Gamification is a long-standing practice across lesson planning and educational technology, but it doesn’t always work out the way we expect. At the end of the day, if the nature of the task is not interesting, then what we’re creating is more about compliance than engagement. In this session, we will host a conversation on what it means to gamify content, learning, and pedagogy: recognizing potential success while advising for potential pitfalls.
This episode is a panel discussion we had with game designer & author, Adrian Hon, on the pros and pitfalls of “gamification” as part of our EduFuturism Learning Series. You can find all of the previous events including Innovative AI Tools for the Classroom…and their Dilemmas and Learning From Video Game Tutorials, as well as register for upcoming events in the series @ humanrestorationproject.org/learning. You can also find this video and others on our YouTube channel by searching for Human Restoration Project.
Adrian Hon is an award-winning video game designer and is the CEO and founder of Six to Start, co-creator of the world’s most successful smartphone fitness game, Zombies, Run! He previously was the director of play, creating alternative reality games, at Mind Candy.
0:00:00.0 Nick Covington: Conference to Restore Humanity 2023 is an invitation for K-12 and college educators to break the doom loop and build the platform for hopeful positive action. Our conference is designed around the accessibility, sustainability, and affordability of virtual learning, while engaging participants in a classroom environment that models the same progressive pedagogy we value with students. Instead of long zoom presentations with a brief Q & A, keynotes are flipped, and attendees will have the opportunity for extended conversation with our speakers. Antonia Darder with 40 years of insight as a scholar, artist, activist, and author of numerous works including Culture and Power in the Classroom. Cornelius Minor, community driven, Brooklyn educator, co-founder of the Minor Collective, and author of, We Got This. José Luis Vilson, New York City educator, co-founder and executive director of eduCaller, and author of, This is Not a Test, and IowaWTF, a coalition of young people fighting discriminatory legislation through advocacy, activism and civic engagement.
0:01:08.4 NC: And instead of back-to-back online workshops, we are offering asynchronous learning tracks where you can engage with the content and the community at any time on topics like environmental education for social impact, applying game design to education, and anti-racist universal design for learning. This year, we're also featuring daily events from organizations, educators and activists to build community and sustained practice. The Conference to Restore Humanity runs July 24th through the 27th. And as of recording, early bird tickets are still available. See our website, humanrestorationproject.org for more information, and let's restore humanity together.
0:01:53.3 NC: Hello and welcome to episode 131 of our podcast at the Human Restoration Project. My name is Nick Covington. This episode is brought to you by our supporters, three of whom are Christina Danielle, Russell Walker, and Laura Henry. Thank you so much for your ongoing support. The trailer you heard in the intro is for our Conference to Restore Humanity, a fully virtual conference that runs July 24th through the 27th. We've got a stellar lineup, so we hope you'll join us. Tickets and info can be found at humanrestorationproject.org/conference. This episode is a panel discussion we had with game designer and author, Adrian Hon, on the pros and pitfalls of gamification as part of our Edufuturism Learning Series. You can find all of the previous events including innovative AI tools for the classroom and their dilemmas, and learning from video game tutorials, as well as register for upcoming events in the series at humanrestorationproject.org/learning. You can also find this video and others on our YouTube channel by searching for human restoration project. And with that, I'll hand it over to Chris. Enjoy the episode.
0:03:05.8 Chris McNutt: Welcome everyone. Today for our Edufuturism Learning Series, the last one on video game design, we're joined by Adrian Hon. Adrian is the recent author of You've Been Played: How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All. He is an award-winning video game designer and the CEO and founder of Six to Start. He's the co-creator of one of the world's most successful smartphone fitness games there, Zombies, Run! And he was previously the Director of Play at Mind Candy where he created alternative reality games. You've Been Played, it's a really fantastic work. It outlines how gamification has often become a form of boring behaviourist style of control, and it recognizes how gamification has essentially made its way into all forms of our life. And we wanted to invite Adrian on the series because gamification is so present in classrooms. That really took hold I'd say like the late '2000s and remain strong now. Whether that be adding points and badges to existing lessons or creating apps that track reward or punish students, or teachers.
0:04:06.1 CM: So in our conversation today, we'll be having a question driven discussion, what it means to gamify content, learning, pedagogy and everything and anywhere in-between. So welcome Adrian, we appreciate you being here. If you wanna do like a short intro and we'll go from there.
0:04:22.4 Adrian Hon: Sure. Well, thanks for having me. It's great to be here. Yeah, I usually have a kind of feel about gamification. I first got into this because I've been designing games for a long time, a lot of those games have been what people would call serious games, educational games, games with like a non-entertainment purpose. And those kind of fall within this idea of gamification, which is using ideas from game design for serious things like education or health, or for politics, or training, or anything like that. And the term, gamification really only came about like about 15 years ago. It's a pretty new word, even though the concepts behind it are very old. People often tell me as if it's a kind of a gotcha. Well, people have been doing this for hundreds of years.
0:05:19.6 AH: It's like, "All right, I'm aware that people have been doing this for a long time," but there's a reason why this word, gamification really only started taking purchase 15 years ago, because it started getting much, much more widespread, with the spread of the internet, with apps, with Web 2.0 and with smartphones. And I think when I first came across gamification, I didn't love it because it felt... It didn't really feel fun. I think people have the idea that if we add points and badges and leaderboards to activities, then they would make them fun and engaging, and that that did not seem to be true. But I thought it would basically go away of its own accord. Basically people would try lots of gamification, there will be a big bubble and then it would go away. And I noticed probably about five years ago, that I just started seeing in more and more places, I started reading about gamification being used around as in warehouses, I started seeing it being used for controlling Uber drivers. I started seeing at health insurance, everywhere.
