The risks of gamification

I guess most people agree that making boring things a little bit more interesting is a good thing.

Few would argue that it is a bad idea to teach algebra efficently with engaging videogames that were as addictive as sugar.

Or that cool apps that it is bad to make us more engaged to do things for our health that we normally wouldn’t want to do, through make-believe “Good Work!” and emojis.

Some of us might think that the way gamification became popular is actually an extremely evil scheme to strip people from their money and free time; World of Warcraft has made millions of dollars out of a videogame addiction that shares some of the characteristics of other addictions (hanging out with the wrong crowd? Immediate gratification that becomes harder to get? Peer pressure? Just things that pop-up into my mind).

And the holy grail of gamification seems to be to make people have so much fun with (usually) boring tasks that they don’t care about, well, anything else. Perhaps pushing is a synonym? As in pushing heroin around the streets?

Right now I’m a good example. I’m actually writing this for free for a very specific reason. I’m waiting to see the stats of the visits of my post go all over the place (if you know the slang, “gain XP”), get a lot of likes and receive instant gratification out of a thought I just had and the task of putting it in written words.

But I’m not making the money. Medium is.

Perhaps if I work hard enough, one day I’ll be in the top page of every Medium user. Oh man, I can even get to go viral and be Internet-famous! And then, yes, then, I’ll finally get auto-paychecks like pewdiepie for doing what I REALLY like.

That’s pretty much what half of us think subconsciously, one way or another, due to the clever gamification of social media.

This post will be read about 70 times. It can be read a thousand for all I know, but one thing is sure: it’ll only make the Medium brand bigger and I most certainly won’t get a cent.

I spend a great ammount of my time on Instagram crafting clever captions for my (self-amusing) photos. I also do a lot of copy writing on Facebook (researching, copying, pasting, editing, all in the name of cleverness and peer approval, “likes” gratification).

Since it seems to be a trend to make boring tasks (and jobs), more “fun” (hey! You just got an achievement, an obscure one no one else has. You can exchange it for pokemens and other pixels on the internet!), couldn’t it, perhaps, happen that we end up working MORE for imaginary things?

Sure, the gratification is real, you feel great when you level up in an RPG, but what if leveling up is all you can aspire career development-wise as a cashier at a KFC? What if you didn’t even realized it?

“Yes, I have to work 4 more hours a week but as Cashier level 4, getting to level 5 is going to take me a lot more time unless I work extra. And they are giving me more gold-pieces to upgrade my avatar in World of Subpaids”

In other words, what if instead of money they gave you raises in coke and a pat on your back?

Think of the word coke as Coca-Cola and you have a very accurate picture of what’s happening right now in the labour system. It is actually a regression to that mighty time of Knights, Princes, Castles and Aristocracy. I guess the WoW example is not that out of place.

But if you watch through the cracks, isn’t this an already on-going issue since… maybe the beginning of recorded history?

Work so you can achieve great pleasures in some neverland.

Those are my two copper pieces today.