“Belated Blogging of a Buzzword” achievement unlocked

October 27, 2019 — November 18, 2021

bandit problems
reinforcement learning
Figure 1: Pippin Barr, It is almost as if you were doing work

A place where I will store notes on gamification, both deliberate and accidental. Humans obsessiveness for arbitrary goals with intermittent variable reward.

The term, AFAIK, comes from the video game industry wanting to name what the marketable meta-product they had extracted from engineering addictive video games. See the Mashable Gamification writeup.

To touch upon: suggestive metaphor of sparse reward in reinforcement learning, especially for people. The industrial sale of gamification e.g.. Mike Hoye on gamification of conspiracy theory, gives it a horrific angle.

I am musing if, as a species, we tolerate such game-like activities as car-based commuting (Stutzer and Frey 2008), poker machines, depressing social media and bureaucratic proceduralism, because they each foster satisfying game-like addiction? It is certainly how I myself manage my akrasia.

Figure 2: I would play this game for a fee of no less that AUD140/hour

Questions: what kind of variation do people have in their taste for the gamified? For example, some people enjoy Sudoku and driving a car around, both of which are for me an exquisite torture of wasted potential. Contrariwise, I enjoy mathematics, which is for some people a pointless well of tedium. I tell you what though, spending time in traffic doesn’t invent the incredible heights of modern technology though, does it now?

Figure 3: All sudoku is depressing IMO

1 Incoming

Ulysses Pascal, The Gamification of Games, classifies the process of “gamification” as adopting behavioural control methods that have little to do with games per se and which games themselves are now adopting.

An online marketplace, like a game, is a highly controlled yet seemingly “open world” where choices can be monitored closely. Just as in the two-sided platforms for goods and services managed by Google and Amazon, these choice environments can be engineered to nudge behavior in predefined directions or to collect user data. With psychological insight into the values, ideals, and fantasies that users are not so willing to admit in search queries, emails, and purchasing habits, games are valuable supplements to the data Google and Amazon already collect.

  • C. Thi Nguyen on Games, Art, Values, and Agency

    if you believe all the stuff I’ve told you and you understand why games are great, then you should see that gamification is a fucking existential horror. Because games are a temporary artificial clarity, and they’re fine, ’cause they’re temporary. Game values are hyper crisped-up, and that’s fine if you put away those values at the end. But when you gamify something like education or communication, then you’re forcing a singular clarified value system on a real world activity.

    So I have a paper about Twitter, and I’m working on new stuff about how this happens in, with grades and things like this. But notice the difference… And Fitbit. Fitbit’s a really important example. But notice one difference. If you decide to play games, what that looks like is you get to pick from a vast menu of different games and try them on temporarily and then reflect on whether they were fun or not. If you’re engaged in Twitter, there are not a lot of other choices for social media and social discourse. And if you let yourself be gamified by it and be captured by those points, there’s no ability to change systems, set those points aside, and what you’re getting is instead like this, you’re squashing the values that a large…

    So people normally communicate with a large, a wide variety of pluralistic values. And people like me think this is really important, it’s really important that people can bring different communicative values to the social ecosystem, but something like Twitter’s gamification squashes those values and gets everyone, insofar as they’re motivated, to be motivated in the same direction. So the very thing that’s fun and sexy in games, that’s okay, ’cause they’re limited, that everyone pursues the same point. And a really simple one, when you export it to communication, it squashes one of the most important things about a vibrant social political community.

2 Gamification as data-informed pedagogy

Byrne Hobart, in recommending Packy McCormick’s profile of Replit, says

The barriers to learning to code have dropped significant[ly]. If you think of learning-to-code as a product, the existing barriers are still a poor design choice: video games make a point of carefully introducing new mechanics while constantly rewarding players; an MMORPG that had a mandatory multi-hour setup process before your character was allowed to slay their first goblin would probably not convert many users.

Andrea Kuszewski You Can Increase Your Intelligence presents gamification as a way of getting better at stuff, based on (Jaeggi et al. 2008). Kuszewski has written lots of fun stuff in this vein, e.g. connecting with sex.

There is evidence that we can learn to detect fake news (Roozenbeek and Linden 2019), improve empathy (Simonovits, Kézdi, and Kardos 2017), mathematical typesetting


3 References

Foerde, and Shohamy. 2011. The Role of the Basal Ganglia in Learning and Memory: Insight from Parkinson’s Disease.” Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
Jaeggi, Buschkuehl, Jonides, et al. 2008. Improving Fluid Intelligence with Training on Working Memory.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lembke. 2021. Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence.
Leuner, Glasper, and Gould. 2010. Sexual Experience Promotes Adult Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus Despite an Initial Elevation in Stress Hormones.” PLOS ONE.
Owesson-White, Cheer, Beyene, et al. 2008. Dynamic Changes in Accumbens Dopamine Correlate with Learning During Intracranial Self-Stimulation.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Post. 2014. Game on: Could Gamification Help Business Change Behaviour? The Guardian.
Puig, and Miller. 2012. The Role of Prefrontal Dopamine D1 Receptors in the Neural Mechanisms of Associative Learning.” Neuron.
Roozenbeek, and Linden. 2019. Fake News Game Confers Psychological Resistance Against Online Misinformation.” Palgrave Communications.
Rose, and Orlowski. 1983. Review of research on endorphins and learning.” Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics: JDBP.
Salamone, and Correa. 2012. The Mysterious Motivational Functions of Mesolimbic Dopamine.” Neuron.
Simonovits, Kézdi, and Kardos. 2017. Seeing the World Through the Other’s Eye: An Online Intervention Reducing Ethnic Prejudice.” American Political Science Review.
Stutzer, and Frey. 2008. Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox.” Scandinavian Journal of Economics.
Takahashi, Zhu, Hata, et al. 2009. Intracranial Self-Stimulation Enhances Neurogenesis in Hippocampus of Adult Mice and Rats.” Neuroscience.