Game mechanics for work

NewImageOver at our sponsor Intel's My Life Scoop site, I wrote about "Work As A Game":

“Fun is not the enemy of work.” That’s the slogan of Natron Baxter Applied Gaming, a boutique game development firm that’s developed gaming experiences for the World Bank Institute, Institute for the Future (where I’m a researcher), and many other organizations. When I first heard that motto, it echoed something Douglas Rushkoff talked about on his blog and in his 2005 book “Get Back In The Box” — essentially that fun shouldn’t be a “reward” for miserable work.

“In psychology, it’s called 'extrinsic motivation,' and it only works for a short time," Rushkoff writes. "The net effect is to make the thing you’re doing for that extrinsic reward less appealing – more like work. 'Compensation' becomes precisely that: compensation for doing something you don’t want to be doing."

"Work As A Game"


  1. “Gamifying” work is a horrible, dystopian concept.  I went to the Seriosity site and found some very scary ideas.  Quotes:  “…make sure that the right game ingredients are matched up to the pain points you really care about…”  Pain points?  “…Work would be hopelessly confused with play” Hopelessly confused?  

    “There is a spectrum of possibilities that runs from “stealing work” from unsuspecting players to “renting work” when players are in on the deal and to what we call “buying work,” where a game is sufficiently bad that you may have to pay people to play it (as epitomized by most jobs today).”  Are they saying that if a “game” is sufficiently good you won’t have to pay people to work?

    They also have ideas for “games” to “help employees manage their health”.  They don’t give details, but I can imagine things like “goal weight points”, “gym points”, “lifestyle points” that determine the level of your health coverage and give your employer control over your behavior outside the work environment.

    And the most important, unaddressed question: what if an employee doesn’t want to play the game?

    This is not work.  This is a Skinner box.  This is a frightening view of the future.  The Serios site has the introductory chapter of their book “Total Engagement” here:   Read it.  It’s horrific.

    1. Are they saying that if a “game” is sufficiently good you won’t have to pay people to work?

      Yes, like developing the Linux kernel (yes, I am aware that there are also people who are paid to work on such, and that oftentimes they take on the less interesting problems).

      1. The reason we work is to get paid. Even if I worked at something I love, I would expect to be compensated for my time, effort and creativity. People who work on the Linux kernel without compensation volunteer to do so. It’s not a condition of employment.

        1. I think you need to define the word “work” as used in the first and second sentences, and the word “work” as defined in the third. It seems that the first “work” requires compensation, but the second “work” does not.

          1. Oh!  Okay.  I thought that I had made the alternate definition clear when I said “volunteer”, just as people volunteer to do charity “work” for no compensation.  It definitely requires engagement, effort and commitment, but you enter into it by choice knowing you won’t receive any compensation other than the satisfaction you derive from participation and the chance to do something to help others.  You can do this in addition to your compensated labor, just as you participate in a hobby or sport, able to pause or cease participation if other responsibilities interfere or your interest wanes.

            The vast majority of us must labor at things they don’t care to do in order to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.  Therefore, the factor of “choice” is removed.  

    2. I’m growing increasingly skeptical of “gamification,” and I’m a game designer.  There’s good evidence that, instead of driving engagement with whatever product or process is being sexed up with gamification, it can, in some cases at least, actually cause people to focus on the mechanics of the game to the detriment of everything else.  So in addition to being grossly manipulative, soul-destroying Skinner boxes, they don’t necessarily even work as intended.

    3. I’m in full agreement. “Gamification” is one of the more irritating buzzwords to come out in recent years. There is something deeply disturbing to me about the whole concept of it. Nobody wants to be the Pavlovian Dog and I shudder to think that I myself might actually be susceptible to the crack high appeal of achievements and points in a gamified reality. Joyfully, obediently jumping for that next biscuit of approval. I am hopeful that gamification is just a sham, that it only works with a small subset of the population, perhaps the same subset that buys thousands of dollars worth of virtual goods in Farmville or the like. My fear is that it actually works and we are all on the verge of sitting, rolling over and playing dead.

      1. dolo54, I believe that being aware of the cage is the first step in escaping it.  If you can see what they’re trying to do, you’re less likely to fall for it.  I avoid Farmville and other such games (actually I don’t go on Facebook unless I get notification that someone tags me — the only reason I have an account at all is it’s the only way to keep in touch with some of my friends).  It’s like avoiding heroin because you know it’s addictive.  There’s no shame in staying away from something you know is created to lure you and trap you.

        Which is why a great concern of mine is, if this becomes prevalent, how am I going to get a job if I don’t want to play?  It gives an even more disturbing meaning to that disturbing management buzz phrase “team player”.

    4. Yeah, the opening paragraph makes a distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, then showcases a bunch of transparently extrinsic motivation engines. Awarding little “merit badges,” like the “gold stars” that weren’t worth a crap in elementary school?! Seriously?

      1. Precisely.  If there were proper “intrinsic motivation” to the work, extrinsic motivation would not be needed.  As for extrinsic motivation, hey!  Here’s an idea!  Why not pay your employees a decent living wage and benefits! What a novel idea!

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