Collecting Useless

This post is about the human nature to collect/hoard imaginary points that have very little possibility of benefit. For example, there are Xbox achievements, PSN trophies (a copy of said achievements), Foursquare badges, points (from any web 2.0 website), etc. It’s fair to say that no person needs these things.

The are many possible reasons a person chooses to earn a virtual score: 1.) self-esteem, 2.) social signalling, 3.) point redemption, 4.) site loyalty, and so on.

  1. Self-esteem
    After investing so much time in an environment (Xbox, Foursquare, etc), a person wants to feel like they have accomplished something. If a person has a high user score or rank to show for it, a person can validate their time spent in an environment with a high standing. See level 80 WoW characters.
  2. Social signalling
    Similar to #1 above, a person wants to have a high rank to show off to others. For example in PSN, a person can compare their trophies against their friends. This is a direct 1-to-1 rights to brag feature, where a person can see how many trophies they earned over their friend, and vice-versa. This is known as e-peen on the internet.
  3. Point-redemption
    In certain environments, a person can take points that they earn and redeem them for actual goods. This makes earned points more useful. For example in Club Nintendo, a person earns coins that they can use to redeem for Nintendo merchandise. In other environments, a person is able to redeem points for special features like premium avatars or a better title.
  4. Site loyalty
    With any point program,  a person has a further incentive to keep using the site. They’ve already built up some points, so why would they want to throw that advantage away? By rewarding users for continuing to visit, this drives traffic and revenue (directly or indirectly). Think of Foursquare giving a person points each time they check in at a location. As a Foursquare member who has superuser status, why would that person want to give that all up?

So there are many reasons a person would have to earn points.

Part of human nature is being rational. Being rational entails preparing for the future. So in an effort to be in a better future position, a person may opt to earn points on as many web services as possible. Who knows what is going to be the next Wikipedia or Twitter? If a person was involved early on, they could have been a Wikipedia moderator or gotten many Twitter followers. Yes, most people don’t think like this, but among technology early adopters, this mentality is more prevalent. Finding and using the next cool web service (ala Facebook) before everyone else did is a sure-fire way to increase their e-peen.

In a situation where a person has two choices: 1.) get points or 2.) get no points, a rational person will choose #1 every time. It’s human nature to collect things, store them, and wring some benefit out of it when possible. Even if there is a 0% chance of benefit to having points, it’s likely that a person would want to get points for the sake of it. In video games, earning points and leveling up is addictive for the sake of it.

It makes sense to earn points with credit cards that have conclusive future rewards. It may make sense to earn points in a video game where the only possible future benefit is virtually nil. People simply like getting things in our materialistic society where most people have the basics (food, shelter, clothing, etc.). When a person and their circle of friends don’t have to worry about food, what can help distinguish them from everyone else? Number of Facebook friends? Joining Twitter before Oprah did? Listening to such and such indie rock band before they hit mainstream and sell out?

I write this because I am addicted to PSN trophies, Foursquare badges, and get so focused on this BS aspect. When you play games and are no longer having fun just to earn an achievement, it is BS and you have no one else to blame but yourself.