"Can gamification help us fly to Mars? Does gamification cure AIDS and cancer? If not, then this concept doesn't make sense."
That was the reaction of a colleague (if you must ask, Yes, it was a German colleague) when I started evangelizing gamification. While he didn't apply the same logic to anything he created, or any other product that came across his path, for whatever reason he felt compelled to set that standard for gamification. Back then, I felt this was kind of a hypocritical double-standard.
Having this in my mind all the time, with Foldit – the game that allowed scientists to solve the folding-problem of protein structures with the help of gamers, a task which the researchers had failed for 15 years to accomplish with mathematical and computational methods - the contribution of gamification to AIDS and cancer science finally got a check mark.
A few weeks ago the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians again went hot. From an outside perspective you keep just wondering why they cannot seem to get a break? I typically read the sad news, hope that everything will stop soon, think of friends in the region that I have and hope that they and their families are fine. That's about it, because if I as Austrian start to lecture of what I think is wrong, I won't be heard: after all it was an Austrian (Hitler was Austrian born) who paved the path to the most atrocious ideology and war crimes at this time.And I can't change the conflict anyways, or can I?
But this time it was different, because I stumbled over the blog of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF)
that uses – gasp! - gamification to spread the word about the militaries activities. Basically support propaganda with gamification. This seemed as the abuse of gamification, the topic that I had held up so high with the purest thoughts. And many people seemed to agree. The bloggosphere reacted unanimously negative on the use of gamification by an army. How dare you combining fun with war? At least fun is an important element for doing proper gamification.
But the truth is more complex. Any technology can and will be use for both sides of the spectrum. Like nuclear power that can be used for bombs or making electricity. Social media can be used for both sides as well – and there is a recent blog that grapples with that fact. Gamification designer Yu-Kai Chou
makes the case for not being hypocritical of what we just seen with gamification and the IDF. After all, the US Army has been using the game America's Army
for years to recruit soldiers and make the military more popular.
There was not much outrage either, when the security consultant Alix Levine talked about online terrorist forums that use game mechanics to engage supporters, and even turn them into real world terrorists.
And don't forget: the oldest gamified system is probably the military. Status, ranks, promotions. All these are fixtures of military lives. For thousands of years. Leader-boards like this one from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet show that this gamification is as common for the military, as killing somebody.
While companies are not out there for killing people on purpose, some consider the pursuit of profit, exploiting people, exerting power of them, nearly as evil as what armed forces pursue (they of course say they maintain peace).
Coming back to my german colleagues standards, I now tend to agree with him. We have always been best, when we reached for the stars. When we didn't listen to the people that we cannot do it and it will never be done. We decided to go the moon, and we did. We decided to cure AIDS, cancer, and many other diseases, and we do, and we are becoming better. We should be thankful, that the terrorists and the IDF use gamification. If they can use it for those purposes, we have no excuse to bail out of larger goals. This is the wakeup call.
I dare you that we can solve conflicts, create and maintain peace, and help cultural understanding with gamification! We are better than this! Just let's do it!