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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