Gamification & the After Effects
Thesis Statement: Gamification can have extreme effects on society, with gamified elements consistently developing into consumer lifestyles it is providing designers with an unethical tool for behavioural design and psychology.
This paper discusses the problem with the implementation of gamification in design and how the strategy has developed into consumer lifestyles, changing the way society operates and at extremes changing an individual’s views, values and behaviours. Gamification is the process of applying gamified characteristics to non-game contexts (14, Kim, 2015) using a range of ideas including “challenges, points, levels, badges and trophies to competitions” (14, Kim, 2015) to motivate consumers. In simpler words it is a form of increasing an individual’s status (level) by providing rewards (badges, trophies, points). There is an idea that gamification is motivated by fun, however there is an underlying issue that focuses on behaviour change and manipulation of the consumers. The concern this creates is the impending psychological implications it has on individuals due to the lack of ethics in the employed strategies of gamification. A focus needs to be projected onto this tool that designers have utilized to design the behavior of their consumers, it is unethical to provide that level of influence over any singular persons. The following paper shall discuss the underlying issues with implementing gamification into design strategies and the difficulty of effective application, the effects of gamification on consumer behaviour and finally the development of gamification into the daily lifestyles of consumers. This paper shall also converse the responsibilities of the designer and the ethical conflict that gamification creates, discussing the principles of ethical design production.
There are many issues with gamification for both a designer and for a consumer, for designers it is a challenging system to effectively construct. When not applied successfully the process can be costly and the outcome only temporary, as Almarshedi et al states there can be a gradual decline in the effectiveness of gamification over time, “the impact of gamification might be temporary. Some research shows that the longer the gamified application is used, the less effect it has on its users” (1044, Almarshedi et al, 2015). For some applications of gamification, the consistency and application in itself can become gradually ineffective, as in some instances consumers become accustomed to repeated elements thus leading to unsuccessful gamification “diminished attention, to repeated stimuli.” (267, Henson & Rugg, 2003). Due to ineffective application it can be presumed that there is both a material wastage and economic wastage that designers will encounter, which in turn have effects on the consumer experiences.
The second issue which stems from gamification is the unethical practice of gaining customer information and data. It is simply accepted that “rewards are motivating and have a positive impact” (122, Rigby, 2014), and just as with any game, gamification is a “regular stream of rewards to players as they engage with content” (122, Rigby, 2014). However, gamification is also a structure for gaining data, and unknown to the consumer, distributing and using the gained information to further practice effective gamification and similar marketing and design strategies. Gamification is a function in which designers can maintain and increase their customer base, using the membership information provided to better understand the consumer demographic and learn their behavioural patterns. Designers use the methods such as “awarding of points, badges, and progression through levels in exchange for observed activity” (86 Linham, Kriman & Roche). The knowledge that consumers have over how and where their information is being used and distributed is inadequate. There is a fabricated idea of privacy and innocence that designers have built through the application of gamification; designers hold an ethical responsibility to provide their consumers with an understanding of the distribution of their information and use within statistics.
However, the increasing issue that designers are inflicting on their consumers are the psychological effects on behaviour. Gamification employs a range of strategies that work at manipulating the way a consumer views and interacts with a product, creating an unconscious shift in behaviour and beliefs. One of the more prominent applications of behavioural psychology in gamification involves a strategy of priming, otherwise known as association activation, where designers are calculative in the placement of trigger points within the game elements to build an ideal response. Gamification is implementing tasks, competitions and ultimately goals to create a desire and incite a response from consumers, similarly priming is a nonconscious brain process that occurs automatically, such as the natural competitiveness that humans respond to when challenged with a game-like scenario. Priming occurs “quickly, automatically and effortlessly” (70, Genco, Pohlmann & Steidl, 2013). The order in which designers present elements defines the automatic response of a consumer, “exposure to one idea in our mind automatically activates other associated ideas, which then can trigger physical responses in our bodies, and ultimately, complex behaviours like words or actions” (70, Genco, Pohlmann & Steidl, 2013). Priming is calculative in use, strategically implementing elements that trigger responses.
An example of priming is:
Clean SO_P or Eat SO_P.
The placement of the former influences how a person might fill in the missing letter and thus the completed work of the latter.
Alternatively, priming or negative priming creates barriers, “Barriers, however, may physically restrict behaviour with or without any verbal behaviour” (29, Morford et al, 2014). The effect of negative priming is in the way items are presented and ‘encoded’, forming a prime stimulus and an ignored stimulus, otherwise known as the focus and the distractor (Wood & Milliken, 1998). This ability to create a prime and an ignored stimulus is the ability to restrict consumers in their choices and therefore limit them in their responses. In gaming terminology, consumers are being programmed, their actions provide them pathways and as a player the game provides options, “a player behaves within a set of rules or barriers that restrict player response variability” (28, Morford et al, 2014). Through limiting responses and programming consumers it is effectively designing their behavior, using concealed methods of behavioural psychology.
