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The Gamification Of Money: Crypto's Millennial Appeal

Cryptocurrency and the gamification of money

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The well-documented attention span of Millennials was a disruptive force in many markets before the gamification of money was ever conceived.

Dating? Think Tinder. Communication? Pick a social medium. Services, products, and even relationships arrive faster and dissipate more quickly than ever. Yet for all the naysaying of their elders, there is surprisingly little evidence to suggest that the connections Millennials make with each other, and with the markets in which they operate, are any ‘worse’ than those their parents made. They are simply different.

Consider banking. Austere publication American Banker cites the Millennial Disruption Index when it claims that a third of Millennials don’t expect to even HAVE a bank in the future, and five million of them don’t have an account now due to their distrust of the banking system. Banks have some of the most unlikable brands in commerce in the USA. But the publication suggests that a portion of this is due to the banks’ failure to provide services and products that are appealing to Millennials.

This is not to say that Millennials don’t like, want, or aspire to obtaining money. They buy homes at the same rate as their parents, spend money like it’s going out of style, and have defined a class of consumption – ‘experiential materialism’ – that defines their objectives in life as ‘doing’ things, not just ‘having’ them. It all takes money.

But money is, to some extent, a game that parents play. Boomers have the patience to hold GE stock, to invest in bonds, to save in CDs (and still play them.) Playing the stock market is, to the gratification generation, not fun. It’s boring.

Money, in fact, is boring.

And if there’s one thing Millennials love, it’s to be entertained. So when an accessible, technology-enabled, semi-anarchic technology arrives on the scene that provides instant gratification at the touch of a screen, is it surprising that Millennials finally see the opportunity to enjoy the process of making cash?

“And from the time I was a kid, I’ve had this internal monologue roaring through my head, which doesn’t stop – unless I’m asleep. I’m sure every person has this; it’s just that my monologue is particularly loud. And particularly troublesome. I’m constantly asking myself questions. And the problem with that is that your brain is like a computer: If you ask a question, it’s programmed to respond, whether there’s an answer or not.” – Jordan Belfort, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.

The advent of cryptocurrency has filled a vast chasm of opportunity: it has made money exciting for the video game generation.

Instead of annual reports and stock prices in tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal, we have Twitter rumors, Lambos to the Moon, and apps like Blockfolio and Delta that update our portfolios in near real-time on the screens we’re glued to for hours every day. Our experience of money has fundamentally changed – the gamification of money, like the gamification of dating, or popularity, or even shopping, has begun.

Good games require lengthy and intensive work to achieve mastery, but they’re easy to start playing. (Aside from actually getting money onto an exchange, crypto would certainly qualify as a gamified environment under this description.)

Games reward the winners – and penalize poor plays. Look for examples from sports to board games. They encourage the concept of instant gratification, at least at the beginner to intermediate stage – but in order to attain true excellence, the game must reward hard work, tenacity, and determination.

And games often reward with abstracts. A goal in soccer feels great to fans and to the team that scores, but contrary to anything Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool manager, might say, it’s not a matter of life and death. (Usually.)

 “To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and I say ‘Listen, it’s more important than that”. – Bill Shankly.

The game in which the team or individual is actually awarded ‘something’ is usually at the end of a long road. In business, it might be a strategic exit that finally provides a heap of cash to the founders after a few years of hard work. In hockey, it’s the actual Stanley Cup. But the wins achieved along the way are not intrinsically valuable, simply stepping-stones on the road to something that is.

The gamification of money follows an established pattern.

The board game ‘Monopoly’ still sells millions of copies every year. Las Vegas was built on slot machines. Gamifying money is not entirely new – and it has usually been successful.

Now anyone can turn their triple-monitor rig into a crypto-trading gameworthy powerhouse. Binance over here! Bittrex over there! Telegram and Twitter in the middle! And although the money that shows up might disappear again in a few seconds, the dopamine triggers and Pavlovian responses that have been so effectively exploited by video game designers, Facebook engineers, and ad executives are now hard at work training Millennial brains to constantly refresh their apps for a financial treat.

Is this bad? Not at all. With hindsight from most, and the foresight of a few, it’s simply an inevitability.

At some time, like their parents as they settled down after the social upheavals of the ‘sixties, Millennials would likely have to turn their attention to making some serious cash. If the path to doing so did not fit their lifestyles and social attitudes, that path would have to be redefined. That redefinition is cryptocurrency. It is a phenomenon that suits the mentality of the generation, and therefore its rise can be considered to be natural and expected.

In practical terms, I speculate that this suggests longevity for the crypto market beyond the bubble forecast by Domesday prophets (who are now backtracking anyway). Corrections may come and go, companies may rise and fall, but the most powerful consumers in the world’s most powerful economy have been given a taste of a game they very much want to play. Across the world, a generation of consumers has found that having control of their money, and having fun with it, are good things.

And no matter how much governments, banks, and business publications may not like it, the gamification of money – like the gamification of social interaction – suggests it will be impossible to stuff the crypto genie back into its bottle.

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