The Yin and Yang of Gamification

Aug 29, 2013
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“I completed my expedition in two months. I brought away the fixed amount which he had ordered me.”

You would think this sentence was taken out of a recent online game but you’d be wrong. It actually is one of the earliest recorded examples of gamification.  It was carved on an Egyptian stela around 1860bc. From this period we have volumes of examples of how expeditions were setup to carry a goal, how people behaviors and attitudes changed during their mission, and the aftermath of completing the mission.

We have not invented much since Ancient Egypt in terms of using game techniques to get people to act, someone simply coined a nice marketing term (Gamification) around it!

In the coming weeks, I will be writing about gamification techniques that can be used in software to improve engagement and user satisfaction. However, before showcasing how well gamification works, we first need to address the most important question that all of us working in the industry are faced with:

Do we want to be ethical or do we want to be evil?

This is not a “funny” question but a very real question with literal life and death consequences.  For every gamification initiatives that furthers research, there are others that end up sending kids to the hospital, or to their graves.
Why we decide to use these techniques is probably more important than how.
At the core of Gamification is social psychology and how people can be swayed to take action regardless of age, gender, or geographical location.  For those of you interested in this topic, I recommend 2 pieces of work to get started:

  • The Milgram experiment
  • Thinking Fast, and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

History is littered with evidence of people committing highly disturbing acts.  The most concerning aspect of gamification is that we now have tools that can rocket-fuel deindividuation, a “condition/state” that can be used to trigger these acts.  So every time we implement a gamification element in our software or recommend certain techniques to a client, we have a responsibility.

I do hope that you opt for the better road, though it is the one less travelled, and will review some great examples in the coming weeks.

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have some examples you want to showcase, alternatively if you want to showcase some disturbing cases, please do not be shy, it only takes a few to raise awareness