Sunday, March 27, 2011

Gamifying: My "Crazy" Ideas Get Some Support

This morning's 'gamifying' piece on NPR's Weekend Edition looks at using speeding radar not just to penalize speeders:

. . . imagine that same camera also snaps a photo of your car when you are driving at or under the speed limit. For your safe driving, you are entered into a lottery to win a portion of the money from fines paid by speeders.
That idea was tested in Sweden with great success. It's an example of "gamification," considered the next wave of social engagement and Internet technology.
This was something I learned teaching sixth grade.  Kids want attention.  If they don't know how to get positive attention, they'll settle for negative attention.  So if you focus on the kids who are behaving well, that's the attention that others will mimic.  (Even for those who are problematic, you can focus on them in those times when they aren't acting out.)   And those same principles work here.  We do what we are rewarded for.

So, for a long time I've thought we should use techniques similar to the speeding lottery to encourage other behaviors we want people to do.  Here are two examples:

1.    Income Tax Lottery:  Your lottery ticket is your income tax form.  There need to be lots of winners here - maybe one big win nationally, one smaller win per state, and lots of
little wins.  There might even be fewer and less lucrative prizes for people who file late.  I'm sure this would increase the number of filers, and the cost of the prizes would be less than the increase in tax revenues.

2.  Voting Lottery:  Your voting stub is your lottery ticket.  Now, I must admit, I'm not completely sure about encouraging people to vote with a cash incentive.  Maybe there are people who know so little about the candidates that they shouldn't vote.  But my gut feeling is that lots of people have so little faith in elections that, while they're informed, they just don't vote.  But it's clear that these people, if they voted, could transform the US.

The other word they used to describe this is 'gamification.'  Here's a post from the gamification blog that talks about using games to make citizen participation more interesting.  When I was a graduate student, we had these huge role playing games that took all day and mimicked city government.  These were done without computers so they were kind of cumbersome.  But people were often given roles opposite to the ones they actually play.  Officials  played business owners and vice versa.  People had to create budgets and city priorities.  It's my understanding that things like SimCity evolved from these kinds of games.

Government is one of the most exciting games around and if it got the same sort of attention that sports gets, and people understood who all the players were and the rules, then people would get much more involved.  The challenge of getting people to see their common interests, learn to work with and eventually trust others, is what civilization and the most noble aspects of humanity are all about. 

We just need a little imagination and the ability to be playful with ideas we take for granted.


  1. I agree with you, but aren't fines used to help pay for government? What if the rules get ridiculous and it becomes hard to not break them? The government doesn't like to share the wealth, does it? If anything, I'd like to compare recidivism rates in Sweden and adopt their corrections policies. Still, getting caught being good is a great start!

  2. That's what's good about being in a democracy - we can protest and either stop the law from being passed or get it repealed. Except when people are convinced it's necessary for something like really important, say like, national security. Thus making TSA rules reasonable is a little harder. But here in Anchorage they got the Assembly to take down the photo radar around schools really fast. After all, hitting a kid isn't as bad as getting a speeding ticket.


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