0:06:32.4 AH: Instead of going away, it just seemed to be getting more and more common. And even though I hated the idea of thinking about it, I wanted to write a book about it because I wanted to sort of explore how is it being used in practice? Is it good? Does it work, and how widespread it is? And I think people often ask me, "What is the most surprising thing... Example of gamification that I've found?" and it has been ClassDojo. It was... I'm not just saying that because I'm talking about education here. It really was ClassDojo. I think if you're a teacher, I'm sure you've probably heard about ClassDojo or people who use it. It's a classroom management app, behavior management app that basically does two things. It's kinda like a private social network for parents, teachers, and students, but it's also a way for teachers to kind of a reward or punish students for a range of behaviors for points. And I think when I first heard about it, I thought this can't actually be true. I don't really believe it, really.
0:07:38.6 AH: And then I started reading more and more reports of it, I started reading papers on it. I was like... I've literally never heard of this. And I spend my time making gamification, I don't understand how there's such a disconnect here. I would talk to parents about it, I talk to teachers and they'd say, "Well, of course. Don't you know about ClassDojo?" I was like, "No, I don't know about it. People don't talk about this thing." And so there's a whole section in the book devoted to ClassDojo, and it's one of the examples that I used. And it also happens to be one of the things that gets people most vocally responsive. I've done interviews about the book and on radio, and most of the calls in are by people or by teachers who are complaining about ClassDojo, and the other calls are from Uber drivers and Amazon workers. Again, people who have direct experience with gamification. So, that's kinda my interest there. I think it's really a little bit shocking. I think it's a little bit sad because I think that there are ways to use gamification, to use video games, ideas from games for good in education.
0:08:50.7 AH: But, actually in practice, if you are a student, the gamification that you're most likely to encounter at school is not great. And speaking of someone from the video games world, I think we love to talk a good game about how games can be good, but actually in practice, I think a lot of stuff that you see is not good. So that's my sort of intro piece, I guess, about gamification.
0:09:19.3 CM: Awesome. And I figure... At this point, we're just gonna open up the floor. We've pre-prepared some questions. But maybe to get us started, I'll ask one and then from there, feel free just to dive in, either ask questions in the chat or you can unmute and talk that way. But something I want to open up with is, speaking as your experience as someone who developed one of the arguably early gamified apps that's widely successful, and I know you talked about this in the book and what makes that good game design versus what we're seeing today. What is an example of gamification as good practice? So there's one thing, I think all of us are probably familiar with ClassDojo, and we recognize the issues with that platform. But there is an argument that perhaps there is a use for gamification in classrooms as well as a good practice. What does that look like to have a game that's actually well gamified that promotes positive behaviors, without it turning nefarious or dark or eerie?
0:10:28.0 AH: I think that the best examples of gamification that I can think of are things that are really specific, like a subject, rather like here's one weird trick that will intrigue all learning of all kinds. And so one example that I use, is this game called Kerbal Space Program, which is a kind of simulator. You build rockets in this game and you launch them, and you try and put these little Kerbal people into orbit, and you can build space stations and moon bases and so on. I played it, and it's fun because it's fun just building stuff and seeing rockets blow up, and doing silly things. But it's also an extremely accurate physics simulator. And what that means is, is able to explain to you a lot of really counterintuitive things about physics and about orbital mechanics, which is to say, "Okay, well why is it so hard to get into space? Space is only a hundred miles up. You only have to go into orbit, you have to be really fast. How do you do kinda like plane change manoeuvres? If I'm here and the space station is there, how do I get there? Can I just go and put my thrust is in that direction?
0:11:48.0 AH: Actually no, you're gonna do this other thing." And just by the process of playing that game, you learn about this stuff. And I think that there are other games like that, like Factorio, or like in a puzzle games, where they sort of teach you to think in different ways. There's some games that that essentially teach programming, even though they don't really talk about it that way, like how to construct loops and how to construct If statements and things like that. And I think what is distinctive about them, I mentioned that they're specific, they're not trying to be like, "Well, here's one game that is going to teach you English and French and physics and geography." It's like no, we can only really do one thing at a time, because it's really hard to make anything fun at all, right? [chuckle] And so it is really hard to make orbital mechanics fun, it's really hard to make programming fun. They're meant to do it for one thing. And I think that's the other thing, which is... It sounds obvious, but the mark of good gamified product or experience is that people would do it even if they weren't being told to.
0:13:04.9 AH: And people would pay for it, like kids would pay for it. I see so many examples of gamification out there where they say, "Well it's so popular." It's like if you have to give it away a little bit, but then maybe people... I'm not saying that you shouldn't give your things away, it's more just like if you are able to sell something to someone as they're able to do for games like Kerbal Space Program, it means that it's of high enough quality and it's fun enough that people are, "No, I want to spend my time on it." And so many gamified experiences I see are pretty shoddily built, so that the only way they can actually get people to use them is because they're free. 'Cause if you had to pay for it, people will be like, "Well it sucks. I'm not gonna use that." So those are kinda two great examples.
