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Persuasive Games: Exploitationware

May 3, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next
 

Making Games is Hard

The name "serious games" may help organizations overcome an initial fear of the form, but it does little to address the terrifying reality of actually making a game. Executives and military brass and doctors and politicians aren't idiots, and they realize that good games are hard to make. They realize that commercial games are big and shiny and cost millions or tens of millions of dollars.

They realize that hundreds of people are sometimes necessary to create them. They realize that games are different from the kinds of products most organizations produce, and that they are therefore fundamentally incompatible with existing ways of doing business.

After the initial calm the term provides, "serious games" fails to quell the resulting storm. And unfortunately, as serious games have progressed, only a few have succeeded at riding the thunder.

There just aren't enough high-quality games that also serve serious purposes effectively. Making games is hard. Making good games is even harder. Making good games that hope to serve some external purpose is even harder.

Efforts like the Serious Games Initiative, the Serious Games Summits at GDC, and the many efforts in research and design around games beyond entertainment by people like me, Jim Gee, Jane McGonigal, Katie Salen, Ben Sawyer, and others had already made the idea of using games for broader purposes more appealing. But serious games and their ilk had done a terrible job making games seem viable to create, deploy, and use.

The Rhetoric of "Gamification"

This is why "gamification" is such an effective term. It keeps the term "game" and puts it right up in front, drawing attention to the form's mysterious power. But the kicker comes at the end: the "-ify" suffix it makes applying that medium to any given purpose seem facile and automatic.

When you -ify something, you put it in a particular state, or you fill it with a particular quality. We can purify water by running it through a filter. We can clarify a confusing topic through explanation. We can amplify a signal by boosting its oscillation rate. We can beautify a city by planting trees or removing litter. We can falsify a report by interweaving lies with truth. We can humidify a dry bedroom by introducing water vapor into the air. We can magnify an image by placing it behind an optical instrument. We can terrify a child by jumping out unseen from behind an obstruction.

In some of these cases, we've invented devices that perform the actions, solutions that represent definitive answers for a particular problem, be it increasing the amplitude of a signal, removing impurities from a liquid, or increasing moisture in a room.

But in most of these cases, the details of -ification are abstracted, left vague. Does urban beautification really just involve new green space, or does it also relate to the underlying planning of a city? By taking a goal or a quality and framing it as -ification, a speaker makes something seem easy to accomplish, even if it is in fact difficult.

And this is precisely what gamification is all about. Here's a characteristic excerpt from the gamification movement's Dark Lord, Gabe Zichermann:

Gamification can be thought of as using some elements of game systems in the cause of a business objective. It's easiest to identify the trend with experiences (frequent flyer programs, Nike Running/Nike+, or Foursquare) that feel immediately game-like. The presence of key game mechanics, such as points, badges, levels, challenges, leaderboards, rewards, and onboarding, are signals that a game is taking place.

Note how deftly Zichermann makes his readers believe that points, badges, levels, leader boards, and rewards are "key game mechanics." This is wrong, of course -- key game mechanics are the operational parts of games that produce an experience of interest, enlightenment, terror, fascination, hope, or any number of other sensations. Points and levels and the like are mere gestures that provide structure and measure progress within such a system.

But as Frank Luntz has shown time and time again, reality matters far less than perception. When people hear "gamification," it's this incredible facility that registers, the simplicity, smoothness, and ease with which the wild, magical beast of games can be tamed and integrated into any other context at low cost and high scale.

Margaret Robertson has critiqued gamification on the basis that it takes the least essential aspects of games and presents them as the most essential. Robertson coins the derogatory term pointsification as a more accurate description of this process.

As compelling as we might find Robertson's critique, it attacks a problem that just doesn't bother gamification's proponents. The sanctity of games' unique means of expression is just not of much concern to the gamifiers. Instead they value facility -- the easiest way possible to capture some of the fairy dust of games and spread it upon products and services.

Games or points isn't the point -- for gamifiers, there's no difference. It's the -ification that's most important. Zicherman makes the point for me: "What gamification does is allow marketers to focus on what they know best -- convincing consumers to take loyalty and purchasing actions -- using a powerful toolkit of engagement gleaned from games."


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Comments


Hayden Dawson
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Seems a hard 'sell' since the concept and phrase itself has been in use long before facebook and marketing driven products became today's grand bugbear. Hell, marketing driven games have existed since marketing began. Folks found and find five minutes of enjoyment in an anagram or poker game under their beer caps, or slamming their friends with trivia from the back of a baseball card or cigarette box. If enabling a little snippet of enjoyment for your customer (which is immediately recognized for where it comes from) is not seen as benefit to them or you, the semantics battle is over benefit, not gamification. And there it should not be your job as any producer of content to decide for your clients their definition of fun.

Mark Kreitler
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As I kid, I eagerly searched for beer bottlecaps so I could solve the rebus puzzles underneath, so I understand what you're saying. However, that's an example of "bundling" (including an additional product to increase the appeal of the primary item), not "gamification."



To expand on your cigarettes example, consider what Camel has done with its brand. Consumers can earn "Camel bucks" from each pack consumed. They can then send in accumulated "bucks" to purchase "Camel gear" that in turn advertises the brand. This exemplifies Ian's point about the exploitative relationships gamification creates: the consumer thinks he's winning something, when in turn he loses twice -- once when he purchases cigarettes to accumulate points, and again when he redeems his points and becomes a walking billboard.

Tiago Costa
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Then again, he might want to be the billlboard for some reason... I am using this in public transportation scenario where people actually be pleased to ride on the subway. Its not always a lose situation for the client.



In Portugal Galp and BP already have these sorts of games (exploitation) for years and to this day most people wont be bothered with them. Explotationware will be auto regulated by the majority of people and only the "good" games/gamafication will persevere.

Richard James
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Games exist in multiple interacting effort-reward feedback loops. "Worthy" games have the loops balanced properly "worthless" games do not. Gameification says that you can apply the feedback loop without considering whether it is properly balanced. So in some sense gameification is right, there is effort-reward loops, but if they don't properly balance these loops they are "worthless".



Worthless games don't attract customers but rather drive them away.



Gameification only sells part of the product. Like someone who sells the can and label but not the contents.

