You've Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All

Posted on 11/26/2022 in misc

In "You've Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All," Adrian Hon, the creator of the insanely popular Zombies, Run! app explains how every facet of our lives is being gamified in an effort to wring more value out of us, without actually paying us for that value.

As a video game designer and unabashed fan of video games, Adrian is not coming at us as a 21st century Ralph Nader. He genuinely believes in the power of games to educate and entertain, and also genuinely believes almost nobody is using that power ethically or effectively today. Leaderboards, badges, streaks, etc. in a workplace setting have limited and short term effects. At best, they are mostly useless. At worst, they are manipulatively extracting extra work from the workforce with no corresponding increase in pay.

He delves in the dangers of gamification at work and school, as the "players" have no actual ability to opt out of playing. In order to effectively keep score at work or school, employees and students are subjected to insidious levels of surveillance. In addition, if your job depends on "winning" the game, it's only natural that individual users will be motivated to take shortcuts. Think about that idea in terms of Amazon or food delivery drivers and the potential for this gamification being directly responsible for injury or death is pretty obvious. In fact, I'd assume it has already happened.

On a more personal note, a couple of weeks before reading this book I embarked on yet another attempt to become a runner. In looking for an app to guide me from couch potato to 5K runner, I first checked Fdroid for open source solutions. I didn't want a social network in the app, or leaderboards, or challenges, or a well told story of the zombie apocalypse (sorry Adrian!). I just wanted something to tell me when to run or walk. I ended up choosing the "Just Run" app. In fact, I have a Sansa Clip ready to go once I finish the build up of the couch to 5K program. Once I no longer need the app I'll be leaving the phone at home when running.

Adrian concludes the book with some ideas about how to beat back the zombie hordes, uh, I mean gamification of every aspect of life. All we need to do is unionize everybody, enact wide ranging worker protection laws, and generally shift the balance of power of employer to employee. I hope he is working on his next app title "Capitalism, Die!", because we'll need the help making that happen.

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