[Scroll to the comments to see the articles that I missed.]
Following the release of Reality is Broken and the appearance of dedicated gamification conferences and books, it is fair to say that the gamification backlash is in full swing. (Such is the natural order of the world.)
Long before anyone thought of the word gamification, Edward Deci published the paper “Effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 18, no. 1 (1971), arguing that external monetary rewards decreases our intrinsic motivation for a task. (Note that this is slightly different from what Kohn argues later.)
“Results indicate that (a) when money was used as an external reward, intrinsic motivation tended to decrease; whereas (b) when verbal reinforcement and positive feedback were used, intrinsic motivation tended to increase.”
In a way, the most direct pre-gamification & anti-gamification argument comes from Alfie Kohn’s 1993 book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, which argues against the use of points, stars, and so on in companies.
“Kohn demonstrates that people actually do inferior work when they are enticed with money, grades, or other incentives. Programs that use rewards to change people’s behavior are similarly ineffective over the long run.”
Then came Jesse Schell’s 2010 DICE Talk.
A few people picked up on the question of motivation and external rewards:
I wrote about Kohn and a 1973 study, arguing that there is a problem with external rewards: Demotivated by External Rewards.
“Schell a.o. overlook that external rewards are also known to be strong demotivators. A famous 1973 experiment (“Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward“) showed that when nursery school children consistently received external rewards for drawing, they lost interest in drawing and began drawing less.”
Chris Hecker gave a very thorough talk, Achievements Considered Harmful?, at the 2010 Game Developers Conference.
“For interesting tasks,
- Tangible, expected, contingent rewards reduce free-choice intrinsic motivation, and
- Verbal, unexpected, informational feedback, increases free-choice and self-reported intrinsic motivation.”
I think the first multi-pronged, post-gamification & anti-gamification criticism I saw was Sebastian Deterding’s Pawned. Gamification and Its Discontents:
“Games are not fun because they are games, but when they are well-designed.”
My own comment was about The Dangers of Games in the Workplace:
“Much of the financial crisis was due to the application of game-like design principles to work, where employees were forced to work toward short-term goals that were detrimental to the health of their company and the economy at large.”
“Does something in your life suck? Then turn it into a game! This is postmodernism’s infantile version of the consolatory techniques of stoic philosophy.”
Heather Chaplin doesn’t want to be a superhero:
“I believe whole-heartedly that wonderful things can happen when people play. But gamification advocates do not preach the beauty and power of play. Perhaps without knowing it, they’re selling a pernicious worldview that doesn’t give weight to literal truth. Instead, they are trafficking in fantasies that ignore the realities of day-to-day life. This isn’t fun and games—it’s a tactic most commonly employed by repressive, authoritarian regimes.”
There are three main threads to this criticism:
- Deci, Kohn and Hecker warn about the problems of extrinsic rewards as demotivators.
- Poole and Chaplin argue that gamification is a wrapping that either adds nothing or is a lie pure and simple.
- My own later take is that the player optimization and performance measurements that work great inside games have often proven to be disastrous outside games (when wrongly applied at least).
Deterding combines all three threads (as well as the argument that play has to be voluntary).
There surely is more to be written on the subject … (Am I missing any references? Let me know.)