Ian Bogost
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Richard, I empathize with this objection, but I don't think it is an effective response to the trend. As I suggest in the article, the gamifiers are happy to abscond with what they wish from games and leave the rest. We can't use this objection against them effectively.

AJ Luxton
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"Games exist in multiple interacting effort-reward feedback loops. "Worthy" games have the loops balanced properly "worthless" games do not. Gameification says that you can apply the feedback loop without considering whether it is properly balanced. So in some sense gameification is right, there is effort-reward loops, but if they don't properly balance these loops they are "worthless". "



Well said. That's a very succinct description of the problems with how many educational or marketing games fail at being successful at either of their purposes.



For the last two years, I've been studying the sciences, and the whole time in organic chemistry and biology, I've been longing for teaching games. For ochem, I think, it would need to be a computer game, and I'm not the one to build that one, because I'm not a coder. In my head, though, I'm drafting a strategic empire-building card game, MtG-style, that uses hormones as its playing cards, each detailed in terms of its unique features and qualities and what "powers" it taps for the human body...



These disciplines already innately feature the "complex responsiveness" and "hard, strange, magical features of games" that Bogost is talking about above - and any game that would effectively teach these sciences would have to be suffused with these qualities: in short, it would have to be a real game. I imagine that's why people have largely not come up with such things: the overlap between people who understand the complexity of the reward responses that make games truly potent and people who are marketing learning products to science students is rather slim.

Hakim Boukellif
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While I mostly agree with you, I don't think the term "exploitationware" really works. For two reasons:



First, the "ware" part. Usually, "ware" can be instanced. Word is an instance of software. Paint.NET is an instance of freeware. Play_mp3.exe is an instance of malware. "Gamification" solutions, on the other hand, are often not instances of anything specific. They may make use of ware, but are not one itself.



Then, the "exploitation" part. Basically, it's too blunt and gives a proponents the opportunity to counter your usage of the word by arguing it's not exploitative or whatever. Compare it with something like the "climate change" you mentioned: no matter what side of the argument you are, no one can argue the usage of that term because it's undeniable.

Christian McCrea
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Ian, I'm digging the new angles of attack a lot.



I think we need to go much much harder, however, in terms of setting the debate. Exploitationware is certainly good in marginalising certain types of work and leaving others. However, I and others want a total blast radius. I want nothing left of this rhetoric. I want it to be economically unsound and have about as much currency in 2012 as The Secret has in 2011. I want pro-gamification people to wake up unhappy and go to sleep unhappy. Nothing Short of a Total War. While I admit there may be some elements of the process than could bring some interesting elements, its too late. The bathwater is very dirty, and I can't see the baby anymore.



I reject absolutely the infantalising concept that we're all on the same side, and that all uses of games are good a priori. My Gamasutra blog a few weeks about (What We Would Gain By Losing the Word Gamification) foregrounded some of the neuro-linguistic programming wetware but your Lantz connection is right on. The word implies a scientific and cool ease by which contemporaneity can be liquified and poured into dire products and schemes. The real story of gamification sits alongside green-washing and diet/lite food labelling. That which is not, can be made to appear so.



The real question for me is - what need does Gamification serve? Before I could come up with a satisfactory answer, I had to watch this scene again:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCxVUsMsWLw



Gamification is sexy to people who are bewildered and have money. Its sexy because it promises a world where we can continue to do business as usual but people will be happier to have business done to them. They apparently need to be tricked because the sense the more connected we are, the more skeptical and tired we become of the same patterns of advertising and consumption. Gamification promises extra time for the same old models of business. Gamification promises extra time for old media who think that games is an MSG agent they can add to their websites to make them more delicious.



The message has to be: there is no extra time. Your product is failing because your product is disgusting, out-of-date. Your advertising is insipid. Your old media organisation is fated to die at the hands of a take-over board.



I gave a talk last week in which I proposed two counter-terms for specific practices: "Corporate Game Design" and "Emotion Hacking". The second is obvious enough and has the kind of impact I'm looking for, but I'm actually finding Corporate Game Design makes people uneasy and delivers the sort of accusation that I'm looking to level.

Ian Bogost
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"Gamification promises extra time for the same old models of business." Yes, this is definitely the case. But I would urge you to remember that for marketers, being disgusting and insipid isn't necessarily a condemnation. Rather than attacking the marketers, I think it's better to go to the sponsors and the public.



Corporate Game Design, can you say more about what you mean by this?

Isaak KvE
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How about Skinnerboxification or Skinnerfication? Present it to sponsors and the public where they're compared to labanimals.



Though I'm quite fond of "Corporate Game Design" mentioned above as it implies suits, ties, cubicles & break-even points which are 'incompatible' with "Game" (fun) and "Design" (creative).



"Emotion Hacking" to me sounds like Lifehacking, which evokes a positive response in my head.

Frank Lantz
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>> Corporate Game Design, can you say more about what you mean by this?



The word "corporate" is a shibboleth. That's what he means.

Christian McCrea
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That's right. This is precisely how I mean to use the term. A lot of baggage can be attached without too much rhetorical dancing.

Chris Burke
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I'm glad you replied here, just to quell the cognitive dissonance of the quotes from Frank _Luntz_ in the article.

Alan Au
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My main complaint about gamification is that it focuses almost entirely on the rewards and very little on the play.



And of course, I'm not sure whether I'll be happy or sad to see the day when everything is oversaturated with gamified elements. On the one hand, it could devalue the impact of play as a tool for change. On the other hand, it may mean that developers will be forced to refocus on creating worthwhile experiences instead of Skinner boxes in order to differentiate themselves.

Tim Carter
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Considering that al Queada and other jihadists use induced depression in order to persuade vulnerable people to blow themselves up, I'd say that is pretty much "evil". If that isn't evil, then I guess one doesn't think that evil exists.

Adam Miller
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Remember those video slots handhelds? In retrospect those were an omen.

Rob Kischuk
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The initial parallel you draw to Katy Perry is a very valid one. I don't think you can kill gamification any more than you can kill pop music. Both succeed by tapping into the more raw and superficial motivations of the human psyche. If anything, gamification proponents give up the ground that few manufactured pop musicians will - they will admit that, by and large, their product is not "art".



