How FourSquare Intends to be vs. How FourSquare Really is

Despite most video games generally being ‘fun,’ for whatever reason many of them are successful at encouraging players to repeat a number of menial tasks multiple times or for long stretches of time, often for little or intangible reward. For example, if only I demonstrated the same commitment to doing laundry as I do to ‘breeding chocobos in Final Fantasy VII’, my apartment might resemble that of an adult. If others spent as much time loping gamely across the real world as they do jogging through World of Warcraft, perhaps they could disassociate from ‘gamer stereotypes’ by being a less fat player population.

Game design’s power to make people do boring things has led lots of people to wonder if they could somehow ‘tap’ that trait and ‘leverage’ it against the real world, using game concepts to make ordinary tasks somehow ‘fun’. This school of thought relies on the idea that people want to make a game out of everyday life, and that thanks to the great chain of social media these are tasks people want to enjoy and share with their ‘friends’.

This might sound good if you are a chill young social media CEO giving a presentation to investors hoping to get money for your minimal infrastructure or oddly-named concept, but people who believe that ‘gamifying’ life via social media is something a large number of people will want to integrate into their lives neglect the fact that realistic implementation of these concepts has until now been ‘fucking obnoxious’ in the real world.

One important example is Foursquare, the quintessential tool in the social media douche belt. Foursquare is commonly used by people carrying man-purses in Silicon Valley, people inappropriately attached to their Apple device, and people in Chicago who are always slightly behind the more cosmopolitan coastal cities in terms of new media culture adoption.

Foursquare intends to ‘make a game out of’ going to places like someone’s house or a coffee shop. Theoretically you and all your friends are in possession of 1. Mobile devices 2. Twitter and/or Facebook accounts 3. Foursquare accounts. You and all your friends also enjoy going to the same coffee shops, restaurants and houses, theoretically.

The idea is that upon arriving in one of these places you ‘check in’ via accessing Foursquare from your mobile device. People who follow you via social media such as Facebook and Twitter receive a ‘notification’ that you ‘checked in’, with a Google Maps URL that will show where you are. If you ‘check in’ somewhere enough times you will earn [useless] ‘badges’ for your social media profile, and if you ‘check in’ someplace more than anyone else has ever ‘checked in’ there before, you become the ‘mayor’ of that place on Foursquare, a designation of which all your friends will be ‘notified’ via a message reading like ‘DoucheMan2091 has become the mayor of Preppie Asshole Coffee Bar on FourSquare!’

For your edification here is a comparison:

How FourSquare Intends To Be

I am urbane and aware in my always-on world. My social life transcends the line between the physical and the digital. We congregate around real-world ‘hubs’ that are meaningful locations to us. I am going to check in to one of these ‘hubs’ on FourSquare. My friends are going to be soooo jealous I ‘unseat’ the mayor. They will soon be on their way here via public transit to ‘check in’ and try to ‘unseat’ me. The result will be a spontaneous evening of beverages together once everyone descends on this meaningful location in an incredible collision of social media and genuine bond.

How FourSquare Is

I go into a coffee shop with my friend. While we are in line to beveragesI access Twitter via my mobile device to ‘check in’ on FourSquare. My friend is trying to talk to me and eventually becomes perturbed that I am immersed in my mobile device. ‘What are you doing,’ she asks me. ‘Checking in on FourSquare,’ I tell her. ‘What is that,’ she says. ‘It’s a social game,’ I tell her. ‘It’s very social.’ I try to explain about check ins and badges and mayors and she is looking at me in a way that says ‘I was talking to you about my career anxieties or about how I have not been feeling well and you were doing this.’

My ‘check in’ notification appears on Twitter. My 31 followers are not interested. Many of them live in other towns and do not find a map link relevant. I lose 1 follower.


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  • Michael Koh

    leigh, this is real

  • Arshile Gorky

    Hi Leigh,

    The software interruption of Foursquare will be fixed when Nintendo releases 3DS, which has built-in hardware to do check-ins automatically and passively (StreetPass and SpotPass). Til then, you are right, the experience lacks humanity. But my Arshile law is that new affective technology starts in software and breaks open to critical mass when it is put in hardware. Nintendo 3DS will go critical mass by obeying this law for checkins. Macintosh GUI was first in software, 3D Games like DOOM was first in software, Digital Video like Quicktime was first in software, etc. Best, Arshile

    • ZappCatt

      The problem with “auto-checkin” is…how does it know which of the 50 stores at the mall I am in? What about when it automatically checks me in to every store I walk by on the street? OH, so they put a delay…I am stopped at a stoplight for 1 minute, do they autocheck me in now?

      I liked the fact that 4Square tried to get a benefit for their for the mayor of Starbucks…but that does not seemed to have been “built out”.

  • Bill A Pomerans

    liked it

  • NoahTourjee

    Hah ha ha! Hilarious. Also true. And this is coming from the ex-mayor of C-town and my 99 Cent store. Sad days as they were -I knew then it was right.

    @Arshile may have missed the point..

    • leighalexander

      i have also considered pursuing the strange, hollow satisfaction of becoming 'mayor' of a lot of places by virtue of the fact that no one is likely ever to check in there… like my corner bodega or the western beef in ridgewood

      damn… imagine having a long list of places and crowns, deliberately cultivated, that mean nothing to anyone. you're the mayor of, you're the mayor of, you're the mayor of, over and over

      seems like some tragic art house student film

  • saramcgrath

    aweosme “The result will be a spontaneous evening of beverages together once everyone descends on this meaningful location in an incredible collision of social media and genuine bond.”

  • aaron nicholas

    absolutely hilarious

  • danbann

    a great rebuttal, or at least, caveat, to the sage but somewhat RUNAWAY predictions in…/

  • Meghanmesler

    haha this is great

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