Am I Evil? Gamification Brought Into Perspective By My 11 Year Old!

Reading Time: 3 minutes (ish)

I had an interesting chat with my eldest daughter recently. As with many chats with her, I was left thinking about the choices in my life… yeah, she’s reached that age!

  • O: I really want this shark in my game. It is only 500 crystals!!
  • Me: And how much do 500 crystals cost?
  • O: Well, I’ve got £10 in my purse and I would pay you back as soon as I can?
  • Me: So it’s more than £10?
  • O: It’s £20, but…
  • Me: £20!?!??! Of real actual money for a [email protected]#king shark graphic in an iPhone game!??!?!?!??!
  • O: Yes, But, it is a special deal that I can only get today, normally it would cost £60
  • Me: (Words I am too polite to use her)
  • O: Yes, But…
  • Me: No. Absolutely not, no way, no how.
  • O: (Almost in tears) But I will never have this chance again, it is only today and the shark is new and it is a special deal just for me and and and and…
  • Me: Sweetheart, it isn’t. The developers are just trying to get money from you. They are using psychological tricks to make you come to me and tell me what a great deal it is. They are making you feel special and like you are being offered a once in a lifetime, exclusive offer.
  • O: (Crying) Oh.
  • Me: These are the sorts of things that gamification often uses to encourage people to do things.
  • O: (Shouting) Well, you’re just as bad as them then aren’t you!?
  • Me: (Spluttering slightly) Yes, but I am usually trying to encourage peole to do important things, like complete important safety training or learn things that will help them at work.
  • O: Yeah, tell yourself that (Storms off). 

This really hit me hard. It got me thinking, “am I as bad as them?” Does what I do equate to greedy devs trying to screw every last penny out of parents, players and children?

For example, one F2P game she had involved making milkshakes. To complete level 1, you needed an orange straw. However, the orange straw only came in straw pack 1 that cost £1. Level 2 required a blue straw. However, the blue straw only can in straw pack 2. You can see where this is going. It was an expensive lesson for me as a parent on how low game devs will go. The worst was on one of the Talking Tom games though. Here, at the point they wanted you to pay, they showed a graphic of a child handing the phone to their parent and asking them to pay!!

I get wanting to make money, but manipulating kids is pretty low.

Anyway, back to the question, am I really as bad as that. The answer is no. Whilst I know all these tricks and manipulations, I have the choice not to use them. If I do use anything that could be considered as a trick or a manipulation, it will be for reasons that are beneficial to the user, not me or anyone else. It is always about what is best for the user.

Consider a fitness tracker. The core reason for the user to have one is to exercise more. If the app or the device uses methods that feel like tricks or manipulations, to encourage the user to do exercise – is that a bad thing? After all, they got the thing for that exact reason.

It is often down to pure intent. Is your intent to control or to help? You could even call it ethics (nice plug there, see what I did?? Oh and here is my ethics page… :D)

Are you evil? I’m not, and my daughter finally agreed yesterday… for now!


Also published on Medium.

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7 Responses

  1. Fernando says:

    I agree, but think it’s valid to bring up this discusson and try to estabilish some moral ground, at least to be clear that some pratices are undesired from a point of view of “healthly” or “harmless” or maybe pro-user gamficaton.

    That’s why think that this talk with your daugther was great, some times we may forget or be unware that what we are doing is not good to our users. It remind me of a a conversation with some japanese teachers one time were they asked why should I try to make life fun tomy student? why learn has to be fun? why that student is not intrinsic motivated to learn? From his point of view they should be eager to learn, when they were kids they were motivated. Acording wth his culture or at least with the population that he had im mind, they were motivated, lern was already fun. And they also asked if we were thinking about the impact of the users getting used to fun and game-like environments, and how they would to face something that was not ment to be fun for him. Some consideratons in the same line of Deci & Ryan and experiments about take off the extrinsic estimulus from but in daily life scale.
    So my point is that we should try to not lose the big picture of what we are doing and keep this reflecting about the implicatons of what we are developing. Cuz, althou it is not the case, maybe, we are not making hammers, maybe we are developing new guns.

    • Again, context and intent. My Father has a gun, in the UK, that he bought for Clay Pigeon shooting at a club. It is his only hobby and brings him great joy in a way that is totally harmless. The gun is just a tool for that.

  2. Fernando says:

    You got point.. How you choose to use your knowledge and your tools define who you are, but as providers of that same knowledge we somehow became responsible of the harm that they do using that.
    Although we try our best to use persuasve technologies to improve learners motivation and engagemnt as something that is really good for them. I see a lot of companies using the same technologies just for the sake of make more money and deceiving some parents like that would be the siver bullet to make the kids eager for knowedge and wisdom

    • I use the analogy of a hammer. A hammer is neither good or bad in and of itself. It can be used to build and destroy in equal measure. Whether this is good or bad is entirely down to the intent of the person using the hammer. If they choose to create amazing sculptures and buildings or tear down oppressive walls, the hammer is not going to get the praise. In the same way, if the wielder chooses to use it to harm others, it is not the hammer that should get blamed.

  3. Josh says:

    What a conversation!

    I have this debate with myself all the time, its very difficult in this field to not think about it. Your ethics page is a brilliant one.

    I wonder though how much we can use “After all, they got the thing for that exact reason.” as rationale, as the child downloaded the game for the “exact reason” of playing the game, which the micro payments “technically” facilitate.

    I think it is difficult though to use that argument for locking things away, however the argument could be used for power-ups or better weapons etc. which I think many game creators do back themselves up with.

    • “After all, they got the thing for that exact reason” relates to using techniques such as timed alerts, messages, points, badges etc to help convince people to move more. That is what they bought it for. If it then started saying “For an extra £400 you can get messages on the right time, now go buy it under an exclusive just for you 99% deal” that is where it all starts to move away from being what the user wants to what the developer wants. Anyway, manipulating kids is crap, however we look at it!

      • Josh says:

        Yes definitely, the customer *wants* to be pushed and motivated. It really is about whether it serves the developer or the customer. I would never use that argument myself for those kind of tricks, but I’m sure others would have no problems misusing it for their own ends.

        I wonder how it applies to more grey areas such as the snapstreaks on snapchat.

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Andrzej Marczewski
About Andrzej Marczewski twitter facebook    
Gamification Consultant with Motivait. 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.

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