So long as they concede this ground, I'm not sure why you're so bent on the destruction of gamification. Music has the Black-Eyed Peas, film has shameless direct-to-DVD Disney cash-in sequels, painting has/had Thomas Kinkade. The idea that gaming can be somehow immune from the distillation of its simpler elements into mass-marketed product ignores the history of parallel art forms. Again, if anything, the purveyors of gamification are less offended by the idea that perhaps what they provide is not a work of art.



Some marketing campaigns will take the time to build very thought-provoking engagement campaigns that may meet with the applause of critics. Many more campaigns will use human psychology to motivate users. Attach a simple sweepstakes prize to any points campaign, and you have reciprocity. Neither covering your ears nor active opposition will get rid of Katy Perry or gamification.

Ian Bogost
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I disagree with these comparisons. The Katy Perry reference was not a criticism of pop music; it was a reference to a nuisance (an earworm) that eventually goes away.



I've written previously on advertising games, kitsch games, and promotional games. All of those can coexist with a position like the one in the article above.



Gamification is not just "crude" or "low art" games; it's something functionally different. I tried to explain how in the article...

Rob Kischuk
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I re-read this post and your comments... I may better understand what you are not saying, but am unclear on what you are saying.



Perhaps I put my words in your mouth, based on my own general distaste for the process that produces pop music, even as some of that music does make me tap my toes.



Where I'm unclear is exactly what you'd like to get rid of, and what to keep? You seem to respect loyalty programs and dislike pointification for the sake of awarding points, but it's not that cut and dry. There are systems that give users/players a chance to win. There are point-driven systems that confer no tangible benefit but some form of satisfaction.



One-size-fits-all "gamification" may be reckless. but some tools fit most, a broader toolkit can be used to build enjoyable promotions for a bigger array of clients. If thought is applied to leveraging human psychology to promote a product, and we don't call it a "game", is that problematic?

Bart Stewart
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I'm on board with the core belief that just adding some of the obvious/tangible (i.e., Achiever-focused) functional components of computer games (points, leaderboards, etc.) to some otherwise non-game activity is to fail to understand what makes games special.



Having said that, three points.



1. Look beyond the Lakoffs for examples of attempts to bypass rational thought through the use of verbal reframing. The "mainstream media" is identifiable as such precisely because of the consistent and deliberate application by its members of reframing phrases: "investment" for raising taxes, "undocumented immigrant" instead of "illegal alien," and "climate change" over the more specific (and testable) "global warming." Frankly, conservatives are latecomers to the low, dishonest, and manipulative -- but occasionally effective -- practice of trying to suppress critical thinking by replacing some words with others that sell better. I don't care who does it; I don't like it... but let's be clear that verbal reframing as a cheap way to avoid the honest description of goals is a tool now used on both sides of the political spectrum.



2. "Exploitationware" will not work. The effectiveness of verbal reframing is that it short-circuits logical thought by offering a positive-sounding word or phrase as a substitute. "Exploitationware" will never be adopted the way that "gamification" has because the former is "against" something (implying a confrontational attitude) while the latter is "for" something ostensibly positive.



I don't advocate verbal manipulation in place of a straightforward presentation of facts and logic supporting a position. That attempt at mind control is the philosophy of Newspeak. But if you're determined to fight fire with fire, then what you need is a smooth-sounding word or phrase with positive (or at least neutral) connotations that communicates your vision for infusing reality with the unique qualities of interactive computer games.



3. Is it really so bad to begin "gamifying" reality with the most obvious artifacts of computer games? Why is the all-or-nothing-right-now approach superior to the notion of just starting somewhere and improving later?

Ian Bogost
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Bart, I'm confused that you seem to think that I'm presenting verbal framing as a one-sided political tactic. It's not, but (following Lakoff), the left *does it badly* and unstrategically.



"Is it really so bad to begin 'gamifying' reality"

Yes.

Bart Stewart
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"'Is it really so bad to begin 'gamifying' reality'

Yes."



"It shouldn't be done at all" (which is what you're saying here) is very different from "that's the wrong way to do it," which seemed to me to be the point of your article.



Which is the better description of your opinion? That (for whatever reasons) no element of interactive games should be extended into activities that currently have no component of play in them?



Or that this kind of expansion of the realm of play can have some positive consequences and is worth doing, but that it risks failure if done wrongly (as by focusing on just a few ephemera instead of on the elements that uniquely define games)?

Ian Bogost
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The article is about a particular practice, one that has been going by the name "gamification," which has nothing to do with using games more broadly in the world.

Mir Vsem
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This “particular practice” for the most part is equivalent of “putting the lipstick on the pig”.



Most of the “serous businesses” can be said as either solving a problem or addressing particular needs while games for the most part offer emotional thrill and/or joy. The whole notion of “expansion of the realm of play” into the day-to-day stuff should be refocused on eliminating the perceptional boundaries between addressing the needs and “having a blast”. Look at how Adwar Chrome extension blended those.

Robert Yang
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I agree, but "exploitationware" is 3 syllables too many. Why not something like "GANKWARE"? It has a game-ish connotation and usage in culture, but still communicates the sense of exploitation and theft.

Ian Bogost
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:)



More seriously, it's very important that a new term DOESN'T have a game-ish connotation, and that it be understood by a general ear.

Laurie Cheers
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I think you're looking for a word that conveys that you're turning an activity into a skinner box. "addictize?" "compulsionize?"

Tynan Sylvester
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Manipulationware.

Compulsionware.

Roy Schmidt
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I find Bart's #3 point above to be the most logical argument. Taking a strong stand against gamification doesn't help - working to make sure implementations of the techniques and strategies involved, and helping define what it is and isn't would be a better use of time in my opinion.



Really gamification puts a shiny term on a lot of random ideas. I propose that it's simply a way to drive more activity. Whether or not it's used in an exploitative way is up to the owner of the implementation - just as display ads can be obnoxious and promote crap, or be innovative rich experiences.



The core mechanisms involved are really about more engagement and loyalty, but it's obvious loyalty in this day and age is not taking a bullet for a brand. Change is easy and there is little cost to switching to an alternative content provider at any time. But getting rewarded for consistent visits and contributions at a site is not evil - it's a way to share in the experience. When you get XBOX achievement points, you are essentially participating in the gamification of games. Tying you in with a meta reward to help bring together your consumption of disparate titles into a single brand experience - is that exploiting you? When you unlock exclusive digital rewards by pre-ordering your new copy of an FPS, are you being exploited by the game corporation - haha we tricked you into purchasing early!