0:13:48.7 CM: If I could, I'm glad that we started with the positive examples of gamified experiences, because I fear that the vast majority of them are not necessarily that. And you had mentioned in that introduction the rise of social gamification, really kind of coming up with the age of smartphones, the ability to track data from your pocket more than we had the capacity to before. But I wonder if the user experience of it tends to be framed negatively, so either through ClassDojo or through Uber or Amazon, et cetera, what is the inherent promise of gamification? Who is it intended for? And why did it appear to fail in these big examples in which maybe it didn't live up to its promise?
0:14:36.8 AH: I think that's a good question. I think there's lots of... You could sort of classify gamification by, in a way, who's paying and who's benefiting for it. And so if you look at something like your Apple Watch, you're kind of paying for it. Apple doesn't really get any money if you use the gamified features on your Apple Watch, like scores and achievements. They kind of like it 'cause maybe you're buying another Apple Watch, but it's not really that direct. And so I think in that case, things where you're paying for it and you're kind of choosing it, I would say those... In those cases, people like them be... People use a gamification because they think it will motivate them and reward them to do something that they already want to do. So an example would be Duolingo. No one is making you use Duolingo, right? And so they see the gamification, which is very clearly marketed in Duolingo, and they think, "Well, I find it hard to learn French and to read vocabulary books, and so maybe turning it into a game will work." That doesn't mean it does work. I think Duolingo is actually extremely problematic.
0:16:05.4 AH: But I think that the idea of that is like, "Well, okay, it's all right," and then you are buying into that. And so that is very different, however, from something like Uber or working for Uber, working for Amazon, where if you work for Uber, you don't really have any choice but to have your working conditions gamified. If you're working for Uber, you will be offered quests to do 50 trips this week, and if you do that, then you'll earn an extra $50. And you'll think, "Well, great. Extra money for me." I say, "Well, not really. They did just give you the money anyway, but it shouldn't have to be contingent on hitting this target." And so even though it's framed as a bonus, it's not really a bonus, it's kind of more because your pay is not particularly high, it's more like withholding money, certainly if you look at it that way. And so I think the problem there is that basically the gamification is obfuscating your pay and your working conditions, and it's also degrading your working conditions. And so those are two different things.
0:17:17.2 AH: I called it in the book, 'Coercive gamification.' These are forms of gamification where you go into work and pay, like now you have to play this game whether you like it or not. And then you have what I call lifestyle gamification, which is like Duolingo, which is the Apple Watch and that sort of thing, where it's probably better, like no one's forcing you to do it, but in practice, I think it doesn't actually... Usually it doesn't actually work that well. Usually, it's kind of oversold and often, actually in the case of Duolingo, it ends up being, I think kind of quite antisocial and counterproductive. Because just as a short asylum on Duolingo, if we got time, my partner's mom uses Duolingo, and we notice that occasionally she just disappears off into another room in the middle of a conversation or dinner for like an hour. And then there'd be Duolingo sounds coming from the other room. And then it would turn out that she got a notification about XP Happy Hour from her Duolingo app. And so basically the idea is that for that hour, you get double experience points for the Duolingo lessons you complete.
0:18:31.0 AH: And it's usually in the evenings. And it's just, I think that's terrible. I think it's such a terrible thing. I don't think anyone who signs up to Duolingo is thinking, "I want to go and learn Mandarin," thinks, "I also want to be interrupted during my dinner and have my kind of value system manipulated to the point where I'm going to just depart because now I value the XP more than I value actually learning this language." But that's what they've been able to do. And Duolingo is fascinating because the designers will spend a lot of time actually on social media very openly saying, "Here's how we maximize engagement by doing all these tricks." I'm like, "You're just saying it in the open and people don't seem to mind." It's very strange. So that's a bit rambly, but those are the distinctions I've made there.
0:19:28.9 CM: Yeah, as a really early version of that, I think about in the '90s and maybe the '80s, the library book reading programs, where the second that a kid is introduced to... Myself included, [chuckle] the second that you learn about those programs is like, "Well, how many books can I quickly get through in order to earn that pizza ASAP," 'cause that's really all that matters at the end of the day the book doesn't matter anymore.
0:19:54.9 CM: And yeah, it's just... It's interesting to note how similar that is. And I wanna make sure too, that we hit on the origins of this. You talk about the quantified self movement, which I wasn't familiar with that at all. But the more and more I looked into that, like the more and more I was like, "Man, this is really similar to how schools function in terms of assessment and testing," you quote in there, one of the originators says, "Unless something can be measured, it cannot be improved. So we are on a quest to collect as many personal tools that will assist us and quantifiable measurement of ourselves," can you just talk a bit about that, yeah.
0:20:35.9 AH: Yeah, so the quantified self movement is a very kind of Californian thing, which more or less came about when we had the technology to frack elements of human behavior and human health like automatically. And so a good example would be, okay, maybe we had pedometers, like in the past, I had, I was like a really nerdy kid and had a pedometer for some reason. But like you get a Fitbit, right? And a Fitbit can measure your steps and your distance and they can sync it to a computer. And so the quantified self movement was, "Okay, let's try and hack together devices and software to do like a homegrown Fitbit before Fitbit exists." And so, someone who's really into quantified self would be weighing themselves every day and putting in Excel. They'd be measuring their steps. They'd be just measuring everything they can. And it was possible to do that because the electronics were starting to come out and starting to be get cheaper, and it sort of married with this very this sort of like feeling in the 2000s, this kind of supremacy I guess, of science. And I mean, I say that as a scientist, former scientist, like the kind of supremacy of like objectivism and like, "Okay, the only thing worth kind of studying are things that we can assign numbers to."
