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October 19, 2010 2:28 PM   Subscribe

"I’ve never been so frustrated by something that I wanted to be excited about, and where I wanted to see the light bulbs go off, and just hearing (to my ears) empty, meaningless, self-referential chatter."
This year's buzz word in the Valley is "gamificaton."

Defined as "adding gameplay to real life" the press is somewhat gaga over the concept of imbuing corporate business sites such as banking and health care with leader boards and puzzles. All of this encouraged by several surprisingly well VC funded start-ups. There is even something called the "Gamification Summit" signing folks up - just in time for the backlash.
posted by victors (51 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
It all started way back at "Inbox Zero"...

from the backlast article: What about ... “678 days accident free”? Is this gamification?

Probably, yes.

But I think wes should focus on hating the playerification, not the gamification.
posted by GuyZero at 2:31 PM on October 19, 2010 [17 favorites]


I like gams. Preferably shapely ones.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:32 PM on October 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


Look at those gams!
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 2:32 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Y'know, I really just want my banking site to be a crisp, secure banking site with useful features. The fees are enough of a puzzle, thanks.
posted by tyllwin at 2:33 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sorry Jim. You unlock blood transfusions after another six visits. And don't cheat, we're watching you!
posted by erstwhile at 2:37 PM on October 19, 2010


Phil (at the "backlash" link) is totally right; there's nothing about gamification that can't simply be summarized as "better user interfaces". But honestly, if it takes a stupid buzzword for people to fucking start designing decent interfaces, then I'm all for it.
posted by breath at 2:37 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was just reading Enjoymentland a few minutes ago, by the author of the linked Health Month, and it talks about taking a more thoughtful and careful approach to "gamification" -- nice when you get tired of people talking about points etc. but still find the concept interesting.
posted by dreamyshade at 2:38 PM on October 19, 2010


This sounds like some kind of next-wave survival of the fittest... Ten years from now, we'll be thinning the population by requiring people to beat a game of GNUChess before they are allowed access to their health insurance.
posted by kaibutsu at 2:42 PM on October 19, 2010


Doing a good job of gamifying an application requires designing it from the ground up to support gamelike mechanics. But I guess we should all start expecting to see people stupidly jump on the bandwagon by doing things like putting tic-tac-toe above your balance.

Incidentally, the idea of putting a minigame in a loading screen, so you can play while you wait? Patented.
posted by breath at 2:42 PM on October 19, 2010


So what are the ramifications of gamification?

Wait, it doesn't rhyme???
posted by Bromius at 2:42 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I misread it as "glamification" and thought that it would be quite nice if old Bowie and Eno were always blaring and sequins were sparkling in Silicon Valley.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:50 PM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]


I like gams. Preferably shapely ones.

Perhaps this is an effort to bring back an emphasis on appreciation of shapely legs, or return to 1930s slang? Either of which I support.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Basically you'd expect the most basic gamified application to work just like the regular version, but with a little coins counter in the corner of the screen. And then everything you do would earn you variable numbers of coins.
"You clicked the font button 100 times today! Here's 1000 coins!"
"You opened the preferences for the first time! 5000 coins!"
"Haven't seen you in a while, were you consorting with that filthy open-source word processor? Anyway, 500 coins for coming back!"

Basically this concept has been satirized to hell and back in the gaming community, and so of course now it's becoming "mainstreamed".

Anyway, even I am taking this topic too seriously. Did you know that it started back in the 80s with a plan to cover the world with boldly-colored shorts? It was known as "jamification"
posted by breath at 2:55 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


Personally I think the game logic is part of what makes all the Web 2.0 stuff so addictive for a lot of people. Everything page has tons of metrics tied to it: likes, comments, diggs, views, etc. Just try to look at one video on Youtube without just for a second thinking about all the numbers around it. The whole thing is one big "high score" contest. Dopamine city.
posted by mr.ersatz at 3:17 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's not work, it's grind!
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


erstwhile joked "... unlock blood transfusions after another six visits."

