Winners, non-winners and losers

I am an epicurean. Or at least that is how I think of myself, based on a quick perusal of the Wikipedia page that deals with epicureanism (not the Freedictionary definition). (It’s a topic I would be happy to pursue if anybody is interested. But that is not what I want to write about just now.) My lifestyle affords me the freedom to visit bookshops and browse a range of publications covering a variety of topics. One such book that I came across today and subsequently purchased, is titled, somewhat confusingly, ’50 Ideas you really need to know the future’.

One of the ideas discussed is that of ‘Gamification’. I confess that when I saw the title I envisaged a discussion on the merits of the hanging of pheasants: 1 day or 7. Of course it was nothing of the sort.  

Here is what the introduction says.

“Increasingly, organizations are turning to gamification: the application of online gaming techniques, such as gaining points or status, to engage the attention or alter the behaviour of individuals or communities. Wearable devices linked to game-like systems could, for instance induce overweight people to take more exercise or eat healthy foods.”

We all like games, well most of us do. We all strive, to greater or lesser degrees, to be better at certain things than our fellows. This site, with its 3 competitions, is a perfect example. Some members here are more enthusiastic than others, but that does not mean that the non-competitors do not have their own areas of interest. I have little interest in photography and not much more in poetry. I do think that I am a brilliant writer, but have realised that my skills are not recognised here and so I see little point in competing. (I jest.) I am, as it turns out quite good at quizzes and attend a weekly pub quiz which my team frequently wins.

Back to the book. This desire to compete, and the author cites several curious examples, such as the ‘most avid coffee drinker’ or the ‘best washer of clothes’, to the far more useful, ‘most prolific blood donor’, provides organisations with relatively cheap, or even intrinsically valueless incentives such as stars or points to offer people in exchange for their contributions. Governments can encourage people to stay healthy by monitoring (thus allowing them to compete) their food intakes or the amount of exercise they perform. Schools can encourage children to try harder by publicly awarding stars for good work. (Although an age old strategy, Social Networks make this much more effective than it has been the past.) Scientific or technical institutions can recognise the efforts of the biggest contributors to knowledge bases, such as Wikipedia, or SETI, both of which rely on the input of volunteers. Commercial organisations such as Ford and LG use a network called Yammer whereby good work and new ideas are recognised by public praise.

On one level, gamification is a smart tool to encourage people to do what is in their best interests. On the other hand there are more sinister purposes. It can be used, for example, to manipulate individuals to conform to a subjective set of goals, suit short term commercial interests or secretly to collect data. Conceivably, participation in certain ‘games’ could become mandatory. (I am not sure if educational and medical League Tables fall into this category, but I am certainly not convinced that they are a good thing.) I recall from my days working for an aggressive and highly successful software company, the relentless competition to achieve sales targets each week, month, quarter and year. It was extremely stressful and unpleasant, but at least one was paid well if one succeeded and fired if one failed.

It seems clear that gamification is being adopted at a wider and wider level and that investment in it is rising at a rapid rate. Deloitte has named it as one of its top four professional trends while M2, a research firm says that US companies will spend $2.8 billion on gamification by the year 2016.

One thing that is interesting, though, is the levels of success and failure that are achieved or perhaps I should say recognised. Those organisations seeking their own selfish (i.e. where no salary or commissions are paid) returns from running these games are unlikely to want to deter participants by publicising their failure. Thus 80%, say, will have positive outcomes with the remaining 20% being ‘near misses’. Failure in these cases is not an option. So, what happens to resilience? Will it be ok to be with the bulk of people? Most of us will be told that we have done well. Is that not good enough? And even if we are in the 20%, we have not exactly done badly. As far as the company is concerned, even the smallest contribution from the worst player is worth something and costs the company nothing.