0:22:11.9 AH: And I think when it started, it was really exciting I think for the people who were really involved. Because maybe they'd had bad experiences with the traditional healthcare system. They'd go to their doctor and they'd say, I have this particular problem. And the doctor would be like, "Well like, I don't have time to talk to you. Like, it's probably all in your mind," or whatever. And so, quantified self, basically promised it would let people sort of take control of the information about their bodies and then sort of run experiments on themselves and see the effects. So they might say, "Okay, now I'm gonna stop eating wheat. What does that do to my energy levels? Now I'm gonna start doing this. What does does it do for that?"
0:22:55.5 AH: Obviously not very scientific in some ways, but like I get the appeal, which is like, well, I want to... Like I don't see why I can't have information about myself. And I think where as of a lot of things with good intentions, it sort of ended up becoming extremely financialized where now the quantified self movement kind of doesn't really exist because it just got built into Apple Watches and hand wearables and the data is a bit harder to sort of get hold of, and it's all become monetized. But the other thing is it's one thing to have the data about yourself and to see that you're walking 4,000 steps a day and maybe you want to get to 10,000 steps a day, right?
0:23:43.5 AH: And so what people kind of all immediately landed upon as a sort of mechanism to motivate themselves to change their behavior was gamification. They're like, "Well, okay, the only thing I can think of that I can use to make myself change my behavior is gamification. But I will, of course, I will give myself stars, of course, I'll give myself point, s I'll give myself achievements and leaderboards, right?" And I just found that kind of really fascinating that like it, it was just like, well, that's obviously the only thing that I'm gonna do. And even to today, if you go and look at people talking about occasionally, if you go and like hacker forums and technology forums, you'll see these like end of year posts by people who've like measured 50 million things about their bodies.
0:24:36.3 AH: And invariably, they'll say, "well, I gave myself 50 points for doing this, and I gave myself minus 20 points for doing these things that I didn't like." And so that's how I kind of that's how I motivated myself to change my behavior. And I think those sorts of behavioral change kind of mechanisms ended up in consumer products being used by a hundreds of millions of people. Because the people who design quantified self and who use Quantified Self back in the early 2000s are the exact same people or friends with the people who designed the Apple Watch. They all, I mean, I'm not like suggesting any conspiracy here, it's just they all live in Silicon Valley. That they go to the same conferences. Like if you are a designer at Apple, well... At Apple, you don't get ideas from nowhere, you've probably read about it somewhere. And so that's... These are the ideas that were sort of floating around.
0:25:37.8 CM: This is a quick follow up, as you're explaining this it makes me think a lot about, digital LMSs or learning management systems in school and how yes, grades and tests and assignments have always been like handed back to kids and made them feel a certain way. But now we're at the point where you instantaneously know, when that assignment's been graded, you get a notification on your phone and you check it ASAP and it completely changes like how a kid feels about themselves and their emotions in real time, to the point where you have family members and students like complaining that like 4:00 PM like they just got home, or maybe they're eating dinner with their family, and now they know that like Mr. Smith gave them an F on an assignment and there's like...
0:26:28.2 CM: A feeling of control and dominance there on like, how much academia has become part of just like the daily life of a, as a kid in the exact same way that ClassDojo like sets norms and cultural norms through discipline or as adults. Like you're constantly assessed on your performance at your job or even like email. Something as simple as that and like responses. Yeah.
0:26:51.0 AH: I think that's really important because whenever I talk about the subject, especially when I talk about ClassDojo or about people getting... Having their workplace gamified. It's some smart ass will always come along and saying, "Well, haven't we always done that? Didn't we always get grades?" It's like there's a big difference between getting a grade at the end of a semester or the end of the week or the end of the month and getting it micro grades every 10 seconds, right? And if you can't see that, then you're sort of being a little bit worth of the excuse because that I think I would sort of tie it back to this sort of idea of, "Play" in the sort of game design sense. People talk about fun and play coming from being able to have a sense of freedom within a sense of constraints, right? School is going to have some constraints. A workplace is gonna have some constraints in terms of rules and things like that.
0:27:57.0 AH: But otherwise, it'd just be complete chaos. But within that you want to, you ideally want to give people some freedom in how they approach their work and how they sort of do their job unless you wanna treat them like robots. And I think the process of grading people continuously and then seeing that feedback eliminates that ability to play because there's essentially much more somewhat close and finally gaining control being put over their behavior. And it, yeah, I mean I think it's bad. I think it's very different from... I think it's very different experience than from getting a grade more infrequently even though it is still getting grades kind of. And that is a technological part of it that you cannot do, that kind of fine grained feedback where people will get grades at 4:00 PM or whatever, without having the internet, without having smartphones, without having Zoom, AI or things like that. It's just not really possible to do that at scale unless you have technology. So that's why it is different.
