May 18, 2012 at 12:25 PM ET
Imagine a future in which you earn badges and achievements at every turn. Meanwhile, companies are constantly encouraging you to level up your life as a way to draw you in. Perhaps you earn a special badge as you run the treadmill at the gym or you level up when you buy so many cans of soda. Perhaps you're waiting at the bus stop and a billboard asks you to help solve a difficult math problem.
According to a new study, gaming is going to be creeping into our lives in a big way in the years to come ... and we may not even realize when we're playing.
On Friday, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and ElonUniversity released the results of a survey of more than 1,000 Internet experts, researchers and observers. About half of those who responded to the survey said the use of gaming mechanics, feedbackloops and rewards to spur interaction and boost loyalty will gain ground between now and 2020.
These days game mechanics are being used in training, marketing, education, and wellness initiatives. For example, with the online protein-folding game Foldit scientists have even been able to combine gaming and crowdsourcing to solve a difficult molecular puzzle that stumped them for years.
And you can expect to see even more of this down the road.
"In addition to their uses for crowd-sourcing solutions, game-style approaches are expected to continue to make inroads in training, personal health, business and education," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, in a press release. "The experts point out that game mechanics offer advantages in encouraging specific behavior and generating measureable feedback."
In fact, technology consultants Gartner Group projects that 50 percent of corporate innovation will be "gamified" by 2015.
While gamification can certainly be used for the powers of good ... the opposite is also true.
Some of the experts interviewed for the survey warned that game mechanics may be harmful.
"Some experts said people can be manipulated by game elements because they canbe used as instruments of propaganda," Janna Anderson, director of Elon University’sImagining the Internet Center and a co-author of the study, said in the release. "Some also saidpeople are often not aware of corporations’ and governments’ uses ofgamification data and patterns to gain intelligence, and some said games panderto people’s already over-met desire to be entertained, to the detriment ofother activities."
"It’s a modern-day form ofmanipulation," said Danah Boyd, a researcher with Microsoft and Harvard’s Berkman Center, in the survey. "And like all cognitive manipulation, it can help people and itcan hurt people. And we will see both."
The results are part of an ongoing Future of the Internet study. For more information, check out the Imagining the Internet project here.
Meanwhile, what do you think? Does gaming make everything more fun ... or should game mechanics stay where they belong — in our video games?
Winda Benedetti writes about games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things here on Twitter or join her in the stream here on Google+. And for more video game news and reviews be sure to check out the In-Game Facebook page right here.