How Gifts Construct Reality
In my previous post on The Badgeville Blog, I introduced ideas from Anthropology which teach us why gaming and gameplay has an ongoing role in the history of humanity.
At Badgeville, one of our core responsibilities as producers is to navigate systems of significations to cause users to perform valuable behaviors. We do this by breaking the boundaries of work and play and by understanding how game elements can drive behaviors within a certain cultural contexts.
Letâ€™s take the phenomenon of gifting to understand how a system of significance is derived through the underlying structure that defines behaviors and meaning and how we can take advantage of it. The word community derives from the Latin word munus, or gift. One explanation may be that social gifting (com + munus) establishes communities.
The French sociologist Marcel Maus claimed that, contrary to what we may think, gifts are never free. â€œWhat?â€ You mas ask, â€œYou mean to say that the present I got for my birthday from my friend was not gratuitous?â€ You betcha! In Western culture, the act of gifting creates a social bond. The person who gave me the gift and I engage in a relationship (often without being aware of it). By giving me the present she becomes (or remains) my friend, and reciprocity is assumed.
Gifts have two elements of valorization, a â€œrealâ€ value, and a â€œsymbolicâ€ value. Therefore, when I got a book as a birthday present, it is not only that this book cost $7.99 on Amazon, but also that the person who gave it to me symbolically (but with very real implications) molded our relationship. The type of gift is also important; buying a book as a present symbolizes/creates a very different relationship than giving red roses.
I chose the example of gifts because they prove to be a tremendously strong social/game mechanic, which is very paramount in building relationships and communities. Facebook and Zynga, for example, realized very early the importance of gifting. In both corporeal and virtual gifts, the act of gifting constructs social reality by emphasizing a relationship. These relationships, even if they are based on virtual worlds, have very real effects on people as can be seen from the case of Megan Meir.
In my next contribution I will talk about the relationship between games (and their meanings) and cultural contexts.