0:29:07.3 CM: I wonder if there is, since you were talking about the difference between gamification in the game design sense, we think about mechanics, we think about events, we think about those kinds of things versus the vision of gamification that you're addressing with all these things which seems to be like the Skinner Box aspect of things right? Would involve in behaviorism and reinforcement, but I wonder have you thought, looked or do we have any, I hate to ask about the data around this, but like about the cumulative effects right? The macro effects of living a life in a society with government agencies, for-profit companies who have all kind of bought into this gamification. We're all on the receiving end of this. What are those big macro level impacts?
0:30:01.7 AH: So no is the answer, like I don't think we have a lot of data about that. And partly that's just because research is not funded into this and it should be. I was astonished like how little research that there is into ClassDojo, given on an account how pervasive it is. There's very few papers really about it. And the other problem with gamification, of any kind of fast moving technology is that as soon as you study it, it's like out of date and God knows, it takes like three years to get a paper published or to do a study and so everything I'm reading is just completely out of date. And then you sort of put on top of that the burden people obviously want really accurate studies, they want double blind studies. It just takes forever to sort of run those. So but then I would sort of pull back one step and I would say okay, so imagine we have a study that said, "Actually, if you go and monitor kids every like five seconds and give them like a grade into their augmented reality glasses, their sort of performance goes up 5%."
0:31:07.8 AH: Would we say, "Well okay that's great, actually we should do that," because the data says yes. Like or would we go and say actually no that's sort of against our values, right? And I think that those are kind of two different things. It's like what you sort of have to decide will we do anything to increase students performance at standardized testing or are there certain things where we're like, actually like our values are sort of against that.
0:31:36.8 AH: We don't think that we should be putting that on kids, even if on average it includes their performance. And so like my argument would be like, firstly we don't have the data, but even if we have the data, I don't think that is actually how we think people should be learning. Like and so that is a harder stance to take 'cause then you are kind of saying, well, no like I think there's certain things which I'm not quite prepared to do even if like the data points in that direction.
0:32:04.9 CM: Yeah. And I would imagine too, just interestingly enough even if the data pointed the opposite way that because there's a financial incentive in doing this type of work like why would I follow it anyway. In the exact same way that, I mean we have 99.9% of climate change papers point one way but we still don't actively act on those things because there's a financial incentive at a macro level to not follow those things. At least not according to the companies that are involved right? Like there's a huge monetary component there.
0:32:34.7 AH: Yeah I mean I don't wanna be... I definitely don't wanna be like a conspiracy theorist about at all. Like I used to be a scientist, I think data's important but I think that the role in which sort of research plays and usually it's not very powerful research in terms of its sort of explanatory power, statistical power, is usually... The way I've seen it in my book where I look at companies who are selling lifestyle gamification, brain training apps like education apps. So go and say, "Well if you go and use our brain training app, you'll go and increase your maths ability by 50%." And then you go and look at the paper and like this paper sucks, it's just terrible paper. You're sort of misrepresenting the benefits, but you are kind of saying that the data points in that direction. And I'm like you clearly do not actually you're not interested in what the data says, it's just a marketing technique.
0:33:31.0 AH: And if there were data that pointed in the opposite direction, you wouldn't share it with us. So that's kinda where we are, where I kinda feel like there is this burden of proof being placed on things where it's like, "Well head, I win, tails, you lose." Where it's like, "Well, if I have a positive study, I'm going to use that, but if there's a negative study, I'm just gonna ignore it." And so we kind of have to get around this idea like, "Well... " We can only act if the data says so because it's gonna be very difficult to do that.
0:34:01.0 CM: Sure. That makes sense. Let me shift gears here. I'm gonna read Nick's question here in the chat. He asks, "Is there a different vocabulary we can use to better differentiate the types of gamification that are coercive or extrinsically incentivizing from ones like Kerbal Space program and simulations, narrative driven games that are more intrinsic in motivating the player?" As in gamification is gimmicks and carrying on a stick stuff. Whereas the new word would be a more ludic playful human. So changing up the terminology.
0:34:33.9 AH: Well, we can. I think that there are I think people have used different words. Like I've tried to classify it as... I guess in my book I just classify as, bad gamification that's good gamification honestly. If I'm being direct about it I think but that would be the same as a, "Can we use a word for good games and bad games." We just say they're good or bad. I think, I guess I would go and say that I call it generic gamification in my book, if I'm being specific, which is when you have something like ClassDojo or a lot of other apps where it's basically saying, I'm going to give you points for good things you do and minus points for bad things you do.
0:35:34.0 AH: And I'm gonna give you achievements for good things you do and not achievements for bad things you do. And I'm gonna go back to on data board, I call that generic gamification. And that's not necessarily a judgment that it's bad. It's just like, "Well, you're just using the same thing." And so I think it's possible to more easily dismiss generic gamification because it's like, "Well, it's probably not going to really do anything for most people might do something for some people," some of the time some people do actually respond to that. But it's generic and therefore it's only good to have a limited amount of power compared to more specific forms like Kerbal Space program like other things. And unfortunately, a lot of companies are just really cheap [0:36:17.7] ____ companies, a lot of organizations are just cheap and they would rather buy one thing rather than buying something weird.
0:36:25.3 AH: I mean Kerbal Space program is weird, like I can see why schools would be like, "I don't know why we should do anything with this. Can't we just go and get something that will work for everything?" And this sort of goes back to like, I'm not like an educator but I know that people are different and they like different things. So if I go and look at our own game, Zombies, Run, which tries to make running more exciting, I don't imagine that this is going to work for everyone who's a runner even, because a lot of people don't like zombies. Or a lot of people don't like listening to stories or they don't like when they're running or they don't like games or things like that.
