As a longtime reader of the Economist I was disappointed by the November 16th blog entry anonymously posted under the nom de plume “Schumpter.”
More Than Just a Game: Video Games are Behind the Latest Fad in Management dismisses For the Win by Kevin Werback and Dan Hunter and, by extension, the growing field of gamification.
Werbach is a professor at the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, whose catalog offers courses neither on Phrenology, Mesmerism or Beanie Babies. So it’s surprising they would suddenly be teaching fads. Wharton and the Economist are both pillars of the business establishment. One of them must be wobbling.
Our anonymous writer states:
“Video games now have the dubious honour of having inspired their own management craze. Called “gamification”, it aims to take principles from video games and apply them to serious tasks.”
But one of the principles of video games is role-playing, and hiding behind a dead economist (Joseph Schumpterer 1883 – 1950) is more than halfway to having an avatar. Does the Economist not know it is employing gamification at the same time it is deriding it?
Does gamification merit the hype that has quickly surrounded it? The idea is only a couple of years old, but it has already spawned a host of breathless conferences, crowded seminars and (inevitably) TED talks.
Our writer fills his text with loaded terms: “fad”, “dubious honour”, “management gurus”, “hype”, “breathless conferences”. He even manages to put down TED!
But it gets worse:
Some video-game designers are opposed to the idea on principle, arguing that gamification is really a cover for cynically exploiting human psychology for profit.
I thought the term for cynically exploiting human psychology for profit was “Capitalism”? And since when did the Economist have any problem with that?
Level-headed management types, meanwhile, say that many of the aspects of gamification that do work are merely old ideas in trendy new clothes.
So our guys are “gurus,” while their guys are “level-headed.” Foolish me for thinking all management types were anything other than, well, management types. As for gamification appropriating old ideas, Werbach and Hunter admit as much, and I myself have written that gamification started in the Book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve leveled down for eating the apple.
What is new is the ability of digital technology and social media to make gamification rigorous and pervasive. We had time before clocks, but clocks made time rigorous and pervasive.
The problem is that, after the authors have finished instructing their readers in what not to do, the concept of gamification is left looking somewhat threadbare.
But Wharton isn’t a vocational school. I no more expect to learn how to create a gamification platform by taking Professor Werbach’s Coursera Gamification course, (which drew over 80,000 participants) or by reading For the Win, than I expect to learn how to become an economist by reading the Economist.