Sports leagues have tables listing the best to the worst. Most sports themselves have a winner and one or more losers. I would argue that standards of sport improve with competition. If you do badly your star players will leave together with your supporters and you will lose out financially. If you come last you are relegated. In business you either win a contract or you do not. But the failure to win any business at all leads to bankruptcy. You can no longer compete or play the game. Winning, at least occasionally, is imperative. Not winning, will force you to try harder. Tonight, our quiz scores will be announced. My team may win, or we may come second, or third…. or last. The thrill of winning will keep us keen for next week and while the public humiliation of always coming last may deter us from playing, it may incentivise us to do better. It would be very different if only the winner was announced. Simply being one of the 9 other teams that did not win is neither here nor there. We would all want to know where we came, even if it was last.

I wonder how many people here have given thought to the fact that in our own friendly competitions here on the Chariot, there are only ever winners and non-winners. Nobody is a failure. Nobody writes the worst poem or story or takes the worst photograph. Our entries are either adjudged the best or they are not. We either win, or ‘we do-very-well-but-not-win’. What does this pacific approach to competition say about us as a community? Does not having losers benefit us? Does it help improve our collective skills? Does it make the community more competitive? Does any of it matter?

What do people think about gamification?

11 thoughts on “Winners, non-winners and losers”

  1. Epicurean you say? Being whelped in the middle of July, I’m more of a Cancerian myself. 😀

    I like The Chariot because there are erudite people here with an amazing range of experience they are prepared to share in verse, piccies or prose. Win or lose it’s the participation that counts and long may it continue!


  2. Sipu, this gamification seems to be a return to the good old days before political correctness raised its ugly head. You do realise that schools were not permitted to reward merit (gold stars in my day) and competitive sports were banned because someone might come last in the race or one team might beat another. So if some sanity has intervened and it has been recognised that success should be rewarded in some way, I’m quite happy. Unfortunately it seems to have become a habit to shunt unsuccessful teachers from one state school to another when they need to be dismissed. I suspect the same is true in most of the public sector, yet this is where gamification is probably most needed.

    I hope your quiz team does well tonight. What do you win? Son and his housemates at university used to enter the local pub quiz (Ma Bell’s in St Andrews) where the prize was a three-course meal for every member of the team. This meant the lads got at least one decent meal a week. They won so frequently that the pub eventually employed them to set the questions, with the same payment.

  3. With the J-man on a sabbatical -probably gadflying at twitter with his two followers- it is safe to say that I am a great admirer of your work, Sipu. I relish reading your educated comments on the various posts and topics discussed in this place. While, naturally, not agreeing with all of them.

    I must take issue with your closing argument. Last month I was last in the creative writing competition, thus making me a loser. I was also the winner. Going further than that I wrote the funniest, saddest, longest, shortest, hottest, coldest, most tedious, extraordinary story last month. OK, sorry, we’ll move on.

    By a mad stroke of circumstance I found myself in a pub quiz last week, funnily enough, and was all set up to blog about it; you’ve stole my thunder. My team, consisting of myself and my wife, were roundly, squarely and rectangularly beaten. Coming in a respectable fifth out of eleven I was choked to see the first two places taken up by mere youths. And like the cynic (for that, read bad loser) I am I accused them of googling (not to their face, of course, I’m not as brave as my wolf cousin, OZ) My team used no outside devices and for that I considered us as the rightful, clean winners.

    Good luck with your quiz. Don’t forget to take your phone.

  4. As you all know, I do not ‘do’ competitions.
    Not only do I not ‘do’ them but am supremely disinterested to the point of very very rarely even looking at them on this site or any where else to that matter.
    I appear to have voyaged through life without having to bother with any competition, always considered it utterly pointless. If you do not give a toss what any thinks of you, their approbation is as meaningless as their opprobium.
    I sure helps to be self employed!
    I always found that the only opponent worth the competition was myself. My opinion of my roses and veg yields year on year are far more important to me than those of others.

    If I do anything for others it is quietly, without fuss and attention and that is the way I like it.

    It strikes me that a quick observation of this world shows that the real power is held by people that never compete, people of whom we know nothing or very little. Somebody up there is jerking the strings of the marionettes. Not all of us are willing to be jerked around!
    Elegances of language aside-
    ‘Fuck them and the horse they rode in on!’

