Who Benefits When We Game?: A Call for Transparency and Disclosure (Gamification Post #5)

As I noted in my last post, one form of the gamification of work involves work that does not feel like work to the people that are performing it.  As an example, the Games with a Purpose (GWAP) website explains that “When you play a game at GWAP, you aren’t just having fun. You’re helping the world become a better place.  By playing our games, you’re training computers to solve problems for humans all over the world.”  I tried the “ESP” game, in which I was supposed to agree with a partner on a description of a picture (photo-tagging).  I also participated in the “Gender Guesser” game.  These types of beneficial games are exactly what Jane McGonigal has in mind when she talks about an “Epic Win” – harnessing the fun of gaming to improve our actual reality.

However, I had some concerns with both games I played.  The reasons for asking users to do the photo-labeling were not transparent.  In fact, users are not told who, if anyone, would benefit from the time they spend on tagging.   The website claims that playing the ESP game would give a search engine a “better idea of what’s in those images.”  But which search engine?  Does GWAP make a profit from helping search engines?  When I was playing, was I working for Google?  A different search engine?  Helping a computer scientist improve his or her research?  In the GWAP chat room, I attempted to ask some of these questions about who exactly we were helping with the game, but received no reply.

Two problems for the gamification of work, then, are transparency and disclosure.  At a minimum, users/workers should be informed about who they will be working for, volunteering for, or otherwise helping.  This is important since many users might not even know that they are actually working; and it is important that this information is transparent.  Arguably, some people might want to play a game that helped computers process information faster, but might be strongly against gaming that had the ultimate result of reinforcing gender stereotypes, for example.  While some might enjoy participating in a game that also helps us search for signs of intelligent alien life, some might find a game that improves the surveillance of borders – to monitor other aliens – problematic.  The point is that each user should such information available in order to make a fair and full choice as to how their time – volunteer or paid – will be used, according to his or her own more, political, and value judgments.

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1 Response

  1. GWAP – otherwise known as working for a deliberately anonymous, in all likelihood, either Fortune 500 company or the federal government for free. I’ll pass on the alleged privilege, thanks.