They would gladly take the opportunity of showing their partners how much work they do daily around the house and be happy to encourage a fairer split. It was the men the app had to appeal to, and in two separate ways. Firstly, to attract them, and then, to keep them playing.
A popular gender-related stereotype says, that if you want a man to do something, confront him with a challenge. As with most stereotypes, there is some truth to it. I’m sure you’ve heard those words. “What? I can’t do it? Of course I can! Watch me!” And for all those times, it was the uglier sex that was responsible for a vast majority of them. So this is what the app does. It screams out a challenge. OK, so you believe in gender equality? Good. Now put your money (or time and effort) where your mouth is.
Now that he’s taken up the challenge how do we ensure it’s not just a fleeting attraction? This is where farming (remember?) comes in. As we know from modern games (users of which are – still – mostly male) in order to farm a virtual items, currency or points people are willing to do the most boring, repetitive tasks. Kind of like, I don’t know, house chores? Why can’t farming be brought to the real world – your own home? The tasks you do here aren’t any more objectionable while they bring a visible effect and satisfaction. And the points you collect – compared to any in-game currency – have much greater value. They are an an investment. In future free time (“see honey, I’m ahead of you this week, and there happens to be a match this evening…”), in bragging rights (“there, I told you I can do it”) and in a very rare badge. That of a non-hypocrite.
And, perhaps, in something even more valuable… A better and happier relationship.