The illusion of an insidious permeation
When discussing the shadow of gamification, we need to make sure that everyone understands what gamification is. I’m going to assume since you are here, you have some idea, but if you need a further explanation, and perhaps even with a context that is generally considered devious, then do have a look at our article on Gamification in Marketing. This should be a good primer on what gamification is and what it can achieve.
When organisations decide to explore gamification, the discussion usually starts with that it will allow them to make their audiences obsessed with their product or service. This argument is strengthened by the idea that gamification is everywhere nowadays and this ubiquity is very enticing for many businesses, as they want to jump on this ‘money-making-wagon’.
This is a terrible argument and idea. Simply because it assumes that with the naming and advent of gamification, that all the manipulative mechanics that are used to grab customers attention were suddenly created and implemented, and had not existed before the development of gamification. You need to ask yourself the question then of just because you notice it now, have a name for it and some businesses now do it intentionally, does that mean that it didn’t exist beforehand and that people did(-not) do it intentionally or unintentionally because it was effective?
To give some context for that complex thought, let’s use the example of casinos and gambling. ‘Surprisingly’ these use the same mechanics and elements that gamification do. But this did not occur because gamification was ‘discovered’. Gambling did not suddenly become addictive because we now know what gamification is and have a name for it.
Another example is that of loyalty programs. The abundant nature of loyalty programs may have something to do with the popularity of gamification but they existed long before. They date back to the 19th Century, but for a modern example, American Airlines started theirs in the 1980s. Quite a while before the gamification boom of the 2010s.
Inherent in these examples is also that when gamification is added to a system it somehow becomes a form of control over the customer and that it removes the freedom choice from the individual.
With the example of Disneyland, this is certainly true. An external entity made a conscious choice to remove freedom of choice and add a very clear form of control and manipulation to a system. But that argument only works there in my opinion. You cannot argue that a language app or fitness app that you choose to download and use for self-improvement is somehow a system of control and has removed your freedom of choice? If that is the case, then I feel you need to reassess how you make choices in life and how much willpower you can enact on yourself.
These arguments smack of similar concepts such as those around desires, obsessions and addictions. For example, the idea that you do not have sweets in your home is because the temptation of them being in the cupboard would too great. This has nothing to do with the fact of how effective they were sold to you (gamified or otherwise), but more to do with the fact that they contain sugar, the root cause. Or that the complexities of choice, desire, obsession and addiction are reduced to such a simple idea.
Unfortunately, as often is the case with these discussions, the many arguments for the shadow side of gamification become reductive. They end in focusing heavily on what games have offered us; fun, distractions or enjoyable proxy experiences. And that gamification has now used these good things about games for sinister purposes, in some strange way corrupting the goodness of what games were. What the argument should focus on is the reason why and for what purpose the tools of games were used in other contexts, good or bad.