No one will be surprised by the fact that companies try to maximize profits, he says Adrian Hon. He doesn’t think people will be shocked to hear that authoritarian governments are interested in controlling and manipulating citizens. None of this is new, says the author of You’ve Been Played, and it certainly existed long before the advent of gamification.
A tool for achieving goals
Gamification, the application of game design elements and principles in contexts outside the game, becomes a new tool for achieving existing goals. The difference is that the incentives to modify user behavior are deliberately designed to look like video games, with missions and tasks, using familiar interface elements and symbols, Hon claims.
Moreover, if we turn packing boxes for Amazon or driving for Uber into a game, then employers present the job as both fun and fair, meaning that “if you don’t succeed at the game, it’s your fault and you have to try harder. In the past, people were get used to manipulation that clearly doesn’t benefit you Gamification tends to feel like it’s happening for your benefit.
All those smart watches and phones, CCTV and sensors we use to monitor our health, well-being and work all allow us to measure and quantify aspects of our lives, Kon says. The game, he believes, comes on top of all that information in order to motivate, reward, punish and force people to certain behaviors. It’s “a psychological layer applied to technology-delivered metrics.”
When he’s not writing about gamification, Hon is the CEO of Six to Start, best known for Zombies, Run!, “the world’s most popular smartphone fitness game with 1 million players, more than 40 million online kilometers logged, and more than 200 epic missions.”
As Hon notes in “You’ve Been Played,” there is nothing new about encouraging desired behavior through symbolic and visible rewards that confer status on recipients. His book alludes to a host of examples of such behavior in the pre-digital past, ranging from military decorations and Boy Scout badges to privilege-based education created to create “exemptions from penance.”
“There are similar psychological mechanisms, and in some cases it’s the same thing,” Hon says, especially if the phenomenon is seen as simply adding points for good behavior and deducting points for bad. “The only thing is that in the past people had to physically observe you to decide whether to award you points. Gamification can be fully automated and can operate on a much larger scale.”
Before becoming a game designer nearly two decades ago, Hon built an academic career in neuroscience, eventually giving up his PhD studies at Oxford to devote himself to business. So that now, as the director of a successful company that makes money from game development, he would write a book in which he cites more than 300 pages of arguments against gamification. Moreover, he sees most gamification as fundamentally useless.
Hon, he says, is aware that this attitude is likely to get him into trouble; he simply “loves making games, and gamification is different than video games.” It is compared with Martin Scorsese who “makes movies but doesn’t like Marvel franchises.”
A critical view
Although “You’ve Been Played” takes a mostly critical view of gamification, Hon doesn’t think everything is black and white. For example, an app that gamifies homework is a good thing because it helps you do what you want and is effective at it.
“I think there are many good, or at least harmless, examples of gamification, but my book is not written to give a positive boost to the industry,” explains Hon.