0:37:06.1 AH: And I think that there is this search for kind of a silver bullet in terms of gamification solutions when actually, you can't get that because I don't wanna talk about learning styles. It's just more like some people like some things and other people like other things. And you will find... We found that Zombies, Run has worked incredibly well for some people to the point where it's really transformed their lives. And we've had 10 million people download it, but other people, they're like, "Yeah, I don't wanna use that and I prefer doing Park run or I prefer using gaming watches," and that's great. And so it's just we can't do a one size fits all. What we need there to be is like a thousand games. And help it make it possible for people to go and find the ones that are gonna work for them and that's where we need to be.
0:38:00.7 AH: Instead we've kind of got one game or zero games and we're just hoping that it's gonna work for everything. And so that's kind of, that sort of feeds into my frustration with the research angle where people will go and say, "Well, we've like studied gamification to see whether it helps at this." And it's like, I just don't... We sort of tested Zombies, Run on university students to see whether like it made them rumble more and like, yeah, but I don't wanna like force somebody's run on people. Like people should just choose whether to play or not, in fact in how they're getting it. And I sort of trust them to know whether they're gonna like it. And of course, that's a problem in schools where it's like, well we just like bore, that's like force people to do something and yeah, you want to help them discover things they might like, that they might not know about. But yeah, I just wish there were more options.
0:38:53.3 CM: That is the fascinating thing is that we've, in education and, I'm trying to pull in some of the pieces into private sector stuff too, but in education we go immediately from the research about what works. And you had just said what works with the game that you've created might not be the game for everybody, but we've decided systemically that say something like ClassDojo must be the thing that works for all kids or all classrooms or those places in which they are adopted. So it really is that interesting move from like, "Here's what we have the data around, here's what we're going to assume, what works, and then here's how we're going to... " Like it really gets quickly into that coercive of space, that coercive of gamification that you were talking about there earlier, that in order to achieve what works, it requires students, Uber drivers, Amazon employees, etcetera, to participate in these coercive structures. There's not a lot of data, I don't know, that I've seen or research that I've seen that says like, "Here's what works is... " I don't know the bits about agency or autonomy or anything else, because then you're responding to dozens, like an infinite amount of ends.
0:40:09.5 AH: Yes. Yeah.
0:40:11.3 CM: But it's all about aligning means and ends. Through these sequences of coercion. And perhaps I'm just... I'm doing one of those things in a talk where I'm thinking out loud and trying to make connections, but that is sort of a connection I think I'm making on my end there too, is that part about gamification. Or that part about coercion and gamification kind of go hand in hand. Because as soon as you introduce the autonomy and agency components, I don't know, then people can start to make decisions about what it is that they want to pursue, what it is that they wanna get done in there.
0:40:41.4 AH: Right, and it's so... The difficulty with trying to make these decisions on a kind of mass level is that you end up kind of watering down the sort of effects that things can have. Like you can imagine that there's a game that will help kids get more excited about English literature or about learning French or something, but it only works on 0.5% of kids, right? And so like, how are you really gonna like figure that out? I just don't it's gonna be really difficult if you went and tested it on everyone, it'd be like, "Well, it does nothing at all, basically." Like it's not statistically significant. But if those kids were able to find that game and use it, then it might be like genuinely like transformative. I remember I studied... I learned violin when I was growing up and it was just horrible, horrible experience because the violin just sounds terrible for the first five years you do it.
0:41:45.5 AH: And I remember like coming up with an idea for a game. I was like, I think I could design a game called Violin Hero that would like make learning the violin way more fun. And the issue is that it would be difficult to sort of like go and, like how do you make money from it? Like it would be hard to sort of find the people that would like it. But I think for the people who do like it, it would be transformative. And so it's... All of this comes down to a question of scale, which is just like, we're trying to do things at massive scale because it's easier and cheaper than trying to be specific to different people, to different subjects, to different learning styles or whatever we call it now. And so I think that the good news is that people really like making games. I mean like game designers love making games and they often do it for like for the love of it rather than for money.
0:42:43.4 AH: And so I would like... I see like a great future within grasp where we go and... I don't know how this would work, but we go and say that we would like there to exist games that would sort of help people get excited about certain educational things. And we want to help those things find an audience and there are some games like that... There are games that are better than Duolingo or more interesting Duolingo, like massively multiplayer games or 3D immersive games where you learn, like you get to know dropped into some mystery environment and they're only speaking in French and you have to sort of go and figure things out in that way. It sounds like great but there's kind of a mismatch because the kids certainly don't have the money to go and pay for these games and God knows like trying to sell games to schools is impossible. I remember we made these like health and fitness games.
0:43:43.3 AH: And people would always say, "Why didn't you go and talk to the NHS". The National Health Service in the UK and try and get these games in front of people who could help... Who they could help. And like, it's just, I'm not even gonna like explore that because that would be a good idea. But like, there's no way I can convince the NHS to give us a time of day. And that's partly because of scale and partly because of just cultural issues where I think they games are a bit silly and probably, they would think a Zombie game is just like absolutely insane. And so... And that would change eventually, but I just wish it would happen faster.