Methods such as alternative association, priming and negative priming have developed into the daily lifestyles of consumers, strategically altering the values and behaviors of society. To ensure the sustainability of the social networking sites designers engage consumers through these methods of gamification. Society has been primed to associate the elements of social media with the idea of status and quality, elements such as likes, followers and other similar statistics that are prevalent on social media platforms. As a result of this design, social pressure becomes commonplace among individuals, “there may be social pressure caused by the communities, users may strive to improve their number of connections and the number of positive ratings their activities receive.” (40, Pellika, 2014). Consumers are learning to pursue these ideas of quality, associating likes, retweets, favourites and followers or ‘friends’ as scores, resembling a point system more closely related to games than socialising. “Social media features resemble scores, as they are commonly seen as goals to strive towards. In each of these, there is no explicit rewards awarded, yet Facebook’s ‘likes’, Google+ ‘+1’ ratings and Reddit karma points are all pursued” (41, Pellika, 2014).
The quality of content is consistently rated through both positive and negative feedback, the ability to comment, react, view and increase overall statistics is becoming a competitive field. Such as with that of YouTube, the order of status is determined by the views and subscribers a channel has, “ordering creates competitive pressure and encourages users to gather more subscribers.” (44, Pellika, 2014). Furthermore, designers encourage this competitiveness to sustain the traffic in which the site receives, more obvious elements of gamification are frequent on the social media sites such as with Google which awards badges, ensuring high quality content on their sites ensures higher traffic and thus a longer sustained site. “Statistics, scores, leaderboards, badges, competition, cooperation, tasks, levels and progression are all used to ensure high quality throughout the services. Each of these elements influence the actions of the users one way or another while aiming to improve the quality of the content generated by the users” (49, Pellika, 2014).
Due to the increasing accessibility of loyalty apps and other popular online communities such as social media, designers are advancing their development of gamification, Augmented Reality apps otherwise known as AR, have become increasingly popular, since its release Pokemon Go lead the market and has influenced an increase within other businesses, a prime example of this would be New World and its limited release of the New World Easter Egg Hunt, in which it enticed shoppers primarily those with children to walk around the store collecting AR eggs. The App was produced as a promotional product that added some more fun to the Easter spirit, when the AR task was accomplished a real chocolate egg was rewarded to the player. As stated by the marketing team “We wanted to embrace the fact that mobile is where it’s at for young and old. Combining a fun mobile game with delicious chocolate rewards is the perfect promo” (StopPress, 2017). AR is proving to be an effective and engaging method of gamification, however the effects of it are increasingly visible as it become more prominent. Augmented reality is quickly replacing the reality of daily life, overlaying a narrative on the considerably simple environment. AR is an entertainment structure that consumes the consumer, designed to take the “substance of everyday life and weave it into narratives that layer additional meaning, depth, and interaction upon the real world” (37, Montela et al, 2009). AR provides a tool to designers to change representations and meanings within an environment, this and the implications is determined by the context and delivery all under the designers’ influence.
This implementation of gamification is becoming the culture and identity of consumers, the behaviour of consumers is often lead by the need to complete the tasks set by these AR games, and social media tasks, “On the broadest scale, media scholars observe a ludification of culture, with their increasing ubiquity, adoption and institutionalization” (2, Deterding et al, 2011). These tasks are known to ‘motivate’ and drive consumers however due to the inadequacy of knowledge that consumers are provided, it may be more appropriate to refer to this motivation as behaviour manipulation, particularly when the outcome of these tasks creates no perceivable benefit for the consumer.
Through the aforementioned examples it is evident that the application of gamification can deeply affect an individual and their views and values. Gamification is a structure built through a variety of methods, some being association, priming and negative priming which all manipulate a consumer’s thought process to behave in the desired way ultimately affecting their view, values and immediate behaviour. Ethical design should ultimately aim to provide a consumer with knowledge, privacy and options however is it visible through this discussion that gamification fails to meet these requirements. The implementation of gamification is providing designers with an immense level of power and influence over consumers, and this tool of power should be fully examined and understood by consumers before they unconsciously play into the trap that it becomes. It has been proven that gamification can provide effective results that alter an individual’s lifestyle, however, when these alterations provide no tangible or intangible benefits for a consumer then the need for them is questionable. The ethics involved in this practice are problematic, careless application could prove to have an immediate and negative impact on consumers. Designers need to be held accountable for the actions they take to influence consumers, such as with a psychologist when employing tactics of behavioural psychology, the power of deciding “who is designing that society, what values are inherent in that design, and who is judging what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviour” (100, Linehan, Kirman & Roche, 2014) should not be strictly reliant on the designer as an individual but on society as a whole. If a designer is to supply information regarding privacy concerns, provide options, and not aim to fundamentally change a consumer’s values and behaviors with no perceivable benefit, then ethical utilization of gamification could prove effective. Ultimately, the principles of ethics are the responsibility of the designer.
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