Games or Manipulation?

In the article by Alberto Vanolo, he defines gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-game contexts.” According to him, the concept of gamification is important since it allows to navigate social behaviours in terms of making decisions. To do this, he adds that competition is required due to the fact that it can motivate the individuals to part in the act of gamification with. Looking at this perspective, what Vanolo is implying is that gamification is a form of mass politics with competition being used as a force that drives the agenda of the source/firm imposing gamification.

Berg argued that humans were “programmed” to be competitive. By this sense, by having firms providing competitive measures via ludic elements such as scoreboards, badges, levels, they can quantify and accumulate massive data on people using their services. This means that users using the services gain the feeling of individual agency when they are making a certain action, when in reality the choice they make are carefully constructed by the firms to be exploitive for the firms’ perspective benefits.

Taking the Korean mobile chat app KakaoTalk as an example, it services a variety of different games that users can participate with a single goal to outcompete each other. Rankings are set every week between one and the one’s friends based on high scores that they have reached within the games and users are encouraged to participate to beat their friend’s score. However, it is worth noting that KakaoTalk, actually, has no intention of promoting competition because their interest lies in extracting monetary benefits from its users, and not competition. To them, competition is just a powerful tool that can lead to profits off users who want to feel a sense of narcissism. Users, in this sense, are commodified by the service provider and fall victim into not having ‘true’ agency.

Our classmate @malwedy, Nelson and Dawson have argued that competition generates excitement. This ties in with our narrative so far, as the sense of narcissism, and the sense of relative ‘supremacy,’ quantified by virtual scoreboards, is felt only because the users trying to reach ‘the top’ only does so for self-excitement. Hence, it can be said that competition can act as powerful tool to manipulate social behaviours using the elements of excitement (or fun), and narcissism (or egotism), to influence the users into believing they have full agency, and their actions are driven by their own agendas.

Image Link: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/mYPVqyIENW0/maxresdefault.jpg

7 Comments

  1. great post and I really like your conclusion. But regarding the part where you said that “KakaoTalk, actually, has no intention of promoting competition because their interest lies in extracting monetary benefits from its users, and not competition”, i feel like this contradicts itself. This is because you later say “To them, competition is just a powerful tool that can lead to profits off users who want to feel a sense of narcissism.” which feels opposite to your initial statement. Since in this example competition leads to profits, and a company tries to maximize profits, then would KakaoTalk not be trying to promote competition so that they can make more money?

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  2. Thanks for the great post! This is a very interesting insight!
    I also questioned something similar to @markbuchsbaum97 while reading; I feel like KakaoTalk does have an intention of promoting competition. While it can be seen as them using competition as a tool, I think they are surely intending to promote stronger competition, even by encouraging people to beat their friends’ scores, knowing that this will benefit them in some ways like attracting more users or for monetary benefits. Aren’t they? I also want to hear more about how excitements from competition can tie into narcissism. Can you explain us more about this?

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  3. Thank you for reading. I understand where you come from but here I would like to point out that my emphasis is on the “goal” of the firm, not the “process” by means of competition, that is really important to the firm. So yes, competition does allow for the goal of this firm to be reached, but at the same time, it can be pointed out that competition is not the goal in itself.

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  4. Thank you for reading. As for the first part of your question, I have answered to Mark already, so I will answer the second part. As for narcissism, I have mentioned this idea because in my belief, narcissism in itself requires feeling of excitement to be felt. Simply put it this way, as an example, let’s say, I get the highest number of kills in the game. However, if I don’t feel any excitement after what I have done so, I can’t really say I am narcissistic about it. If I do end up being excited by it, and bask in my own achievements, it can be said that I can behave in a narcissistic way. Thanks for your opinions!

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  5. Very interesting topic! I agree with you that competition can act as a powerful tool to manipulate social behaviours using the elements of excitement and egotism to motivate the users to fully participate in a competitive environment (e.g. games). KakaoTalk certainly applies gamification to extract surplus value (monetary and data) from the users.

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