Just as companies of products and services find ways to drive sales and increase ongoing brand affinity, content and application providers are starting to use these same tools to grow and maintain their business. That's really how we think about gamification at BigDoor. I apologize that the term has stepped on the toes of game designers - but trying to generalize gamification into a single force of evil is just as ridiculous as generalizing game design and games as forces of good. I've played plenty of crappy games that I felt stole my money, and have played multiple games that incorporate plenty of manipulative emotion hacks only for the benefit of the game producer and not the player.



I like to think that all customers/players have the ability to make their own choices and we should all just try to make good solid experiences and leave it to them to decide where to spend their time and money.

Brian Bartram
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To read this article, I would assume that all instances of gamification are misleading, insipid, and without benefit... even downright evil. Yet, something tells me this isn't the case in 100% of the uses - that gamification is a tool than can be used to both the benefit and the detriment of the consumer.



For example, I'm having trouble seeing what's so evil about Frequently Flyer Miles. I'm flying anyway. You encourage me to keep flying your airline by giving me points. I collect points, cash them in for free airfare. I think I've won. Have I not?



I'm not convinced that there isn't something of value in gamification. The witch hunt surrounding the term doesn't make much sense to me. Perhaps some concrete examples of exactly what these "evil" gamified products are doing would help.

Ian Bogost
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Frequent flyer programs are loyalty programs. I discuss them above, if briefly. They're real loyalty programs, not fake ones.

Vin St John
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Right, but they're the shining example of what gamification is. I agree with the specific conclusions you draw - that rewarding consumers with something false is dishonest, and that it's better to offer real insight into a product and let them make informed decisions. But the very nature of loyalty programs are what gamification is - taking some very basic elements that can easily be identified as characteristic of games, and and applying them to something else:

1) I perform an action and get a point (guy at Starbucks hole-punches my card).

2) I have a profile that shows my progress and gives me structured goals (I see I have 9 hole punches left before my free coffee).

3) I get rewards for completing goals (free coffee after my tenth hole punch)



It's not deep or complex, to say it's "changing the world" would be a huge over-sell, and it's certainly a way of exploiting human behavior - after all, if I had 9 punches on my Starbucks card but was in the mood for McDonalds instead, I might still go to Starbucks just to get that tenth punch - but it's open, honest, and since we're all used to it, it isn't damaging the reputation of games or deeper serious games.

Ian Bogost
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I'm actually quite interested in loyalty programs, and I think there are improvements to be made to the way they work. I fly a lot and I think about frequent flyer programs in particular.



But that's would be (and should be) a totally different practice than "gamification" -- and indeed a much more humble one.



I'd like to say more about this, but have to stop here for now.

Tynan Sylvester
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While I generally agree with what you're saying, your bringing unrelated and unsubstantiated claims about left/right politics into the discussion really weakens your point.



A survey of terms - "reduce tax expenditures", "affirmative action", "gay", "social security", "social safety net", "anti-war", "pro-choice", "collective bargaining rights", "undocumented worker", "social justice", "progressive", "tolerance/diversity" - reveals that attempts and successes at framing debates through simple language modification are alive and well on the left as well as on the right. There is no asymmetry here.



I think you would be able to make your important point better without distractions like this.

Ian Bogost
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Please read Lakoff's book. Moral Politics is long, but Don't Think Of An Elephant is short.



This is not an article about politics, but it uses political speech as an inroad. There are tons of other examples of verbal frames, but the political ones are the most familiar. And indeed, gamification is a political concept, even if it looks like a marketing concept alone.



So confusing that game developers are so completely allergic to any discussion of politics.

Tynan Sylvester
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There is nothing wrong with using a political metaphor to make a point. You went beyond this. You used the political metaphor... and snuck a partisan point against in there as well, without bothering to substantiate it.



If you're going to make a point - especially a very big and controversial one about a contentious subject - you have to back it up. Pointing me to an openly left-wing book called "Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives" does not qualify as substantiation.



While I'm sure Lakoff makes a good argument, you cannot take the notion that right-wingers have disproportionate power because they control framing as a shared assumption with your audience.



I was disappointed to see this because I generally agree with what you're saying about gamification/exploitationware. I think your political jabs are turning off a good chunk of your potential audience for reasons that have nothing to do with exploitationware.



Neither I nor developers in general are "completely allergic to any discussion of politics". Personally, I enjoy debates. I only suggest that you stick to one debate at a time.

Ian Bogost
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There's no partisan position in this article. If anything, the article is dismissive of the left's foolishness (as is Lakoff). True, there is one jab at Luntz's more curious coinings ("death tax"), but you can read this article on any political axis you want. You've just chosen to impose your favorite position upon me.

Tynan Sylvester
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Below I've pasted the statements I perceived as controversial partisan positions, all cleaving against the "right" side of the issue at hand.



Even laughing at the left's supposed inability to control debates is an anti-right position since it implicitly assumes that the right is a political contender not because of any genuine power and truth in its ideas, but because of dirty word-controlling tricks.



Clearly left/right politics isn't the point of the article, but something leaked through that distracted me from the real idea you were trying to communicate. This is sad because you have some important things to say.





""War on terror" suggests that the complex extra-governmental motivations of ideological groups like al-Qaeda are winnable conflicts between "good" and "evil," clashes identical to two-party state-based conflicts." [implying that this is false.]



""climate change" suggests that global warming is a phenomenon of adjustment rather than disaster."



"conservatives oppose social welfare programs partly by framing taxation as theft."



"Lakoff points out that liberals lose elections largely because they spend most of their time embracing the terms of their opposition, repeating those phrases and giving them implicit support."

Inti Einhorn
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So who is the Luntz of the left then?

Ian Bogost
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Tynan, I fail to see how these statements are controversial partisan positions. They are reports of the positions taken by the thinkers whom I cite, and whom you refuse to read in greater detail.

