Adrian Hone, Video Game Designer: “Companies and governments use games to control us” | technology

“I had never heard of virtual medieval pilgrimages,” says Adrian Hon, a game designer. “But I saw that it was like a Fitbit bracelet,” he adds. Not everyone could make religious pilgrimage centuries ago. Virtual tours have been created for them inside the monasteries or at home. Thus they could show that they had passed stages and received the precious absolution, which was the reward of the royal pilgrimage to go to Heaven.

“Now we think about those people who did things like that or paid to indulge and say how stupid they were,” explains Hone, who is 40 and English. But there was a reason, they believed in that religion and they thought it was important. What will they think of us after 300 years? Someone in the future will wonder what we were doing, why we wanted to retweet and Likes On Twitter.” From binging to retweeting, there’s a long, strange connection: the increasing gamification of our lives.

Hon, a video game company founder and neuroscientist, has spent years pondering the advantages and disadvantages of gamification, which is the use of video game ideas for a purpose other than entertainment. He has just now published a book summarizing his thoughts, which is currently only published in English: I played [”Te la han jugado”, en español]. Its subtitle is How Corporations, Governments, and Schools Use Games to Control Us All. The book does not currently have a planned Spanish translation.

Gamification has crept into jobs in warehouses like Amazon, in banks, in same plots, in creating addictive video games, in sports. “They use things like points, medals, levels, or tasks, and they apply to something that’s not fun, like working out or learning languages,” says Hone. Some of the uses make sense and can help entertain. But it is easy to cross these limits. EL PAÍS spoke by videoconference with Hon, who lives in Edinburgh (Scotland). These are some of his main ideas.

1. Today everything is data

As with indulgences, there are people who tell the hun that this thing always happened.

There’s a fundamental difference that changes everything: “We now have more data in real time. It’s very different when you get a notification on your phone saying ‘Hey, you did this five seconds ago, now do something else’ than it was in the past,” says Hone. Plus, of course, there are more screens where you can have everything running at all times.

2. Do you score the Internet on purpose?

The Internet is a huge game. All social networks and pages include or allow some kind of rating: Followers, Likes, Views, Visits. They are “internet points”.

“It’s really changed our behavior,” says Hone. “These granular systems on networks really change what we choose to post. I tweet myself and depending on how things go I think about how to bring it back. I change behavior based on the result I get. If I don’t have punctuation , I wouldn’t be able to adapt my situation accordingly. We’ve only had this for 15 or 20 years. As it becomes more widespread, it will further change our behavior.”

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But who created these classifications did it on purpose? One of the creators of the “Like” button is unhappy with its results. But it would have happened the same way. “I don’t think it was done on purpose,” says Hone. “Gamification on social media is just people seeing what works. People saw Foursquare becoming popular and said, What’s the difference? Gamification? We’ll do it.” Foursquare allows you to rank the places you’ve visited. Most of the visitors who went to a restaurant became the “mayors” of that place. In addition to the “honor”, they could receive a gift from the building.

“Games are fun and we like to do fun things,” Hone says, further explaining the early success of dots online. “You have to turn your service into something fun and tinkering is one way. I don’t think there was a deliberate intent. It’s a kind of capitalism, where people copy what works,” he adds.

3. Everything is labeled

These results influence how we act in networks to get attention. It might already be a problem. But there is more. Hone mentions a 1989 study that highlights the rise of perfectionism among young adults.

Hoon believes it is a factor that fuels gamification. The entire society is organized on the basis of criteria for rating and achievement and thus perfectionism increases. “It’s also new that people care so much about their own fitness. Maybe in the last 50 years people think about weighing themselves every day, and then they start to care about the variability of their heartbeat. The goal is to improve yourself and worry about whether you’re doing worse than others.”

This doesn’t just happen at work or with the body. The rating extends to all stages of life: “If you don’t read many good books or watch many good movies, you will go down the rankings and make things worse. Want to have a girlfriend? Will people like talking to you?”

The problem is that not everything can be classified in reality, because not everything can be reduced to scale. A good example is TripAdvisor or hotel ratings: 4.9 is better than 4.6, but are the standards comparable? “You can’t turn something into something at scale unless you have structured data. You have to reduce everything to one dimension because it’s easier to manipulate and understand,” he says.

4. What do you want for fonts?

Lines are often a silly example of this categorization: How many days in a row do you achieve a random number of success (steps, contributions, comments) that mean nothing but give a small spark of satisfaction?

