In October of last year, JD (upon his teat this weblog suckles), proposed the introduction of Brownie Points on his weblog. Basically, you’d get brownie points by being a good weblog reader: pointing out typos, making insightful or funny comments, completing some menial task that he’d tyrannically assigned (Hey, when you’ve got people in your thrall, whaddya gonna do?). He quickly received 35 comments. People wanted to know all the rules, where the points would be tallied, and they immediately started pointing out typos. It seemed weird to some people, including Aimee, who dropped this bomb:
Does this seem necessary, J.D., when your website has generated so much response in the past sans Brownie Points?? This is seems to me to be a post-secondary school cry for authority and affirmation, J.D.
Yours (as always),”
I should mention that JD was explicit that these points had no purpose. There was no prize, they were awarded semi-arbitrarily, it wasn’t even certain if he’d keep track of them publicly. It didn’t matter, some people were excited, others were nervous; JD had intended the brownie points as a fun diversion, but they changed the whole relationship between the readers and he.
Why? Because people love points. At least, I love points. I may have first learned to use them when my brother Josh bought an old dartboard at a church rummage sale. I was so young I could barely hit the board and, between the two of us, we put about six hundred tiny holes in the plywood wall behind the board (And then we moved the board to another wall. The Mirons were definitely more into living in a house than reselling it.). Josh kept track of the score as I wasn’t big on counting past ten.
Then, of course, came sports. First soccer- easy enough to count the points in that game, then football with its mysterious multiples of prime numbers, finally basketball with its embarrassment of riches- Lakers vs. Celtics: 98-94. These points were perfectly clear: someone is beating somebody else.
Perhaps more complex but more powerful is the idea of points as progress. In my life they manifest most obviously as the points found in roleplaying games, videogames, even some of my “hardcore” wargames. Diablo became one of the bestselling computer games in history by streamlining the acquisition of experience points into a single mouse-click. Click the monster, get experience. Repeat. Fun occurs.
But it is fun, or at least pleasurable, to accumulate points. Now that money has gone virtual, it’s really just points. Your retirement fund: every two weeks you score big points! Marketers have discovered this phenomenon and now I can get points for just about anything I spend money on: cell phone minutes, airline miles, Barnesnnoble credit cards, ebay auctions, purchases at Subway…etc. Of course, these points have a purpose: if you get enough of them you Win Big! But mostly they give us the illusion of getting somewhere, of achieving something, yet another quasi-religious aspect of consumerism. Good works become good buys, and heaven becomes a free flight to Cancun.
Which may sound critical, but I love points, because I’m human. I’m pretty sure someday we’ll have the brain fully mapped and we’ll find a huge white neural tract from the area that counts points (perhaps next door to the region that says “Oo! Look! A monkey!) to the pleasure center. Maybe I’ll discover it, and it’ll be called Miron’s Point-Monkey-Love-Pleasure Highway.
(Ooh, here’s a Jared Diamondesque smoke-filled-dorm-room question: Did we love points before we’d invented numbers? Did we invent numbers because we love points?!)
Other than the obvious Doing Something Environmental Points or Exercise points I enjoy accumulating:
Brain points: If you do things with your off-hand, you’ll increase the lines of connection within and between your brain’s hemispheres and consequently be able to recover more easily from a stroke. Of course, you'll also do a lot of things very slowly and poorly, perfect for waged work.
Frugality points: Reuse a tea bag = half a point. Check out a library book instead of buying (and then return it on time) = five points. Do all your pooping and showering at work to save on that water bill = 10 big points/month!
And of course, there are the infamous Wife Points. Some husbands earn these through simply doing the laundry or not scratching themselves in public. I try to elevate the interchange 'tween my spouse and myself: Wife points are only to be earned through Random and Romantic Acts of Kindness. That is, through the cliche but never worn-out Sudden Bouquet of Flowers for No Good Reason or the Candlelit Dinner Which Consists of Food We'd Be Eating Anyway, But is Arranged Decoratively on the Plate. However, I have chosen to follow the fundamental law of economics concerning this last category of points. The lower the supply, the greater the demand and, consequently, the greater the reward.
It just so happens that yesterday, shocked by the sudden lull at work (remember, we're at the end of a record month, one in which there's been no free time for me), I decided I wanted to play a computer game. I haven't played a computer game in many moons. But which one? Few modern games run on my lowly 333mhz Celeron. But wait! Diablo runs. So, I installed Diablo. And I played for a couple of hours, clicking like mad, king of the clickers, defeating Burning Legion, Fallen, and the like. And, as usual, I didn't bother to apply my accumulated skill points, barely bothered to pick up healing potions. Diablo is just so easy during the first few levels. Well, until you get surrounded by a bunch of zombies and die, that is. Which I did. No problem, I'll just -- wait...where's the continue option? What do you mean I had to have saved the game? Can't I just go recover my corpse? CURSES!
I guess that's enough Diablo for a while.
Also, you forgot to mention Friend Points. These are accumulated when you help a friend move, or listen to stories about why their soon-to-be-ex-wife is such a bitch, or you repair their bicycle or computer or chicken coop. Some people accumulate huge debts of friend points to certain friends, and then those friends come a-callin', wanting to cash them in.
"I'm coming for you, Paul, I'm coming for you!" :)
Posted by: J.D. at May 28, 2004 07:40 AM
So points are really just a grown-up version of the star chart, right?
In-law points exist in our household. Craig always wins a lot of them when my parents visit, because he cooks. My mom doesn't care much for cooking and therefore loves anyone else who does it, and my dad loves to eat good food. It's a win-win-win situation, and points abound.
Personally, I always give mental points for a well-used word, the more syllables, the better.
Posted by: Lisa at May 28, 2004 10:47 AM
By the way, I'll give you some points if you fix the line spacing in comment text so that it matches the body. Those Movable Type templates have bad line spacing, and it peeves me.
Nitpickily yours and etc.,
Posted by: Lisa at May 28, 2004 10:49 AM
I suppose we could make a rationale for the line-spacing (and thus a rationale for not doing anything about it) by saying that we want the main body text to be nice and dense so the entries doen't seem oppressively long, and that we want the comments to be nice and expansive so it looks like we've generated a lot of interest.
There, score five big laziness points!
Posted by: Joel at May 28, 2004 11:10 AM
Well, if you put it that way, how can I argue? Take your laziness points and begone!
Posted by: Lisa at May 28, 2004 11:18 AM
No, wait! I want Lisa's nitpicky perspectives and advice!
Ha! Personal Growth Points!
Posted by: Aimee at May 28, 2004 01:29 PM