Tynan Sylvester
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If you want examples on how to cite this type of language manipulation in an even-handed way, consider how Steven Pinker uses them in his book The Stuff of Thought. You don't have to read the book - he uses the same examples in this short TED speech: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_pinker_on_language_and_thought.ht
ml



Starting around 9:10 -

"[linguistic framing] is the basis for much human argumentation in which people don't differ so much on the facts as on how they ought to be construed. I'll give you a few examples: ending a pregnancy versus killing a fetus, a ball of cells versus an unborn child, invading Iraq versus liberating Iraq, redistributing wealth versus confiscating earnings."



That's how you make a point about language without also throwing in political jabs. Consider the difference from your statement "conservatives oppose social welfare programs partly by framing taxation as theft."



This implies that taxation isn't theft, but is only framed that way by "conservatives". But, of course, taxation can be theft depending on the legitimacy of the entity taking the money and the uses they'll put it towards. Many liberals considered their taxes theft in 2005 when they were levied by an accused election-stealer to pay for a perceived illegitimate war. Hell, America was founded largely because of the theft-taxation of the British kings. "No taxation without representation", right? So what is taxation without representation? It's theft!



So who is doing the framing here? Taxation isn't exactly theft, but it bears some striking resemblances to theft. In certain cases, it is fair to say it is theft.



In every example of framing you gave, you cited conservatives as the ones doing the "framing" and liberals as the one with the handle on the real truth. Had you alternated or mixed like Pinker, you would have been able to make the same points without a political lean.

Christian McCrea
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Tynan, I think its fair to say there's a widely understood debate about political language - and one that is absolutely appropriate to bring into this discussion. Also, its always appropriate to talk about politics if you're a political person. There is no knowledge without politics, and attempting to be apolitical is - without being glib - a pretty political act.



Your objection to the war on terror sentence very clearly proves Ian's point. For many, it is uncontroversial to suggest that the war on terror manipulates myths about good and evil to provoke political and military action on both sides. For others, it is uncontroversial to say that good and evil exist in the world and that ideological conflicts are winnable. There are no apolitical position available, only compromised politics on a complex spectrum.



The terms Ian highlights have been manipulated for years. They are used to manipulated. The manipulation is open and openly discussed. Do conservative leaders in America NOT oppose social welfare partly by framing taxation as theft? Isn't that true? Just because they actually believe taxation to be theft, doesn't mean they don't manipulate the terms of debate. Use and abuse of language is part of the mainstay of political discussion.



I have many many other objections here, but the final one that I'll put down in this comment is that is it also uncontroversial to some that the Right "is a contender because of any genuine power and truth in its ideas". But to others it is absolutely uncontroversial to say that political power and truth are only established and experienced through and by language. Its a highly political thing to say that's there's such a thing as truth. I might even agree, but that's not some neutral ground we're standing on.



The fascination with political objectivity in the last few years is really depressing. We used to have political generosity where people were able to speak their mind without being censured by sensitivities to the left or right who feel hard done by. You would be generous to those who read by disclaiming what you believed and letting others respond. The horrendous spectacle of objectivity, instead, usually rolls out in spectacularly un-neutral ways.



Since I was a child, evolution has become a 'debate', and climate change is now also a 'debate'. What was power and truth then has shifted significantly since.

Ian Bogost
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Thanks for this Christian.

Tynan Sylvester
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"Your objection to the war on terror sentence very clearly proves Ian's point. For many, it is uncontroversial to suggest that the war on terror manipulates myths about good and evil to provoke political and military action on both sides. For others, it is uncontroversial to say that good and evil exist in the world and that ideological conflicts are winnable. There are no apolitical position available, only compromised politics on a complex spectrum. "



Agreed. The wrong thing Ian did in his article was to cite only one side of each debate - and always the same side.



Compare with the Pinker quote I put in above. Pinker is always studiously even-handed in his political examples, citing framing devices from both sides. He does this because he knows that his speeches and books aren't about politics, they're about language, so he is careful to keep political points out.

Ian Bogost
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Tynan, come on, this is silly. I explicitly cited both Luntz and Lakoff to offer examples from both sides. There's an enormous critique of the untenable position of "pro-choice" in the article.



Verbal frames aren't about "even-handedness." The point both Luntz and Lakoff make is the same: political points are a *part* of language, and we'd better respond accordingly.



You should really read their work. It's interesting and accessible, and you're clearly interested in the topic.

Tynan Sylvester
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It looked more like you were citing Luntz as a guy who is skilled at linguistic manipulation and Lakoff as the smart guy who points out his tricks. However, if I misread this, I apologize for taking too much of our time on this rather silly tangent.



Love to do more readings on it, but I've got an intimidatingly long book queue already though so those two may have to wait.



Try "compulsification".

Kathy Sierra
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This is so depressing. Nice try, Ian, but now I just fear that clients of, say, Gabe will simply hear "exploitationware" and think (as marketers looking for short-term fairy dust), AWESOME! You are right that our anti-gamification arguments just do not make sense to the gamification "experts".



Their talking points kick our talking points' asses. After all, what kind of a person would be against giving people "just a little more joy?" And how could any reasonable person not want to help people improve their health? These folks sell marketers on the sheer power of gamification to quickly and easily create "engagement" and "loyalty" (I put in quotes because I do not think it is deep, sustainable engagement or loyalty). But when challenged, they align themselves with more positive (if only barely related) things from sports/health tracking systems to "serious games". After all, you wouldn't want to suggest that pilots should not train in flight simulators, right?



Shameless is a word that comes to mind for describing the proponents of exploitationWare. Not that this matters to them.

Ian Bogost
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It is important to short-circuit the gamifiers and go directly to the source.

James Hofmann
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I think we should be countering "gamification" by pushing another positive word, one that begs the audience to ask what "good" game design is, rather than simply shouting the gamifiers down, which is what we're being asked to do with terms like exploitionware.



The term that comes to mind off the top of my head is "sustainagaming," derived from the phrase "Gaming for a sustainable future." There might be a simpler word that could convey the same, but for now it works.



Sustainagaming is easy to position in opposition to gamification: Gamification makes no claim to provide benefits to society. Sustainagaming, on the other hand, has that notion built in. And just as everyone wants to tout their "green" and "sustainable" practices elsewhere, sustainagaming has an untouchable halo of "goodness" about it. It immediately opens angles of attack on the common gamification practices.



It also asks us to rise to a noble challenge: To find ways to introduce healthy game dynamics into non-game products.

