It’s not often that I read a post, then watch the linked video, and then sit back in my chair and think to myself that all well-intentioned people should just be shot out of hand. Like the person who wrote that video. Gamification is the idea of bringing gaming ideas to solve massive social problems in the world. For example, instead of getting our kids to learn basic math because it might be useful for them, we need to load in lots of achivements so as to make it fun, just like gaming is.

There are two very big problems here. The first is that there is a good deal of evidence that achivements don’t work at all, and in fact they encourage people to play less. To simplify it for those of you who don’t feel like listening to that 60 minute broadcast just linked, (even if it is fascinating), studies have shown that the awarding of some form of encouragement point, (gold stars, points on a scale to get an end reward, etc), remove the subjects intrinsic desire to partake in an activity: in other words, from that moment on they only do the activity if there is an attached reward. Subjects who are not rewarded in this way continue to do the activity for the sake of doing the activity itself. So achivements remove the creative enjoyment element associated with play. Imagine what it could do for stuff like school!

The second problem is far scarier. It is a complete social streamlining of the way we function as a society, reducing our lives to the mere attainment of dubious and worthless rewards in order to encourage us to continue doing basic tasks. It invokes images of a lab rat crawling through a maze for a biscuit reward. The people who want to introduce this probably have good intentions, as most do-gooders have; but attempting to gloss over major problems in society today by giving out achivement points to do them is not only facile, but it will turn off the creative elements of society, who will in turn never go to achieve greatness in science, art, or anything else simply because they were paid to play as children.

The problem with society today is not that we have so many more distractions than people did 100 years ago. If it was as simple as making work as fun as WoW then I suppose the worlds ills could be fixed by Ronald McDonald. The fact that people prefer to spend all their time on Facebook or WoW instead of looking for ways to make themselves more employable to find an exciting job is simply because we are taught to think for the short term reward as opposed to the long term consequence. Our schooling, our government, everything follows that same line. Adding facile achievement points to the equation merely adds another nail into the existing coffin.

My thanks to Nils from whose blog all these links were plundered.

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