The MMORPG of the real world

I have always been interested in (and enjoyed playing) computer games. Ever since I was about 5 years old I would play Frogger. Then a few years later I'd spend hours in my Dad's office playing Prince of Persia (I never quite got to the Princess as we always had to leave :sad face: ). In more recent years I have played a fair few MMORPGs. Starting with a text based dungeon game called Legends of Cosrin, then I moved on to Runescape, World of Warcraft, Eve Online and so on.

What strikes me more than anything is that the underlying game mechanic in all of these is self (and/or team) improvement. For anyone wanting to read more about this, there is an awesome article about Gamer Disposition which is very interesting.

Anyway, more recently, probably due to being in the industry myself, I've been more interested in games and computers due to how they work. Trying to reverse engineer (in my head) what the developer was thinking when he made that bit of UI or how they managed to get that particular animation just right. I've also created a couples of apps myself and I'm always trying to find new/better ways of doing things.

This lead me directly to the programmer's hang-out that is StackOverflow. It's a hive of questions and answers and people helping each other out (or at least trying to) with their programming problems.

StackOverflow works as an (almost) entirely user generated "meeting place" of questions and answers. You sign up, ask a question and (hopefully) within a few minutes you get an answer or at least a nudge in the right direction. And the people answering? Well, they're just other users who once started out where you are at the beginning. Maybe they've tried what you are trying to do or have found a more efficient way around the problem you are having in their last application, whatever their source of knowledge, they then pass that on to you and you can stop pulling your hair out.

It all seems very straightforward... or does it?

I was asking myself the question today, "Why do I want/like to help out other people so much?" In fact, why does anyone?

Every user gets their own account with a bio, an avatar, public stats, etc... and in all that information is the key. Reputation. All it is is a number but it is so crucial to the whole community. Every time you do something good (have an answer accepted, have a question/answer up-voted, have an edit accepted on a user's question, ...) you gain reputation. But equally, every time you do something bad you lose reputation.

I started out today with 1,927 "points" in my reputation. My first thought was "I bet I can get to 2,000 today". It was only when I hit 2,000 and started checking out what "goodies" I had unlocked that it came to me.

profile for Fogmeister at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

StackOverflow has turned helping each other out into a game! Not just any game, a full-on, proper MMORPG! The answers I gave to the last few people to take me over 2,000 xp points (err... reputation) didn't help me in anyway. The only benefit I got from it was the few extra points of reputation. It is this that keeps me coming back and viewing my awards, badges, stats and reputation.

Just like in all the MMORPGs I have played, there are users that pop up every now and then with a reputation score well in excess of mine. When I see them around I always take note of what they have written and have been privileged enough to receive nice comments from them too. These are the people I aspired to be when I was walking around Elwynn Forrest as a lowly human mage as they rode past fully clad in armour on their trusty steed.

Without this system in place there would be no rewards, there would be no reputation, no up-votes. All of the incentive gets removed. It all boils down to gamification of helping people out.

This is something I will definitely have to think about exploiting in the future.

Anyway, I need to get back to my quest of saving Azeroth from destruction... erm... work.

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