Ian Bogost
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I don't disagree, but the examples that I cite in the article haven't been successful, at least not on the scale of "gamification." I think that's a humbling realization.

Vinod Srinivasan
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A couple of years back, in a discussion on the serious games mailing list, I offered the term "applied gaming" as an alternative to "serious games". It seemed to resonate with a few people at that time. I also gave a talk specifically on "applied gaming" at the Games Education Summit at USC, in which, coincidentally, I cited the "meta game" around frequent flier programs (how to optimize collection and use of frequent flier miles and points; see http://flyertalk.com).



The term seemed to catch on among a few people, but I unfortunately did not have the bandwidth to promote it further.



I defined the term as the use of "games and game-related tools and techniques in other domains". I like James' last sentence as another way to look at applied gaming: The use of "healthy game dynamics" in other domains (I think restricting it to "products" is unnecessarily limiting).



"Applied gaming" plays off familiar terminology ("applied math", "applied science") and is fairly non-judgmental. But may be what we need is something that evokes more passionate responses like "gamification" does.

Borut Pfeifer
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While I totally agree on the need for an improved rhetorical framing to effectively squash exploitationware, it does feel like the term still engages with it too much. It's meant to attack it, highlight it's negative effects, but that still brings an equivalent amount of attention to it, I feel.



Wouldn't it be better to marginalize it, to frame the terminology around it's *uselessness*, not it's deleterious effects? Our strong opposition to it can't factor in if we want to truly reframe the discussion ("climate change" reduces the impact of global warming, it's not specifically attacking those who promote action against global warming).



Some of the other terms here, like James suggest above based on "sustainable gaming", can still borrow too much from other movements' rhetoric that they lose impact when applied to games.



Not sure what the solution is yet, but great food for thought.

Ian Bogost
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The term was meant to engage with it, as a retort. There are certainly other ways to frame the response, but I don't think appeals to uselessness are the right move here. That said, your comparison to climate change is intriguing. However, I'm not sure we want to give the opposition this much leeway.

Nathan Allen
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Who are we trying to convince? Did anyone think the marketers might be OK with "exploitation?"

Moses Wolfenstein
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I see a lot of responses in this thread pointing to the need to seize upon a positive rhetorical approach in countering gamification, but I'm not personally sure that's true. "Death panels" was certainly not a positive framing device, but it was definitely an effective one. One thing is for certain though, as I believe Ian mentions somewhere in these four pages, we really need to set the record straight on the fact that not all implementations of games and game-like elements outside of entertainment settings are gamification.

Ian Bogost
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Right, exactly. Effective verbal frames can take different tenors.

Andrew Dobbs
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I'm not a rhetorician, but isn't Ian mainly criticizing the execution rather than the idea? When I think gamify, I think "making more game-like."



I thought that's exactly what Ian does with persuasive games. If anything, the fact that people equate games with mere points and achievements is a condemnation of modern game design not gamification.

Ian Bogost
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The well's been poisoned. We've lost "making more game-like" as a possible meaning for "gamification." Alas.

Frederik Hermund
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Very interesting read. My suggestion for an effective counter-phrase would be 'gamblification' because it reminds people of the possible hidden risks associated with any real-life reward system. The way it phonetically echoes 'gamification' also makes it a very easy word to drop in any conversation on gamification, turning it towards a discussion of the ethical aspects.

Christer Kaitila
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Wise concept, sound reasoning, wrong word.

Five syllables is three too many for pop culture to embrace as an alternative to gamification.

Additionware? (4, still too many)

Habitware (3, not bad)

Trinketware (3, trivializing badges as gold stars etc)

Trapware? (2)

Hookware? (2)

Life Virus?



Come one people, brainstorm alternatives to gamification that are short and sweet and catchy. Can you come up with a zinger?



I've got it:



"Gamification? Oh you mean SCAMification!"



Now there's a meme that might get repeated.

Jason Pineo
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But gamification has 5.

Luis Blondet
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Please leave the politics out of your metaphors and analogies where they do not belong, such as in this article, unless your message is perceived as a Trojan.

Ian Bogost
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See responses to Tynan Sylvester above.

Michael Joseph
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Sucker-ware



As in "There's a sucker born every minute"



The stigma it imparts to the users helps to discourage "play" of such "games" as well as increase awareness about what is / is not suckerware. It also suggests a certain disposition held by the company that would create such a thing. Trifecta.

Ian Bogost
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I'm not sure it's productive to blame the users...

Michael Joseph
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You were talking about being strategically weak... I think this doesn't pull any punches. I think it's fairly honest as well.



The logo for suckware approved software would be a slimey, top hat wearing, moustache twirling capitalist... throw in all sorts of symbolism hidden and not so hidden in the clothes, background, etc.



EDIT:

Besides, you don't have to look at it as blaming the user... it's more revelatory of how suckerware producers view their users/customers.

Ian Bogost
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Yeah, I can hear it that way. It wasn't the first way I heard it, but I see your point.

Thomas Bedenk
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I would suggest



"Shamification" what implies the fakeness and trickery of the methods



Or simply stating that...



"Gamification is really Pseudo-Gamification because..." which uses the strength of a well known term but negates it's proper use.

Jason Bakker
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Yeah, I was thinking along the same lines. "Fauxgames"? As in, "gamification leads to the creation of fauxgames."

Mark Venturelli
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"They argue that gamification mistakes games' secondary properties for their primary ones. It insults and violates games. It confuses the magical magnetism of games for simplistic compulsion meted out toward extrinsic incentives. It fails to embrace the complex responsiveness of "real" games, games that make solutions seem interestingly hard rather than tediously so."



You just described most "social" games.

Ian Bogost
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Moo.

Steve Bocska
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So, trying to putting our energies to good use here for a moment...



Let's say there *was* a platform that delivered not just badges and levels, but instead a high-quality, well-designed, socially engaging online entertaining experience. One that you could plug directly into corporate websites and design really fun and engaging activities and games.



What WOULD you call it? Funification? Pleasurification? Enjoyification?

Nicholas Lovell
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Aside from changing the word, are you implacably opposed to any use of game-like mechanics to change behaviours, but without making a game?



In other words, is it exploitationware if it isn't a game?

Ian Bogost
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Exploitationware already isn't a game.

