I just got introduced to the brilliant game ProgressQuest which along with Bartle’s observations of the online gaming world is rich in applications for understanding the real world, which in many ways can also be compared to a big game.

Perhaps, a designed game?

ProgressQuest is a spoof on the MMORPG habit of “grinding” for experience points, that is, engaging in a non-entertaining behavior (killing non-player monsters) to achieve some other end, specifically an increase in levels, wealth, special weapons.

Just stop me, whenever you get the point of this analogy 😉

ProgressQuest requires very little interaction from the player. If it does require interaction, the interaction is meaningless. For instance, you can choose an affiliation—it doesn’t matter though.

In the game, which plays itself (the spoof is on the autokill function which relieves the player from going through the self-similar repetitive motions of trivial combat), you head out to the “killing fields”. Here you slay monster after monster (serve customer after customer, write report after report, take phone call after phone call, …) each time collecting a small reward (something the monster drops (an affiliate bonus, a sales commission, a mark on your resume or publication record). Once you have enough rewards, you automatically head back to town to sell them for a level upgrade (career rise, home upgrade, …) or a special weapon (vacation, new car, … ). Then you go right back to the killing fields.

I’ve been playing it for half an hour now. I can’t help to admit it’s kinda fascinating in a comatose kind of way—like watching TV—to follow along. It’s “engaging” to watch what you’ll kill next or what kind of “level” you’ll advance to or what “special weapon” you’ll be able to purchase.

Much like real life…

Bartleby divided online gamers into four categories: achievers, explorers, killers, and socializers.

In short…

  • Achievers play to gain points, rewards, levels, weapons, etc. (they act on the world).
  • Socializers play to interact with other players.
  • Explorers play to interact with the world, discovering new things.

  • Killers play to act on players, that is, killing them.

ProgressQuest is a spoof on achievers. Achievers care mostly about advancing in the system. Most people are actually achievers, and so most online games, computer games—and dare I say the real world—is designed with achievers in mind. You can get them to do anything (specifically, hand over their time in the real world, and/or hard earned money in the gaming world) simply by making up titles, small rewards, special things, stuff that they can hold out demonstrating to the world of their achievements.

Try to click on the link and play it for while. Now, suppose you got $50,000 per year just to watch it or maybe it wasn’t fully automatic, but you had to click A to attack, and occasionally go back to town to convert loot and experience points into status symbols, that is, do something mentally unstimulating on autopilot. Would you take the job?

Have a red pill 😉 Swallow hard.

What is most fascinating to me is that this grand piece of social engineering works beautifully. I am an ‘Explorer’, which I suppose allowed me to figure out how the game works and adequately ‘hack’ it to get out the back door. I “retired”—looking for ways to spend my time that does not involve “achieving” and “being all I can be” by collecting levels, gold, and trinkets.

Using the Gervais analogy, the Killers are the Sociopaths, the Achievers are the Clueless, and the Socializers are … well, the analogy kinda breaks down—or at least I don’t see it anymore. In the gaming world, Killers frequently attract followers who look up to them. I do in some sense look up to Killers (maybe because they kill achievers… muhahaha 😀 ). In the real world, Killers work on Wall Street and in the top floor offices. I kinda see Socializers as Eloiburgers and the Achievers as Morlocks. The Explorers are the “hackers”. Killers can’t touch them, and the other groups don’t care about them. They exist outside the system, because they have gone beyond it.

Here the system we know is that of a college degree followed by 40 years for 9-5 jobs followed by a retirement home. This system is but a part of the world. Luckily, there’s still much of the world left to be explored. The tricky part, from an early retirement perspective, is how to explore it. Much of the world is built around achievement in the sense of amassing experience points. Been there, done that; life is too short. The challenge, now, is to find a different quest.

Originally posted 2010-08-13 22:04:27.