Post No.: 0197
‘Gamification’ is the application of game design elements and principles – such as points, badges and leaderboards – in non-traditional game contexts (e.g. to encourage individuals to be more physically active or engaged in learning a subject). Gamification can help motivate people or organisations to do things without involving money (although gamification can involve money or other rewards or metrics that have monetary value). The typical key features are instant feedback, a strong sense of progress, and usually a way of comparing yourself with others.
However, the danger of gamification is that it can crowd-out intrinsic motivation in the quest for extrinsic points, achievement badges, leaderboard rankings or other such external ‘measures of success’ i.e. chasing mere numbers and vanity. This is most likely to happen when the wrong metrics for quantifying a task are used, that focus a player on some things (e.g. their weight loss or the number of steps recorded on a pedometer) at the expense of other things (e.g. their overall health), and when players can find ways to game the system i.e. cheat themselves as well as others (e.g. by dehydrating themselves to lose some weight temporarily or by attaching their pedometer to their dog :(. Woof).
Good doctors understand that it actually takes a battery of tests and a wide variety of numbers to measure a person’s health – and so the distance a person (apparently) walks per day, for instance, isn’t always a sufficient measure by itself. Also, the biggest problem of any technique that uses extrinsic motivators is how will the habit continue once these external motivators are removed or one gets bored of them?
Whenever we set a quantifiable and supposedly ‘universal measure of success’ – as if complex things can be reduced into just one or two numbers – many people will blindly chase these measures at the expense of other measures that aren’t (culturally deemed to be) related to success. Using proxy measures results in people living and striving for these proxies rather than for the real intended goals (e.g. increasing the nation’s GDP (gross domestic product) instead of the nation’s well-being). Furthermore, people and organisations often seek to game the system (i.e. cheat) in order to maximise this supposed ‘measure of success’ number, again often at the expense of important things.
Some examples of these unintended consequences include cramming and chasing academic grades in school at the expense of actual long-term learning retention, true subject mastery, social development, adequate physical activity levels, and the incentivisation of cheating in coursework and exams. Some people chase salaries and bonuses in their careers at the expense of their health and family life. Governments have been accused of privatising/selling off public assets that are beneficial for the public in the long-term in order to reduce national debts in the short-term. And there are frauds, fakery and thefts in many contexts – all just to chase a supposed single ‘measure of success’ in life (which is often considered to be money).
Whenever there are extrinsic targets, figures can be fudged one way or another. For example, where there are interschool leaderboards – underperforming schools could just expel all underperforming pupils to benefit their leaderboard position, which isn’t what society really wants from schools because this strategy is not actually raising education standards but lowering them because underperforming pupils are simply abandoned rather than helped. Or standards of hospital care can lower if there are targets for the number of patients processed per hour, which isn’t what society really wants either. There is an incentive for universities to inflate the grades they give to their own students to make it seem like their university is a good (or easy) place for students to go to, in order to attract more tuition-fee-paying students, when university leaderboard positions matter greatly to universities. If ‘likes’ or ‘follows’ are the measure of success on social media then they can be gamed too (e.g. by using fake bots or purchased likes or followers).
Collectively and over time, people can start to accept and believe that these ‘simple numbers’ are indisputably ‘objective’ measures of very complex things (e.g. single tests to define hypothetical or social constructs such as intelligence or economic health). Simple figures and equations are easy to measure and to generate a number for or from, but can be fraught with over-simplicity to the point of being uninformative or even misleading. For instance, why subjectively choose GDP (and that particular method of measuring GDP) as the ‘objective’ measure of an economy when there are other possible alternative measures? It’s not a complete measure – like any over-simplified measure of such a complex, multi-dimensional thing as a nation and its people would be.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that if something has been reduced to quantitative rather than qualitative data then it automatically makes a measure indisputable. By incessantly chasing easy-to-measure and easy-to-compare-with-others numbers, someone can be quantifiably ‘successful’ according to their bank balance ‘scorecard’ but overall live a qualitatively poor life (due to e.g. stress, divorce, poor health), or vice-versa.
Some believe that if something cannot be measured then it doesn’t exist, but theoretically everything can be measured and reduced to numbers – but just not always simple ones. An equation for how real life fully works would take many thousands of variables, many of which would be impractical to measure the true values and probabilities for, never mind calculate with a powerful enough computer even if we could collect accurate and complete information. It’s just like, although forecasters aren’t trying to reduce the weather into a single, simple number – long range weather forecast simulations, despite the weather deterministically following the laws of physics, are not always accurate. Thousands of numbers are collected and crunched but even this isn’t always enough. The weather is highly complex – never mind human social life.
Simple scores, such as IQ test scores, can be useful for being practical if reliable at least most of the time (depending on the severity of the costs whenever they aren’t) – but are superficial vanity if ill-judged or over-relied upon. Enough people tacitly collude in over-trusting the vanity though – both in how they conduct in this vanity themselves towards others (e.g. males in some cultures boasting about how much they can drink as a supposed measure of their manhood) and how they partake in trusting the vanity of others (e.g. comparing themselves to how much other people can drink), thus they fool each other and themselves (because, in this example, excessive alcohol consumption can actually reduce testosterone levels and increase impotence(!)) This is exactly like any other kind of vanity (e.g. people ought to know that a face full of Botox hides things that aren’t genetically improved for the sake of genetic sexual selection, yet enough people still find Botoxed faces more attractive and mate-worthy than equivalent persons at equivalent middle ages with equivalent lifestyles but who eschew Botox. Humans are unfortunately instinctively superficial creatures who frequently trust in what they see on the surfaces over what’s deeper inside (despite what many claim to say!)) People often ironically blindly trust in what they see.
Woof. The main takeaway is that many things in real life cannot or should not be gamified nor reduced to one or two simple numbers, especially via extrinsic motivators or measures – otherwise we risk chasing the wrong things in life at the expense of the things that really matter (e.g. the volume of social media ‘friends’ over true fluffy friends).