Taylor Shiells
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I take issue with this article, first you present the manipulative power of choosing names and chastise how gamification advocates do this to manipulate us, then you instruct us to instead use YOUR manipulative term to attack gamification because its bad.

Ian Bogost
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And what's your objection?



More seriously, I'm not attacking the "manipulative" power of names. I'm trying to get all of us to see that words matter, they do work apart from their literal semantic content.

Taylor Shiells
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My objection is that manipulative techniques are manipulative techniques and building your tactics on them only devalues your point. It adds no real points and you are only getting support from people who already agree with you and thus are gaining no ground.

Like too many people you read about rhetorical techniques and think you can just establish them as though nobody else knows the system. When you write an article about the manipulative power of words and then say "Here's mine" it's obvious what you're doing (Especially when its such a hugely negative term)

This term will convince nobody because its obvious. It will make people think "These anti-gamification luddites clearly have no real arguments so they're just name-calling. Its a bargain basement rhetorical technique because they don't really know what they're talking about."



Rhetoric is only useful when it isn't obviously rhetoric. This is obviously, very obviously rhetoric.

Brandon Van Every
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The term "Exploitationware" immediately for me invokes:



- exploitationist movie genres of the 1970s, such as Blaxploitation and Sexpolitation. Stuff that is not considered PC nowadays but films got away with back then.

- games that some claim do social harm, such as Kage Games KG Dogfighting. Except that, well, no real dogs are harmed. Just as no real cops are shot in GTA3. In other words, claims of harm when it's actually someone's protected speech, and the only victim is the imagination.

- World of Warcraft, and other applications of Skinnerian Conditioning. Aren't the online addicts being exploited?



So to me the failure of the term is it will inevitably be broadened to include many aspects of media and gamedom. It can't be focused because "exploitation" is partly in the eye of the beholder and doesn't have a firm objective basis. If we're going to decry exploitation in games, we should at least deal with the ethics of how the game industry already exploits. Because detractors of the game industry certainly will. Huge "boomerang potential" in this term; sure you want to smear people like that? Someone else will smear you back, in some way you didn't want.

Andrew Long
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To those above: Much of the criticism of Bogost's choice of word and discussion points use varying logical responses and rational thought expressed as argument. However Bogost has gone to enormous trouble and length to logically and rationally explain that neither rationality or logic play any part in the RESPONSES of the AUDIENCE when presented with "gamification". Further, there's no inherent psychological argument or resistance to the term in the current collective psyche.



If you're reading this article and/or responses then you're not the audience of the word or intent of "gamification". You're being encouraged to disseminate attempts to marginalise "gamification". And that is a GOOD thing.



Exploitionware is a wonderful new word. And ideal. Let's just use it. And see if we can't at least minimise the "gamification" of things that are of real value (the exploitation) and reduce the false reductionism of games (the wares).

Ian Bogost
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Cheers, Andrew.

James Monjack
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Hi Ian - interesting article, I have posted something of a reply at http://gametuned.com/2011/05/gamification-without-exploitation/ in this I discuss how I believe gamification can indeed be used for exploitation but that should not detract from effective us of well conceived and planned gamification applied in support of customers own goals.



Interested to hear your thoughts



James

Ian Bogost
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James, I wasn't able to read your article in as much detail as I would like (or rather, to give it substantial noodling yet), but don't you think that the "risk" you describe just proves my point, namely that what you call gamification is inherently exploitative?

James Monjack
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Ian, I view gamification as a set of tools within a systems designers toolbox. If the designer chooses to use the tools for the purpose of exploitation then is it not the system which is exploitative rather than the tools? If we take Nike+ as an example of a system using gamification tools I fail to see where the downside is for either the supplier or the customer.

I do take issue with companies seeking to use gamification tools for nefarious and manipulative goals but believe that customers will not tolerate these companies for long as poorly designed and purely exploitative systems can not sustain engagement.

Lisa Railey
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At first, when reading your blog I thought that you were attacking all attempts at introducing game dynamics to the world outside of Gaming however once I started to get into your article I could see you don't quite express this point - however you do come close. You seem to display a certain attitude about non-gamers trying to hijack this area for their own profit (or for their organisation's profitability) and this came across as quite defensive. There are many people in different communities who have attempted to 'gamify' aspects of their work, e.g. teachers, nurses, paediatricians etc. who have successfully done so and this supports objectives that may not sit so well with your somewhat purist attitude to games. They have been around in one form or another and part of our lives for thousands of years.

You say that "Doing real, meaningful things with games is hard and risky, but it offers considerable reward, reward that responds to the underlying shift away from the logic of industrialization that gamification takes for granted." but I think that you are getting too caught up in your own rhetoric - hoist by your own petard perhaps? This is not an attack on you or Gaming. It is just the next big thing and will surely pass like all other fads.

In the meantime if there is 'Gameification' going on. Go out, contribute meaningfully to making it meaningful and it won't be such a thorn in your side.

Lewis Pulsipher
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Gamification is another aspect of the modern tendency to value what can be easily measured/quantified, and to discount that which cannot be easily quantified, even though the latter is usually much more important.



We ask whether someone has a degree, rather than how well he knows the subject or job in question, because it's easy to determine whether someone has a degree. We ask about SAT scores, even as our K12 schools have descended into training grounds where thinking is discouraged (sometimes actively) in favor of memorizing answers for multiple choice tests. (And we can't even use the SAT scores sensibly, because we don't account for the percentage of a class that takes the test.)



Yet insofar as many video games (not tabletop games) are interactive puzzles with set/certain solutions, they *do* lend themselves to "embracing simple answers" and reinforce "ossification" rather than encourage change. Gamifiers think of games as the equivalent of social networking games, which tend to be a reversion to early single-player interactive puzzles but with very simple, obvious (if not tedious) solutions. Alan Au says above "My main complaint about gamification is that it focuses almost entirely on the rewards and very little on the play." Isn't that what most social networking games do, in the end?



Opposing "gamification" is very close to opposing the desert of "social networking games", and vice versa. They are both blatant exploitation of the weakest and least desirable (from civilization's point of view) aspects of games.



Achievements are indeed a gamification of games. Which is why I've always made fun of "achievements", as you're not actually achieving anything but instead are trying to provide an artificial (and meaningless) incentive to continue what is no longer an interesting activity.



