Would You Like To Play A Game?

For the past few months, I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish using the DuoLingo language-learning app. Along the way, I’m gaining “XP” points and earning the virtual “Lingot” currency as I complete the various goals. Yesterday the app gave me the option of doubling my Lingots if I could run an uninterrupted 7-day streak. I chose to take the bet (does not involve real money). I’ve found myself even more driven to keep up my studies.

The XP, Lingots, and various badges in the free DuoLingo app are an excellent and positive example of “Gamification” which is defined as “the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service.”

A few months back I noticed that the Shazam app (which identifies songs by their sound via the phone microphone) also displays lyrics to many of the tunes. Shazam is connected to musixmatch.com, which is a colossal lyric database. I know that my own songs pop up in Shazam, but my lyrics never had. I went to musixmatch.com and learned that even the casual user can enter lyrics to songs. I found 70 or 80 of my tracks on their site, and went to town cutting and pasting so my lyrics would be in their database—and consequently—the Shazam app.

Along the way, the system would give me positive reinforcement for each song I would enter. Currently I have 141 “points” and am a level 6 “Insider”.



Gamification has a different slant here. My goal was somewhat self-serving… I wanted to get my own lyrics in the database. But still, I am participating in an unpaid data-entry task that musixmatch.com relies on to make its product work. In the case of MusixMatch, the points, levels, and badges make free-labor into an engaging video game.

I entered lyrics to about 25-30 of my songs and received my points. Even though I was cutting and pasting, this still probably took about an hour of my time.  Above you can see the MusixMatch “leaderboard” (another mainstay of gamification). Our buddy Rosyid is at number one with 12786 points. By way of a little rough math, that’s about 90 hours of pro-bono data-entry work. But hey. He’s a ‘Hero’. The leaderboard says so in bold purple type.

While the Disney Amusement park is beginning a (relatively harmless?) app to gamify the process of waiting in line for rides, the megacorp had already tried using it behind the scenes in their laundry services department. There a leaderboard kept track of the fastest employees, and marked the names of the slowest in red. At its worst, gamification can ruin workspace morale and lead to physical injuries. This gamification did not feel like a game for most, who reported that increased competition deteriorated workplace relationships and increased on the job accidents.

I get the flashing buttons. I get the endorphin rush. I appreciate that it helps me to sharpen my foreign language skills and e-learning in general. During the summer, my RunKeeper app inspires me to get out and hit the pavement. But in the same way any helpful tool can be used for a negative purpose, for every positive use of gamification there seem to be a handful of harmful ones.

What kind of gamification is going on in your favorite apps? Is it helpful? Harmful? Let me know in the comments below.

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