Learning like a game, paying with data and emotional distress

By | May 25, 2016

This is nonsense and ramble that came to my head while writing something else..

Anybody with children or young adults in the family will have at some point had to turn an Xbox/PC/PS4 off to bring them out of a state of emotional distress. I think there are many reasons why computer games cause distress, while the competitive nature of many only games may be a big factor (there is always somebody better than you!), parents of young Minecraft players know that cooperative games also suffer from this, how many times has that ‘griefer’, or younger sibling, just wanted to destroy your child’s world for fun?  . Recently we have seen distress plays a big role in profits, and developers incidentally use what they know about you as a lever to further the stress of gamers. How many times has a 79p micro payment been allowed by an parent because a child can’t beat a friend on a leader board in clash of clans/bejewled/whatever. As adults I think we have some vague understanding of what is happening when we hand over a small payment or data to a game developer and know when to stop. A recent South Park episode exploring this suggested that developers know most adults will stop, but that the model still works because they are not targeting the masses, but perhaps adults with an addictive personality, the ones who will spend hundreds to beat everyone on their board. While this could be true, I would guess the largest chunk of profit comes from kids who don’t really see the shift in gaming business models because this is the way it has simply always been, and a few minutes nagging their busy parents will get them a few quid to buy some weapons.

I think what I am getting at in this confused and inconsequential way is that games can be distressing and there are numerous business model for games which capitalises on that, perhaps they go something along the lines of:

  1. User is given game
  2. User gives data
  3. Data is used to create emotional distress
  4. User is given options. Pay to compete or give more data
  5.  GOTO 3

This is an emotionally driven data collection exercise, with the hope that this data can be used as a lever to make them pay up, or give more data for leverage. I am over simplifying here, there are all kinds of interesting things that the developers do, including making ‘time’ valuable, pay up to speed up the process or suffer the emotional distress of everyone else make their clan bigger. All these ‘kinds of interesting things’, I find quite immoral for them to be pushed on to children.

In education we see lots of visuals like this:

 

I do like games and I do think making things more ‘game like’ could be really cool and engaging. I’ve been following the RAGE project and thinking it’s really cool too, but if gamification really is ‘the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts’ then we have to be really careful about the ‘game-design element’ we use. Causing emotional distress to raise engagement rates might be fine in the games industry but we can’t just bust in to the room and turn the Xbox off in life long education.

I’m not saying any of the 10 points in the infographic are bad.. I’m just, you know, worried. Morals-wise the biggest players in the games industry may not in a good place at the moment and we shouldn’t just follow them. Particularly because in games we can turn off, but when these mechanisms are tied to our education and the institutions that accredited us, the scope to emotionally bully people in to raising the engagement rate of whatever the vice chancellor wants is huge.

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