#gamifyingtwitter – Part 1

What started as a simple tweet to fulfil a uni requirement (see below), soon turned into a social experiment I like to call “what’s the craziest thing I can get a person to do in return for some meaningless points”.

Whilst it’s been fun seeing other students and lecturers engage in my little online game (read more about it here), what I’ve been more fascinated in is what inspires people to do meaningless tasks to gain meaningless points. I can understand why people buy extra items at the supermarket to receive bonus frequent flyer points, those points actually have value.

But the points I’m offering have no value. You can’t trade them in, you can’t buy anything with them, and at any point, I may stop the game and the points that have been accumulated will disappear.

So why have people engaged with completing challenges to receive these points of no value?

Before I attempt to answer that question, I need to mention something I have realised whilst running this social experiment.

This creative idea I had was not mine at all. In fact, I think I stole it from my primary school teachers.

Like most people, all throughout my early years of education my teachers would put us into different house groups, and we would earn or lose points based on our actions throughout the week. Now being a super competitive person, I would do anything and everything to receive points.

  • Did these points get us better marks? No.
  • More time at recess? No.
  • Ability to borrow out extra sporting equipment? No.

These points had no value (they would even reset every week), but I wanted them oh so much.

As I thought further, I realised I had offered valueless points in other areas of my life.

For many years I used to teach sport at schools across Victoria. At the start of each session, I would place all the marker cones out on the field to help students define the playing areas. This took some time, and it took almost as much time to pack them up at the end of the session. But why do it myself when I could trick entice the students to do it for me?

With a minute or two left of the class, I would yell out “50 points to whoever can collect the most cones”. In no time at all, I would have all the cones in a neat little pile as children ran around searching for any missed cones. 

Now in both the above examples the point chasers were children. I can understand how easy it is to convince 6 year olds to clean up. But surely this still wouldn’t work with adults?

Ok, back to the question: Why have people engaged with completing challenges to receive points of no value?

As Ben Brown points out in his blog, one reason could be that “Achievement is one of the most powerful psychological driving factors of human behaviour”. Simply getting points, as valueless as they might be, is confirmation of achievement.

Another potential reason Ben points out is competition. Because I put together a ladder at the end of each week, participants in my “game” knew where they stood compared to others. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook do this really well. Each post can be ‘liked’, and until recently, the number of likes was displayed for all to see, effectively making it a competition to see who could get the most ‘likes’ on their posts.

So what was the craziest thing I got a person to do for some meaningless points?

One participant drove to Geelong to attend an event that was taking place at my work. What made this particularly crazy, was that I only offered the points a few hours before the event started.

Maybe there’s something to this whole gamification thing.

Phone‘ by stereophototyp (Unsplash License)
Track‘ by pardauro (Unsplash License)

All other media owned by Matt Hill

Can gaming make us healthier?
#gamifyingtwitter – Part 1
#gamifyingtwitter – Part 2