Gamification Is Bullshit. So Far.

Gamification is usually bullshit. This means that I mostly agree with Ian Bogost. Intrinsically, it is neither good nor evil. Gamification exploits reward structures common to games, and game-like structures, to incentivize certain behavior.

Of course, we can say that nuclear weapons and AK-47s aren’t intrinsically evil, either. But we can expect that the ends that humans will put them to are foreseeably bad. For gamification, like weapons of mass destruction, the genie is out of the bottle. Now, that doesn’t mean that your social game is going to result in deaths (well, probably not). It doesn’t mean that it produces anything good, though.

If gamification is a tool to incentivize behavior, the question is what behavior are you trying to encourage? If you’re after pure commercialization, pure profit drive, then well, yes you are manipulating human psychology to turn a quick buck. It’s pretty much bullshit that you’re selling. A Skinner box with a game wrapper that validates someone’s feelings of esteem or accomplishment. Don’t feel too bad, you’re in a long history of marketing and advertising. No shame in that. You hack.

What I take exception to is the lofty rhetoric of Jesse Schell or Jane McGonigal that lay out hopes that gamification will make the world a better place. Maybe, maybe. I haven’t seen it yet, though. Have you? Have you seen a game designer using gamification principles for anything more nobler than dollars?

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