Is Gamification a benign form of manipulation and does it matter?

1242969 93675797 Is Gamification a benign form of manipulation and does it matter

Andrzej Marczewski

Gamification Expert, author, consultant and designer. I love to write about it, talk about it and bore people to death with it! If you really want to get to know me, check out the About page.

You may also like...

7 Responses

  1. AdiAdi says:

    I don’t see a problem with gamification so long as people volunteer for it. You can’t manipulate someone if they willingly do their stuff.

  2. I think this is a really interesting and fundamental question! I’ve discussed this several times before with my friends in the industry and the difficult thing is often times language, I think. Because discussions quickly turn into semantic discussions, i.e. what does certain words really mean?

    I’ve got a friend working in public relations who listed himself in the phone book as “Propagandist”. Propaganda is one of those words who has negative connotations, but you could argue that all propaganda isn’t bad.

    Personally, I’m challenging the norm by calling myself a “spin doctor” because I frame and prime messaging to best suit the receivers. But many people feel that spin doctoring is a negative thing, like messing with the truth in some way. This is actually pretty strange, since being untrue in different ways is a recipe for really bad PR.

    And I think “manipulation” falls into the same category of terms. So many people instinctively interpret this as something negative. But does it have to be?


    If I describe a glass of water as half full, I signal to the world that I’m happy with it. If I say it’s half empty, I suggest I wouldn’t mind a refill. By providing context and directing prominent details at the right time, at the relevant people, well, it sure does have effect.

    And using the proper form of semantics in this example, I’m actually manipulating without tampering with the truth. So I’m arguably not a villain really, despite being “manipulative”.

    As for gamification, I think the line is drawn between suggesting people to do what they really want to do, versus tricking them into doing something that they don’t want to do.

    Thanks for posting!

    • You nail the point at the end. It is about
      enabling and encouraging rather than tricking people. As for the use of the
      word, people become afraid of words though; they hear it and want to distance
      themselves from it. I try to avoid talking about dopamine when I speak
      about why games / gamification work. I do this, because the games
      industry (which I love and have strong connections with), are very twitchy
      about the word. The fact that dopamine is released when anything nice happens;
      seeing a puppy, learning something new – hell getting a hug can release
      dopamine, is irrelevant. The connotation is that games are addictive due to a
      drug your brain releases.

      • Oh, the dopamine angle is very interesting indeed. It brings physiology into the mix as well. That’s what I love about gamification, iI’s so cross-transitional. I also think that there’s a philosophical level which often ends up with the eternal question of whether there is a free will or not.

        And also – an political/economical perspective. According to capitalistic theory, entities should really to everything in their power to persuade people to buy their services or products and striving to do this is a greater good, since the Darwinian principle creates better companies in the end.

        But to your point, we who are passionate about gamification must be smart in how we phrase the benefits and the inner workings in order not to scare people off.

  1. December 21, 2012

    […] Is Gamification a benign form of manipulation and does it matter? […]

  2. October 7, 2013

    […] Let me expand on this. A discussion started on twitter when I mentioned in passing to a couple of gamification people, that really gamification is often a (Is #Gamification a benign form of manipulation and does it matter?  […]

  3. March 21, 2014

    […] have talked about gamification being a benign form of manipulation in the past.  I don’t think anyone within gamification who has any sense will disagree, […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 + 1 =