Disclaimer: This is not an attack on Snapchat. I love Snapchat and live both on it and shamefully vicariously through others’ stories.
Studying English, you quickly learn that everything can be considered a narrative. I decide to pick up a pen, i look at the pen, i reach over to the pen, and I pick it up – it’s not going to win me any nobel prizes but it’s a narrative. Studying English, but actually spending most of my time writing about video games however, has taught me that everything is a game. That the world around us is slowly turning into one governed by the same rules we witness in our virtual game worlds.
Companies employ loyalty cards – the Starbucks gold card for example, is a levelling up in coffee skill until you reach some state of superiority by having a gold coloured piece of plastic in your Fossil purse. You try and earn Twitter followers, with the numbers playing back as stats of your improvement in content or wit over the last few days. University degrees are gamified, earning your credits as you progress through the courses, ultimately beating the game by collecting them all and graduating (you’ve won but you’re also jobless, homeless, and crying into your debt so who’s really the winner here).
One of the most obvious gamifications of culture i’ve witnessed however, is the revolution that is Snapchat.
On the surface, this social networking app appears as a piece of photo sharing and messaging software through which you can broadcast your life to your friends through stories or send them specific seconds of film. Snapchat however, operates on the same laws as games do.
Swiping up to your ‘profile’ on Snapchat will reveal a score under your name. It’s the total number of snapchats you’ve both sent and received – a status symbol in certain friendship groups, and definitely something compared between users, the Snapchat score is a representation of your dedication to the app. The higher the score, the more time you’ve spent on Snapchat. Though there are no rewards for your impressive magic number, this system operates on the same mechanic video games used to back in the day – simple local competition between users over proficiency in the technology.
Perhaps the most akin to the video game world as we know it now, Snapchat’s trophy system rewards users for reaching certain milestones with small emoji type badges to display on their profile. The extent to which users try and earn all these trophies is exemplified by the numerous Buzzfeed pages which have cropped up since the emergence of trophies, informing users how to collect each and every one of them – a cheat sheet if you like. Trophies, like the score, are meaningless – they provide no tangible reward, just bragging rights. They are worked for in-game and only exist in-game.
There’s Even Side-Quests
If Snapchat’s a game, then the single player campaign mode can be considered the main structure of, say, taking a photo, adding a caption, doodle, and emoji, and sending it to a couple of friends and posting it on your story. The more people who watch your story, open your snap, or message you back, the more successful you were in your single player campaign. So when we turn to look at the ‘Discover’ section of Snapchat, we see side-quests emerge. Not a day passes when there isn’t a “circle your fave and send to your best friend” post on one of these Discover stories (sequences of posts created and uploaded by media outlets such as Buzzfeed, IGN, Mashable, and VICE). This is a side quest. Every “colour me in”, “swipe down to read”, “screenshot and send” post is a side mission waiting to be taken up by you.
Snapchat, like a lot of social media, ensures that the user’s end goal is to maintain proficiency in the technology. The gamification of Snapchat therefore, exists through the different ways users can express their proficiency and use of the app to their friends and acquaintances. Trophies, scores, and Discover quests send users out to snap more, and interact with the interface for more time, earning themselves points and arbitrary medals that prove their dedication to the cause.