In the end, though, just as social networking games are easy to design, gamification is easy to do, and in the era of instant gratification and doing "just enough to get by" easy is a stupendous attraction. I will use "exploitationware", but I have to agree with others that the word is too long to go into common use.

George Blott
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I've got a decidedly worse name suggestion: 'carrotonastickizationism'

Dean Andrew
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In making a counter name to "gamification" we should consider the various qualities that the term, as it stands, currently embodies.



1: It represents the exploitation of the vulnerable. In addition to providing a false sense of accomplishment, it is used with the intention of inscribing an addiction upon it's target. In many ways it is not unlike the techniques used by drug dealers (with the promise of freedom from their world of torment dangled in front of the addict in the form of a drug/carrot), the ultimate goal being that it strips the target of their free will and encourages (forces?) them to do something that they otherwise would not want to do.



2: It represents the active destruction of game design. While it can be used in conjunction with actual game design, it is typically used as a means of covering up bad design within a video game (I'm not sure if it's ok to name games here, as I am a first time poster. Long time reader though!) and replacing it with an empty and fraudulent sense of achievement. Corruption is a good metaphor as is the idea of an empty core (like an orange with nothing left inside)



3: The potential to actively destroy a person's life (both socially and physically, in extreme circumstances). The term instantly brings gambling to mind for me. I like the term "gamblification" ("gamification" is 5 syllables too!) but it necessitates the existence of chance, which is not always the case with these systems. As such, it would be too easily countered.



On a personal level, I believe that the techniques themselves are not inherently evil, but it is the application of these systems (particularily achievements/gamerscore and Trophies) that represent malicious intent. As such, I don't think that "_____ware" is suitable since it only attacks the individual games software and not the meta systems that may surround them. It also makes reference only to videogame software and ignores the use of such systems in real life.



"Hypnotisation" is not far off really. If you really want to tug at heart strings though, how about just "drug dealing"?

Dean Andrew
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"Drugification" would work quite nicely. It's a clear parody of the term, it distances this corruptive process away from games and it draws parallels from where the concept really comes from (especially with exploitative "free to play" and "social" games, where you're given your first hit for free and then hypnotised into buying more in the form of worthless items that serve only to give you a false sense of happiness or accomplishment)

Jeff Lopez
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I work in the office of the "Dark Lord of Gamification", but my views here are my own. To tell the truth, I think there is a lot abuse of motivation and incentives, most of which have been around since long before the idea of gamification came about.



But the definition of gamification is constantly changing, and it is NOT synonymous with "pointsification" or "exploitationware". Whenever a new person comes into contact with gamification, they apply their own understanding and background, and there have been some great ideas that have become tied to the term. To label all of "gamification" as exploitationware is to label all of these ideas as evil and wrong. Instead of waging war against the term, I would happily join your side if you were waging war against unethical use of game mechanics - both in mainstream games and gamification outside of entertainment.

Kathy Sierra
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Just one of the problems we have with reframing the discussion around "gamification": the gamifiers have chosen to refer to virtually anything using feedback and goals as "gamified." Perhaps we have to keep making the distinctions between "quantified-self" (and other "instrumented life" activities) and "gamification". The most obvious example for me is Nike+, a poster-child for gamifiers. I keep saying that Nike+ is not an example of gamified running but simply a performance-support/performance-enhancing tool, using feedback and motivation. I cannot force myself to see every good learning, coaching, and performance support technique as simply an example of gamification. But the gamifiers are quite good at finding everything with a bit of useful feedback and holding it up as an example of "good" gamification.

David Serrano
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To be honest, after reading this I'm not really sure if Dr. Bogost is pro-gamification or anti-gamification. He is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma... lol.



But in general I think the entire debate over gamification is a waste of time and energy. The bottom line is game dynamics and mechanics are in the public domain. No single person, group or organization in the game industry has the power to apply a new label to the practice, where or how it is used or by whom. Yes, it's absolutely maddening to watch a growing number of people, organizations and movements use it in highly unethical applications. Applications which may reflect negatively on all game designers and the game industry in general. But the harsh reality is there's nothing we can do about it. All the industry can do is publicly disassociate itself from the people and organizations who are abusing it.



So I suggest collectively, the game industry should stop worrying about gamification. Instead, start focusing on the growing list of internal problems which it can change and control Because all industries have those who are only there to exploit and abuse, the game industry is no different. As they say, "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones."

Don Diekneite
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+1.



But I really don't think most in the game industry are to bent out of shape over the use of the term or the use of game-like approaches to non-game situations.

Robert Madsen
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I have to admit that I have only recently become familiar with the concept of gamification, so there may be exploitative practices that I am not aware of, but I disagree that the entire concept of gamification MUST lead to exploitation. The argument of this article is that gamification equals cheap, shallow experiences that offer no value to the consumer. But when I think of gamification, I think of something completely different. I think of systems that turn everyday part of people's lives into meaningful, rewarding experiences (kind of like, er, games).



Sure, there will always be those who exploit an idea, and that may be what the founders of gamification are doing...I honestly wouldn't know. But I think a better way to "fight" the "evils" of gamification is to take ownership of it as a community and industry and make it better than it is. Yes, this will require businesses to change the way they operate, but willingness to change pretty much equals survival. In our technologically savvy, fast-paced, ever-changing world, consumers don't want yesterday's products and yesterday's customer service. Gamification offers a way to improve both the business's delivery of service and the consumer's value when done well.



If we who have a true passion for games use our creativity to drive the gamification movement, the companies who are willing to pay the price for a true gaming experience will see the difference (as will their customers) and the shams that you speak of will be seen as a cheap substitute.



My 2 cents.



R

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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I really do not like these attempts to make (describe) the hard, annoying, boring work as pseudo-entertainment.



If this tendency will continue, we will in y2018 probably play "best game" for good family pupils Dachau 3 with UberLagerFuhrering Jane UberGonigal.



What I wrote is indeed an exaggeration, but the trend is really stupid, worse than Facebook and micro-transactions at all. Gamification = big brother principles.

Nils Pihl
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I do like the words Pointsification and Hookware.

The word gamification, and it's success, has really made it a lot harder to make a living for me.


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