So last summer a friend of my wife's was awaiting a liver transplant, a process which continued into this spring when she finally got the transplant, but only after she'd deteriorated to the point that she really had no chance for recovery and died several weeks thereafter.. I can't speak to transfusions, but after 6 months of hearing various people in the course of her treatment things she did or should have done to raise or lower her MELD score, when contemplating organ transplants you are, alas, way closer to the mark than you think.
posted by straw at 3:31 PM on October 19, 2010 [5 favorites]


I have to admit, I have been considering helping the kids get more enthusiastic about their educational accomplishments by throwing a handful of confetti, blowing a compressed air horn, and shouting "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!" in their face...
posted by davejay at 4:07 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I have to admit, I have been considering helping the kids get more enthusiastic about their educational accomplishments by throwing a handful of confetti, blowing a compressed air horn, and shouting "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED!" in their face..."

If you would come to my house and do that I might be motivated to actually try to pass my classes this semester.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:12 PM on October 19, 2010


When my kids were little I sometimes did a sticker chart for things like toilet training. I now see I was merely ahead of the curve with gamification. To leverage my first mover advantage I will insert an "I didn't wet my pants today" sticker system into the next website I build, and buy a small toy for the first person to stay dry for the whole week.
posted by athenian at 4:26 PM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure that it's all that different from Weight Watchers, either.

That said I know some folks who've had great results from game-style diet apps.
posted by Artw at 4:29 PM on October 19, 2010


Read Daemon by Daniel Suarez.
posted by adamdschneider at 4:33 PM on October 19, 2010


Anya: Crap! Look at this. Now I'm burdened with a husband, and several tiny pink children, more cash than I can reasonably manage...</
posted by The Whelk at 5:19 PM on October 19, 2010


And speaking as someone who loves games and has played them his entire life ... I fucking hate those health month- chore wars things. My hate is deep and multifaceted but it boils down to...


1 . It strikes me as so ...fake and cloying. I know it's not a game, it's just using fucking casino tricks and wait does it even matter if my house isn't clean? Do I need another thing telling me how much I'm failing according to completely arbitrary metrics? When games get boring I stop playing them, and none of these games are fun.

2. It feels insulting. To quote another wonderful mefite, I don't need big hugs every time I tie my shoes or manage to leave the house. The other side of You Did So Well is You Used To Do So Bad! Fuck that shit. I am not a broken wreck who needs bright lights and shiny things to crawl back to being an acceptable human cause I'm 20 pounds heavy.

3. Let's put a number on everything so I can prove how much more fun Im having! How was your day? I give it a 5.45! Two more points and I get a sense of calm! I can prove I'm an adult using spreadsheets! Maybe this will keep me from thinking that one day I'll Die!

Gaaaaaaaah!

Gaaah!
posted by The Whelk at 5:32 PM on October 19, 2010 [11 favorites]


"from the backlast article: What about ... “678 days accident free”? Is this gamification?"

This is a great example of what's wrong with this concept. The idea of safety performance as number of accident-free days was a rah-rah get-the-employees-involved scheme from the 1940's, and is now a millstone around the neck of safety people. Behind that simple number is a system that discourages reporting of safety issues (because no one wants to break the record), and allows management to claim they've implemented a safety program while refusing to subject themselves to actual performance measures like Number of Corrective Actions Completed, or Near Miss Incidents Reported. Things that would measurably create a safer work environment.

It's just another way to let people game the system rather than changing their demonstrably unsafe behavior. /rant
posted by sneebler at 5:52 PM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


breath: "Basically you'd expect the most basic gamified application to work just like the regular version, but with a little coins counter in the corner of the screen. And then everything you do would earn you variable numbers of coins. "

Why bother framing this as a hypothetical, when you're describing 2009?
posted by pwnguin at 6:02 PM on October 19, 2010


So we can all agree that it should probably be spelled 'gameification'?
posted by Gin and Comics at 6:09 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm seriously underwhelmed by the so-called "backlash". Guy clearly doesn't understand thing one about backlashification.
posted by uosuaq at 6:29 PM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am not a broken wreck who needs bright lights and shiny things to crawl back to being an acceptable human cause I'm 20 pounds heavy.

I think this mischaracterizes the purpose of things like Health Month, which is not intended to lead to weight loss (unless that's the goal you choose). You pick your own rules to follow based on what you think you need in your life, and the website provides you with structure and perspective. For example, my sleep schedule has been shit for most of my adult life, so I made a goal to get enough sleep at least four days a week. Going back to the website every day reminds me that this is something I have intentionally chosen to value, and it gives me a (yes, completely arbitrary) "reason" to go to bed on time, when before I'd just dick around aimlessly on the internet for hours. On the weeks when I don't get enough sleep, it allows me to look at my choices and see what I'm valuing over sleep, and assess whether I'm making reasonable choices or self-destructive ones.