0:44:29.6 CM: Are there areas of policy that you see being influenced by... My earlier question about macro effects, do you see government officials in different places, the NHS, elsewhere, actually like buying into the gamified parts and implementing them into policy at large?
0:44:50.8 AH: I mean I used to... I searched for gamification on Google News all the time. And you will see... I think there's a UK local authority that was trying to use gamification to encourage people to... For example, use public transport or walk instead of driving. But then I looked into it and it was like another generic gamification thing. But it was like, "Well, 10 points if you walk today." And I was like, "This sucks, put it in the bin," and so that is where they are, which is very kind of nudge based quantified experience where, again, it's an issue of scale, where if you're a local council or local government... Well, we want to achieve this thing. What is a piece of software which we can deploy quickly that costs like 20,000 pounds, that may or may not work, but we hope it works. I'm sure they hope it works, but involves...
0:45:51.1 AH: That can be used by literally everyone and involves no change of any other services whatsoever. [laughter] Basically a silver bullet. And so I don't see... I don't actually see any change happening there at the moment. I think that the change will come generationally, when you have policy makers, who and legislators who have grown up with games and to some extent they have. But also I kind of think unfortunately that a lot of policy makers and legislators just really boring people or really busy people, and they've never really actually played games. And so they just, they've never really kind of connected that, the dots there. I read a book to try and get people to think about this and to think about the harms of gamification, but also the positive aspects.
0:46:42.4 AH: And people are, some people are thinking about it. It is happening, but it's just happening very slowly. And I think that it's if I were a different person or we, I was like more motivated by making money a different way. I guess I would be sort of paying some pressure groups to sort of go and promote Zombies, Run rather than our fitness products as like, guess sort of local government. It's in intervention. And then I would be like, "Oh, can I go and get like 50 million pounds or 50 million dollars from the US government to like do an experiment?" Like, I could do that. I just find that soul destroying basically. So I don't do that. I'd rather just go and sell it directly to people, even though, I sort of agree that it would be nice if, that there were sort of more government does to support it.
0:47:36.5 CM: Right. There's two things that you're bringing up and they're very different from each other. But it's interesting to note, I think about how the EU has relatively recently implemented those regulations on games regarding gambling and loot boxes and how we know that like, gambling and loot boxes are a really big deal to young people. You have kids that are becoming addicted to these things. They spend their parents credit card and now, it's fairly difficult for game creators that operate in those countries and even now in the United States, to do those things because they wanna be able to sell their product and the form of regulation actually is working, even though they are always trying to find different ways to get around it. That's the first thing. But the second thing, that I think highly relates to all this is, I was just recently, ostensibly at EdTech conference like yesterday.
0:48:23.7 CM: And I saw Thomas link in the chat there, one of these softwares that are often sold. I've never seen PBIS rewards, but it's like, they're always the same story. You assign kids a number, you scan them, you say if they're doing something right or wrong or you track them, you surveil them. Right now what's really hot are the, like student tracking apps for the hallway, so that you can prevent meetups. And so kids like can't go to the restroom for too long and it's really creepy. Honestly, when you start really thinking about it. So.
0:48:55.4 AH: I'm adding it into my... I have a list of bad gamification and so like, thank you for that and I'm putting it in my list. [laughter]
0:49:06.0 CM: And it... What's what's interesting to me is one obviously like the EdTech version of this is very black mirror-ish. EdTech has historically been, and I'm sure you're probably familiar with like Audrey Watters work with Hack Education. EdTech has always historically been like some of the worst possible examples of Black Mirror S technology, because they all are designed through a tool of compliance. So that's kinda like the first thread. But the second thread, I don't have a chance, if we'll have a chance to get to it, but we're always interested with, or talking about beyond EdTech, like what does gamification look like when it comes to a meta component of school, for example, grades and testing. Because there's an element there of, you call, the scaler effect, is that what it's called, where you're taking a very complicated issue and simplifying it, for example, like wine tasters, where they'll give it a grade or a score, but realistically, it's very harder to distill something that's not complicated down to that. And at the end of the day, it means nothing.
0:50:06.2 CM: So rephrase that first thread is like what this looks like in EdTech and tracking and behaviorism and all that kind of stuff, like a Virtual Taylorism, Digital Taylorism. Second thread is like, what are your thoughts about school in general? I don't know if you have kids, but just like the idea of grades and testing and how that relates?
0:50:24.7 AH: Yeah, so I mean, the first thread I think with EdTech, EdTech is the same as Tech. Which is basically it's like people trying to create a system, the inevit... Like it's easier to make the design, a sort of technological system that try sort of treats everyone the same and that just throws kind of people into a database and that doesn't sort of cater for educators or things like that. And so the same set of issues that you see with technology that tries to sort of monitor employees, that tries to maximize certain outputs or number is the same problem you see of EdTech, which is just like, and the reasons why gets adopted are the same, which is just like, well, institutions would prefer just to like have one piece of software to use, even if it's not very good because it's just like easier to do it that way and to administer.
0:51:29.4 AH: And so I think that one can hope for better versions of EdTech, and I think that certainly what can hope for EdTech that is, one thing that isn't often talked about is at the very least, if a school is going to adopt ClassDojo, can we not come up with an open source version of ClassDojo that schools can customize, like we should do that, right? And I've seen this technology, none of it is really that hard to make, like going through 50 million dollars at some team of crack government programmers and they were be to replicate and improve on all the stuff open source. Like they would love to do it, programmers love to do, would love to sort of do something that is good for people, just go and pay them a decent wage and then we can wipe out all these companies. It'd be amazing. The second thread about I don't have kids, but I think that, we probably won't know about Alfie Kohn, and punished by rewards and stuff. And I found his book, arguing against grades and scores and values incredibly persuasive. I thought it was a little bit, I was...
