Egyptian pharaoh Reny-Seneb felt so strongly about his board game Senet that he was buried with it in 1800 B.C. His ancestors were playing Mehen a thousand years earlier. The ancient Romans loved their Knucklebones, and gambled playing Duodecim Scripta. A game called chaturanga was played in India in the 6th Century before it evolved into chess in Western Europe and Russia a few centuries later.
It's as if human beings are hardwired to play games. Look past the time and topic of the games themselves, and you see a universal predisposition to feel rewarded by such interactive challenges...whether we win or lose.
Our language reflects it: we say that hunters play games with their prey. Lovers do the same, sadly. Work and play often involve the same investment of time, effort, and intensity, along with the same sensations of risk and reward.
I think we possess a gaming gene that influences our behavior, whether we're dressed in sandals and cursing the capricious gods behind a cloudy day, or wearing the latest eco-fashions and tweeting the glories of the Internet.
This should have significant implications for how we envision and deliver brands, shouldn't it?
Interestingly, games have been used in marketing mostly as an entertaining hook or distraction. Promotions are gimmicks to get consumers' attention, so they can be peppered with the real, meaningful substance that manipulates their inner-selves.
The recent explosion in video gaming, whether console or online, has yielded a channel for marketers to do the same thing. So we get product placement and in-game advertising. Corporate mascots appear as characters in games. The gameplay itself is the incidental trigger for gaining consumers' attention.
It seems to me that we could do more with the game interface than crap it out with old-fashioned ideas of brand marketing.
In fact, haven't we got it backwards? Humans have no evident gene for branding; we possess no dedicated or refined receptors for marketing. Companies spend billions presuming otherwise.
So what if we looked at brands as games? No, not with points or dragons to slay, per se, but in the very way we structure, communicate, and measure branding.
Instead of possessing static attributes or qualities, brands would be defined by the reasons and ways people interact with them...engagement would have purpose, direction, and feedback. Consumer relationships would grow over time, accruing value like, well, successful dragon slayers might.
It would take some bright bulbs to address this opportunity, but I think it has incredible potential.