The great success of Hon Ho Zombies, run away!A game that relies on sound to make you run a little faster. Hoon believes that the big catch for manipulation is using generic tricks of the game for any purpose and not adapting to every need.

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One of those humble tricks are fonts that brains want to preserve at all costs. An example is Apple Watch steps or exercise bands. In the book, Hone cites an example from GitHub, where programmers who collaborated or responded to something every day kept their pipeline intact.

It’s counterproductive, Hone says: “Stripes are one of the most powerful, simple, and worst forms of gamification, because it’s so rare that a font is actually good. Why is it a good idea for someone to go and check 100 days in a row [en Github]? We shouldn’t even be looking at that scale. Just like if someone runs 50 days in a row, it probably sucks. in Zombies, run away! We intentionally don’t reward it because sometimes I run ten days in a row, and I’m like, Wow, I’m fine, but I’m really exhausted. I don’t get a medal from Apple that says: Well done, you didn’t run today. It shouldn’t matter.”

5. Do we really know they are playing us?

Hoon recently discovered a TikTok video of an Amazon employee in the US: “I don’t want to leave my little pets now,” he said. It was a game called Tamazilla to encourage employees to work faster by “taking care” of their virtual pets. Does the employee know that they are playing with his will for nothing?

“Some people realize it right away,” Hone says, “but it takes time to understand what’s happening to them because it’s so strange and different and new.” There are comments that said it looked a lot of fun and they wanted to work on Amazon packing boxes to play it. But someone else tells them, “It’s not as fun as you think. You can’t play with them. It’s just to make you run faster with no reward,” Hone explains.

According to the video, the same Amazon employee feels this double entender: “I feel bad that I left my pets behind, but I also know that I’m being manipulated.” “I don’t know how long it took for this person to realize who screwed them up. But what’s interesting is that Amazon will say they think people like these games because their surveys say so. But that’s because you don’t give them any choice. There’s nothing else they can do in place.” Work is not play.”

Wouldn’t this be better than work and boredom? “If you put a rat in a cage and give it a target, it will just do it. You don’t give people choices,” he says. It’s a modest solution to a problem on another level: “If workers aren’t happy, they don’t work hard and they look miserable, they say to each other in company, what are they doing? Play in the workplace and this will make them happier and work harder. But that’s not the only way you can change jobs: you can change them for real, or you can pay them more money. Owners are looking for this easy way to not change anything or even just cut salaries in exchange for saying they have activated the games,” adds Hone.

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6. Plots are also a game

“I did my own research” is a phrase that often sets the stage for a cheap conspiracy theory. They have a trap.

Perhaps the most famous case in the United States is QAnon. Q is a nameless figure from the deep state who has spent years providing cryptic clues about dark events that never happened. But there are always some details that need to be reinterpreted. This detective search serves to maintain interest.

Hoon was behind a game called Perplex City, which consists of leaving clues on the Internet and in real life. The recent discovery of evidence using a facial recognition tool was a recent feat, one that even merited an article in this paper.

Q letters are written as riddles or riddles. They can say, ‘In the moon room the shades will turn red,’ and that can mean anything,” he says. But the plot twist isn’t so much the mystery, but “the way the whole community behaves, which are the people excited to do something different.” .”

It feels similar to searching for the right details, even if they’re only in someone’s head. “It’s not a game, but you feel the emotion, even if you talk to other people and they give you clues. Social networks encourage their growth. And the scientific method is not encouraging because instead it’s slow and boring,” says Hone.

7. Marie Kondo and why we haven’t seen anything yet

Hon uses the example of Marie Kondo in the book. You watch his series but when you turn off the TV he doesn’t chase you home to order it. It does not flatter your wardrobe, as it really does with exercise, work or some intrigue. But this is likely to end soon. Using augmented reality glasses, Marie Kondo will now be able to animate private spaces.

Hone uses the example of sweeping the floor in the book. Now it is not possible to turn it into games, but with enhanced glasses it will be. It’s still a positive because with glasses we’ll see cockroaches killed with the mop or corners dirty with digital grime. This will encourage cleaning. A well used Apple Watch can encourage its users to move more and after a few weeks they may feel better.

The problem is how games are created. They can help, but not always. The same will happen with future glasses: “It would be great to make a game that encourages people to pick up trash in the neighborhood with glasses. I just think there will be a lot of terrible things with toys too,” says Hone.

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