I'm a big fan of both Health Month and 750words, because I'm naturally pretty aimless and unfocused. They're essentially helping me form good life habits that I wouldn't have the consistency to stick to otherwise.
posted by brookedel at 6:58 PM on October 19, 2010


Jesse Schell (leader of Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center) talked about this very thing at a seminar for the Long Now Foundation last July. It is worth a listen.
posted by thewalledcity at 7:05 PM on October 19, 2010


"The Valley" is San Fernando Valley, right? Silicon Valley is "Silicon Valley", right?

Any help/clarification?
posted by hal_c_on at 7:52 PM on October 19, 2010


You know, I would look forward to emails at work asking for technical assistance if each time I received one, my mail program played the Super Mario Brothers coin-acquisition noise...
posted by davejay at 7:54 PM on October 19, 2010


This has been a part of systems design, Human-Computer Interaction, and to a lesser extent sociology for a lot longer than it has had a silly buzzword. Let's laugh at the terms, but the ideas behind it really are Serious Business.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 8:09 PM on October 19, 2010


"The Valley" is San Fernando Valley, right? Silicon Valley is "Silicon Valley", right?

Any help/clarification?


depends on context

if is about VCs and software then it's Silicon (note the title of the post)

for all other cases (as in: my ex-wife) it's San Fernando

hope that helps.
posted by victors at 8:17 PM on October 19, 2010


yea, i blame that guy :P

...which, incidentally is why i hate politics as practised, as if it were about winning and not about, you know, governing. sports is fine as entertainment, but finance, business, politics and health care? does everything have to be entertaining? i dunno, but i'd settle for simple competence first.
posted by kliuless at 9:11 PM on October 19, 2010


Brookdel, it's wonderful if it helps you, and I can understand why it would help, but these things simply don't work for me and they're always being recommended to me and I just get cranky and spewy.
posted by The Whelk at 9:14 PM on October 19, 2010


anyway, for all the game theors out there, the inception of XP favorites social dynamics!
- The game layer on top of the world
- The beauty of data visualization
- Peter Molyneux demos Milo, the virtual boy
posted by kliuless at 9:41 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So.. once you're company has been gammified does it become "gamey" or "gammy?"
posted by Ahab at 10:10 PM on October 19, 2010


"your"
posted by Ahab at 10:10 PM on October 19, 2010


Sorry Ahab, you don't have the required Mefi Manna points to make a retrospective spelling correction. You'll need to either cash in some of your favorites or roll a natural 20. Your choice.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:45 PM on October 19, 2010


I am a big fan of games in general. I can enjoy playing games because they are entirely optional. Once you are forced to play it's not a game anymore, and in fact stands a good chance of being obnoxiously annoying.
posted by JHarris at 10:50 PM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


several surprisingly well VC funded start-ups.

People are still surprised that VCs fund moronic start-up ideas that have zero chance to ever make either money or sense?
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:25 PM on October 19, 2010


(I wonder if they held a meeting in Second Life to discuss how awesome this idea is and how much everyone will like it? Watch out for the flying penises!)
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:28 PM on October 19, 2010


Oh, god. I just was at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, and this was all over the place. It's the equivalent of making airplane noises while they deliver marketing to your mouth.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:48 AM on October 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Speaking as a game developer directly in this field, the recent history of gameification is very interesting. Before Jesse Schell's whole 'points for brushing your teeth' talk at DICE, there were plenty of game designers who saw gameification as quite a promising field.

We all knew that game mechanics and XP and levels and collecting behaviours are very powerful, so the thought was, why not apply these to existing companies? Some companies already used points and levels (e.g. loyalty cards) but clearly we could take this a lot further - we could market your movie, sell your products, enhance your website, if only you hired us at £X per day! In fact, many game design companies effectively touted the gameification of products and services as a good thing (even if they didn't say it in as many words).

