Gamification is baloney is tearing it up today
A post I wrote at GigaOM Research about gamification is getting a lot of play on Twitter:
The need for a renewed push in the enterprise to reengage every person with their personal work, to find meaning and purpose, has never been greater. But adding badges to users’ profiles on whatever work management tool the company is on, showing that Bette is a super expert customer support staffer is the shallowest sort of employee recognition, like giving our coffee mugs to the folks with the lowest number of sick days.
We need to build deep culture, where the foundation of the new work ethos is on people’s relationship to their own work: gaining mastery in their work domain, acquiring higher levels of autonomy, and gaining the respect of coworkers. For that, we don’t need no stinking badges.
Douglas Rushkoff, interviewed by Samatha Hinds in The New Inquiry, 3
Jane McGonigal has become a rockstar of the TED crowd, but she has gone off the rails with her notion that ‘life is too easy’ as a rationale for the rise of online gaming. Steven Poole contrasts her love of World Of Warcraft with the more quotidian lives of two characters in Cart Life, who have to struggle to make ends meet:
Devastating humanism - Steven Poole via Edge Magazine
In her egotistical manifesto for ‘gamification’, Reality Is Broken, Jane McGonigal makes an extraordinary claim. “Reality,” she writes, “is too easy”. That’s why we need to fill it with the ‘voluntary obstacles’ of games, to make things more interesting. Nothing could be a more fatuously perfect example of blinkered privilege, the digital utopianism of the materially comfortable. Reality might be ‘too easy’ for McGonigal; it is anything but for Melanie, Cart Life’s coffee-hut heroine, or the other freely playable character, Andrus, who runs a newspaper stall. They have to make a living a dollar at a time, while figuring out how to feed themselves, look after a cat or child, brave the Kafkaesque ambiance of City Hall, and at the end of each day dream troubling dreams of their new life in the unforgiving city.
Another property that reality has, according to McGonigal’s zany metaphysics, is that it is ‘unproductive’. Only a game, like World Of Warcraft, offers the kind of ‘blissful productivity’ that she defines as “the sense of being deeply immersed in work that produces immediate and obvious results”. Well, Melanie and Andrus in Cart Life are engaged in work that demands an immersed concentration and produces immediate results: they make a dollar or two whenever they sell a newspaper, or a cup of coffee or milk, or maybe even a hot dog, but their lives are still somehow not as blissful as promised by McGonigal’s Panglossian advert for the virtualised late-capitalist work ethic.
One of the glibly tossed-off future possibilities of gamification presented by McGonigal is that large-scale crowdsourcing games could help ‘end poverty’. You know that a new fad herbal supplement or therapy technique is bullshit when it promises to cure absolutely everything, from shyness to baldness to cancer; in the same way, McGonigal’s prophecy that gamification will wash away all the world’s ills makes it obvious that it is cultural quackery. I don’t think Hofmeier’s Cart Life will end poverty either, but in its superbly intelligent way of making you walk a mile in the shoes of the poor, it has a far better chance at least of increasing empathy with the downtrodden. That is more than a library full of gamification moonshine will ever accomplish.
McGonigal’s dismissive attitude about the deep structure of poverty reminds me of the ‘Homeless hotspots’ stunt of SxSW, where homeless people were paid to act as 4G mifi hotspots.
Tim Carmody wrote it ‘sounds like something out of a darkly satirical science-fiction dystopia’. On one hand, it’s good that the out of work can make a buck, but it’s a stunt — at a profound level — intended to attract attention, and to exploit both the homeless involved and the SxSW attendees.
All of this demonstrates a growing split between the technological elite and average people, struggling to stay afloat or slipping under the waves.
Ron Radoff, Gamification, Behaviorism and Bullshit
- Ian Bogost, Gamification is Bullshit
I shudder whenever I hear ‘gamification’ and Bogust nails it.
Consumr is a NY-based startup, trying to blend the check-in/gamification metaphors of geolocation with socializing consumer goods. In the screenshot above you can see my review of Sriracha and the stream of game incentives.
Alas, I don’t feel it. I don’t think people are going to ‘check-in’ every time they eat a candy bar, or make some ramen. And they won’t want to follow others doing it, either.
There is a possible product out there, but its more likely to be for serious foodies wondering which sherry vinegar is better for Momofuku’s Bo Saam (anything labeled ‘Vinagre de Jerez, Reserva’, by the way), with an integrated social commerce aspect. And Consumr is not that.
Margaret Robinson, of Hide&Seek, the game designers, on why everything shouldn’t be ‘gamified’:
Margaret Robinson, Can’t play, won’t play
Games offer fail conditions as well as win conditions. They are able to deliver the high levels of emotional engagement they’re famed for because they’re also adept at delivering the lows of loss, humiliation and frustration. The world of user experience design from which the concept of gamification has arisen has spent the last twenty years erasing loss, humiliation and frustration from its flows. A world of badges and points only offers upwards escalation, and without the pain of loss and failure, these mean far less. And when this upward escalation is based only on accumulation of points, rather than on expressions of my choices and my skills, then this further strips out the sense of agency and competence, so crucial to the emotional and neurological buzz we get from gaming.
It’s crucial that we stop conflating points and games.
Firstly, because it devalues points. Points are great. So are badges. Everything you’re reading on the pro-gamification posts about how powerful they are as motivators and rewards is spot on. Game designers resort to them – I resort to them – so often because they’re fantastic tools, and as with all tools there is real art and science behind deploying them well. They deserve to be studied, refined and adapted on their own terms, with their own vocabulary.
But secondly, because it misrepresents games. Gamification is an inadvertent con. It tricks people into believing that there’s a simple way to imbue their thing (bank, gym, job, government, genital health outreach program, etc) with the psychological, emotional and social power of a great game. And when their gamified thing doesn’t deliver on that promise, the only rational thing for them to do is to turn round and say ‘Games don’t work! We gamified the dickens out of this thing, and it still didn’t make as much money/reach as many users/generate as much social heat as World of WarCraft/Farmville/Minecraft’. Any game designer looking at their gamified thing would say, ‘Of course it didn’t do what those things did! Those things are all games and your thing isn’t!’ But they won’t be heard, because they won’t be in the room, since – and this is very telling – the gamification process rarely involves any actual game designers.
Gamification is the wrong word for the right idea. The word for what’s happening at the moment is pointsification. There are things that should be pointsified. There are things that should be gamified. There are things that should be both. There are many, many things that should be neither.
It’s important that we make the distinction between the two undertakings because, amidst all this confusion, we’re losing sight of the question of what would happen if we really did apply the deeper powers of game design to more everyday things – if we really did gamify them – and that question is a fascinating, exciting and troubling one. I really hope we get a chance to explore it properly.
I have been making a supporting argument, badly: puttin badges and points into every social application trivializes what they proxy in social tools, which is reputation. Instant reputation is like instant coffee: at its best, it’s still ersatz and inferior to the real thing.
So, games are fine, just like money and sex. But we don’t put money and sex into every social app either.