Gamification is the new buzz word in industry. It is a form of compliance technology that relies on undue influence and manipulation by using lessons learned about the addictive nature of video-gaming.

I was alarmed when my 14-year-old son returned from a school careers talk by the military. He told me that his friends were impressed that in the army or air force they would be able to “play games all day long”. But my son understood that as they watched the video screen, they would be removed from their real, human targets. Victims would just be “kills” in a game.

“Gamification” has become big business. The taxi company Uber has hired hundreds of behavioral scientists to increase efficiency, which is to say, profits. On 2 April 2017, The New York Times published an extensive report on the use of gaming tactics to stimulate addictive behaviors in their drivers.

By monitoring performance and offering incentives through repetitive prompts, flashing status updates, symbolic non-cash rewards and comparative achievement levels, Uber patches into the drivers’ dopamine systems, potentially creating effects very similar to gambling addiction.

An on-board app constantly updates performance reports: drivers are awarded achievement badges like “above and beyond” (a cartoon rocket blasting off), “excellent service” (a sparkling diamond) and “entertaining drive” (Groucho Marx glasses: nose, eyebrows and moustache included).

Uber is by no means unique in the commercial sector. Cashiers at US retailer Target were shown a green or red light depending on whether they scanned an item in the prescribed time. This was presented as a game, and they were scored accordingly.

Deloitte Leadership Academy awarded badges to clients who completed course modules, shared comments and ideas or ranked on a leaderboard. According to the London Times, Deloitte said many users became “addicted to learning”.

US pharmacy company Omnicare introduced a leaderboard and cash incentives to speed up helpdesk inquiries, but, in their case, waiting times actually increased.

After a video of Uber boss Travis Kalanick berating a driver went viral, the company announced that it wanted to “rebuild the love”. Gamification, with its essential emphasis on manipulation, seems a very predatory expression of that love.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s book? Do you have a story about gamification you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!