Why gamification may do harm

targetThe term “gamification” is being used for a wide variety of circumstances. Originally, the term was applied specifically to learning—usually assigning points and creating competition as to who learned what. Now we’re finding it applied directly to behaviors—this is closer to a certification than gamification. It’s points for performance. So what’s the definition of gamification? It rests on three pillars:

  • Intense and complex interactive videos
  • A point system
  • Displayed competitive positioning
All three are very problematic. Videos of the quality that produce substantive engagement are very expensive—$10 million plus—so an organization’s internal people produce them. Most organizations take an existing learning program or desired behavior and score it with a points system. They then compare the scores to others to drive competition. Here’s where the problems begin. In regard to points, several negative things happen. People focus on increasing their points, which detracts from learning; the points start to matter, not the learning. When applied to specific behaviors, these points act just like B.F. Skinner’s classic behavior modification methods that were prevalent in the 1950s, and discarded as ineffective and demeaning. Most point-driven gamification is simply behavior modification with another name. Behavior modification leads to rejection of learning. The competition elements produce more negative consequences. Competition releases cortisol, the fight or flight neurochemical. If you win, you are the victor, which alienates others. If you lose, you withdraw, so gamified competition is actually reducing the pool of talent and discouraging participation. More importantly, in a world driven increasingly by collaboration, gamification’s competitive elements are teaching selfishness and isolation—a zero sum game. I win and you lose—hardly what produces good organizational performance. Instead, organizations should focus on creating a compelling purpose, which is the strongest learning and behavior force of all.]]>

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