0:52:37.5 AH: I admire the fact that he's so, I was gonna say dogmatic. That's unfair. He's just so, he's not willing to kind of given in. He's like, "I don't think you should go and praise people at all. Stop praising people". I was like, "I don't know, man. I praise people, but maybe I should stop doing that." I sort of admire that way. It's like, "He's well, he knows what he thinks. That's for sure." I think that... Yeah, and again, grades are the product of a system, which is just trying to... I'm sympathetic with it. Because it's just wow, we're just trying to figure out and we are dealing with all these students and we don't have enough resources, and we're just trying to identify people who need more help, right?
0:53:28.3 AH: That is what, if you go, if you give them the most sympathetic, lead of grades, it's like, "Well, we don't need to use grades to go and screen people in different things." But, if someone gets an F then we know who needs more help. But then it, also I think that there are ways of achieving this all without using grades that just cost more money. And so, it sort of comes down to that if teachers had more time and had more money then they wouldn't need to do it this way. They can give more personalized feedback, which would better, we all sort of understand that. But, it's just we're in a situation where people or governments don't value that kind of... Well, they don't believe that it's going to have benefits, which is a shame, that they... I run a games company and we have 30 people and we hire a lot of people.
0:54:35.7 AH: And, I see a lot of CEOs complaining about how difficult it is to kinda hire people. And they say, "We advertise this job position". I promise this is gonna, this is relevant. And we get all these CVs in and job applications in and I don't have time to go and read them. So I just go and see which university they went to, or I just go and apply this automatic grading procedure to the job applications. And so that is how I deal with it. And I just, I look at that and I just think you're not doing your job. I think you're just being really lazy. And when we have people who apply to our company, we read through every job application. It's not that hard. That's literally what we're here for. And it allows us to identify people who maybe would not pass through an automated grading process, right. Who maybe didn't go to the right university or who didn't have the right grades or things that. And I don't know how we would be able to go and formalize our criteria for that. Because in some ways it's... It when you see it, when you kind of see someone who's kind of interesting. And so that this reliance on grades and is a product of just people being like, "I don't know. I just don't wanna have to make the decision myself. I'd rather someone else do that for me faster."
0:56:11.7 CM: Yeah. That there's so many different threads to explore and I really honestly think that this book is, influential for educators in the exact same way that Alfie Kohn's work is or many of the other folks that are talking about the ways at which, well, corporate structures and schooling structures are very similar, in terms of their culture and ways that they interact with students and with employees, but also just the concepts of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation EdTech. There's a lot of different themes to explore that are very powerful. So Adrian, again I appreciate you being here. All of us are learned a lot. Your book again as, "You've been played: How corporations, governments, and schools use games to control us all." Definitely check that out. Anything else that we should know that's coming up, Adrian, that folks should check out?
0:56:57.8 AH: I just started a new newsletter, because I have too much spare time about me where I am trying to... It's at adrianhon.substack.com. And basically I am trying to talk about games and essentially review games in a kinda more critical lens, but in a way that is not really boring to read. And because that I think games are really important, that they're probably this century is most important form of art. And, I wish people would take it more seriously. I wish gamers would take it more seriously. I want to take it more seriously. And so if you're interested in, not educational games, although some of the ones I will talk about are educational and okay, the way I would sell it to people, it's okay, you probably didn't have enough time to play all these games, but you'd probably interested in knowing what to think about them. Well, this is the newsletter view. So that's what I'm pitching at the moment.
0:57:56.9 CM: Awesome. We'll definitely link it in the notes. Final question, just outta curiosity, quick response. What's your favorite game of all time? Video game?
0:58:07.2 AH: I think that... I don't know why I would say this because I didn't really play it that much, but I really love this game, Into the Breach, which is kind of a puzzle game.
0:58:16.8 CM: I love that game and yeah.
0:58:17.8 AH: And I played it for several hours and I kind of I loved it so much. I don't wanna play it again, in case I don't it as much as I used to. But basically, it's a bit a bit chess in some ways, but with robots and aliens and, I usually hate those kinds of games actually. That's why I love it so much. I'm not really very patient. I'm not very patient, a gamer. I get bored very quickly and I don't like playing chess. And so when I got there, I was like "Oh my God, this is so it's so amazingly done." And I think if you're kind of interesting game design, I would actually really look at it. It's one of the best game design games I've ever seen because it managed to get me to play a tactical term base game when I hate those games. And it's also a great game because it's not really that addictive, And I think actually good games probably shouldn't be addictive. I know people say that it's a kind of compliment. Maybe we should be careful what we phrase.
0:59:19.3 CM: Sure. Factorio is a good example, [laughter] of addictive games.
0:59:23.8 AH: Yeah.
0:59:24.0 CM: But yeah, at risk of this becoming another hour, about talking about indie games. [laughter] Thank you again Adrian. It's been incredible.
0:59:31.1 AH: Thank you.
0:59:31.8 CM: We'll be in touch soon and the recording will be live, on YouTube shortly.