Then Jesse Schell came along and said what we all knew was the eventual consequence of this - points and levels and achievements everywhere. It's not like he said that this was a *bad* thing per se, but that it was coming and we'd better get used to it. But it shocked and upset a lot of people, which put a lot of game designers in a sticky situation.

On the one hand, there is plenty of money to be made from making things that gameify the world (e.g. Epic Win, Health Month, etc) and help people do or buy stuff; on the other hand, it's EVIL! And so what do you do as a game designer? Well, no-one wants to be evil, so you get on the backlash-wagon and start ripping the hell out of gameification - even if that's what you've basically been selling, and continue to sell, c.f. Jane McGonigal, who is a big proponent of gameification and also a hero of the gaming community. How do you reconcile that if you think that gameification is bad? Or is it only bad when it's used for 'bad' purposes, whatever you think those are?

The weird thing is that I think gameification actually works. Not for everything, to be sure, but to take one example, my health insurance company awards points for various healthy activities (going to the gym, buying vegetables, getting checkups, etc.) Putting aside the big brother-issues of exactly how they track all this, I personally found it quite good, because it encouraged me to get enough points to reach the Platinum level, and reduce my premiums to effectively zero. So I don't mind it from that perspective - I'm getting real rewards for doing something that it good for me.

A big part of this backlash against gameification, I feel, comes from game designers who are basically horrified that non-game designers are making game-like experiences that use points and levels and achievements, and they work. We might hate it, but they do. Just look at Farmville - it's barely a game and it's still got 60 million players. One argument they have is, "Well, if you hired *real* game designers, it'd be even better!"

I doubt that, actually - I think game design - as traditionally construed - has never been about pulling in as many people as possible, or motivating certain behaviours, it's been about creating fun and creating a challenge. You just can't compare a game like Halo and a 'game' like collecting airline loyalty points - yeah, they have points and levels, but that's about it.

As people have mentioned above, the idea of points and scores and loyalty cards existed well before videogames, so I don't see this 'gameification' to have anything necessarily to do with games, other than being a landgrab by game designers who are exploiting the whole games zeitgeist to get everywhere.
posted by adrianhon at 5:49 AM on October 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


BTW I should clarify that Jane McGonigal is not on the gameification backlash-wagon, or at least, not that I've seen - so I wouldn't want to make it seem like she's being hypocritical here - in fact she's being very consistent (whether or not I agree with her!)
posted by adrianhon at 5:50 AM on October 20, 2010


The weird thing is that I think gameification actually works. Not for everything, to be sure, but to take one example, my health insurance company awards points for various healthy activities (going to the gym, buying vegetables, getting checkups, etc.) Putting aside the big brother-issues of exactly how they track all this, I personally found it quite good, because it encouraged me to get enough points to reach the Platinum level, and reduce my premiums to effectively zero. So I don't mind it from that perspective - I'm getting real rewards for doing something that it good for me.

Wow, we really do live in a sci-fi dystopia now huh?
posted by speicus at 10:41 AM on October 20, 2010


A big part of this backlash against gameification, I feel, comes from game designers who are basically horrified that non-game designers are making game-like experiences that use points and levels and achievements, and they work. We might hate it, but they do. Just look at Farmville - it's barely a game and it's still got 60 million players. One argument they have is, "Well, if you hired *real* game designers, it'd be even better!"

IIRC Zynga ripped the entire thing off from someone else anyway.
posted by Artw at 10:42 AM on October 20, 2010


@breath: "You clicked the font button 100 times today! Here's 1000 coins!"
"You opened the preferences for the first time! 5000 coins!"
"Haven't seen you in a while, were you consorting with that filthy open-source word processor? Anyway, 500 coins for coming back!"


you think you're joking, but you're not.
posted by luvcraft at 10:49 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


SF Weekly evil zynga article
posted by victors at 11:04 AM on October 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


My bank (and, I should probably note, my employer) added a third party money-tracking app to their set of products (Xero, if you care). It's... like an MMO. I find myself logging in every day to track the pretty graphs and charts and where I am on my goals and whether my net worth is going up or down or...

I actually like it, because it engages all the MMO-addict bits of my brain in making sure I'm actually increasing my net worth. Sneaky.
posted by rodgerd at 11:18 AM on October 20, 2010


People would still read magazines if they were more like Zynga!
posted by Artw at 2:38 PM on October 20, 2010


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