  5. Good evening Mrs O,

    Nicely put, though I am disappointed that there were only three exclamation marks in your #4. Boadicea’s photo contests were before my time so I’m not sure if you participated in them but it may have slipped your mind that you did enter the poetry competition on one occasion, albeit unintentionally. As time goes on and climate change starts to freeze Hell you may differ in your outlook to the comps. The solidity of your view may turn to fluid.

  6. Hello Sipu: I did not know the word gamification before today, still not sure whether I like it yet (the word that is). A similar concept has been applied for lo these many years, “affinity programs” of various kinds are obvious examples, frequent flier miles encourage the bums to return to the seats for flight after flight, and there are bronze, silver and gold levels of membership with rewards(?) appropriate to status. The discounts and cash rewards of many credit cards are designed to encourage the use of that card if all other things are equal. Rewarding (?) the user with larger discounts or more valuable(?) offers. Is it manipulation? Yes, but it is pretty obvious, so there is nothing very threatening about these programs.

    Concerning competitions, I’m more from the school of “First or Nowhere” and do not see much point in awarding second and third place medals at the Olympics for instance, there is only one Olympic champion the rest are some kind of window dressing that tends to belittle the balance of the participants who must all be superb athletes to get to the games at all.

    Moving on to the Chariot’s various competitive postings, I have judged all three of them at various times and usually have a hard time picking a clear winner let alone ranking the entries from first to last (the last CW competition being an obvious exception, and btw congratulations TR it was a good story and you took the time and effort to write it) And while on that subject I sense that the setting of the next contest and performing the judging is seen more as a chore than a reward, maybe we should award the task to “one of the almost winners” to encourage a better contribution next time.

    While I’m here I might as well have my rant about the leveling of education and opportunity, I was perfectly happy with the eleven plus and all that followed from it, I am dismayed by the mess educators have made of the school system almost on a world-wide basis. “No child left behind” really means “no child out in front” and is almost a guarantee of failure in the future. Warm fuzzy feelings all round while mankind plunges into mediocrity.

    “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes, the Dodo said.”
    Lewis Carroll
    Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

  7. What an interesting post and thread, Sipu.

    Competitiveness (is that a word?) is good, but as you say, not in all circumstances. It was entirely wrong and regrettable when our last socialist government decreed that even in sports there should be no losers. Something to do with traumatising children at a tender age. Utter nonsense.

    It should also be remembered that co-operation could be described as something desirable and a necessary skill for civilisation and survival of humanity.

    As regards the competitions on this site, which I very much enjoy, by the way, I’m with OZ on this. Taking part is important and winning is irrelevant. The judges decide and they are no more expert or competent to decide on merit that the contributors, for the most part. It’s very much a subjective judgement, as to what appeals. I certainly don’t take it seriously; it’s just fun, and sometimes quite honestly, it’s a pain to win if you are otherwise engaged in real life., because you then have to set the next competition, and judge the entries.

  8. Hi OZ, I agree that participation is key, but what would happen if were all ranked in order of merit. How would we react as individuals and as a group if our entries were at the lower end of the table? Would we have a collective fit? Would the humiliation be too much for some to bear? Would it push others to strive harder? That was the gist of what I was getting at.

    Sheona, I am not sure that gamification is about a return to the good old days. Its purpose, as far as I can tell is to get as many people as possible to participate. Having an overall winner is acceptable, but outright losers is out of the question.I think, but I could be wrong. I do believe that the non-pc version of competition does produce higher standards, but again I could be wrong.

    TR, thank you for your kind words. I would be stunned if you or anybody else agreed with a quarter of what I say, let alone all of it. I am not even sure that I do. I suppose what I say depends on how I feel at the time of writing. I do like to explore ideas and I argue either to be convinced that I am wrong or to convince others that I am right. I do not really see the point of a debate unless the opponents are prepared to have their opinions changed. I think that is called bigotry and we all know that I am not I do not suffer from that affliction.

    I must return the compliment. I do enjoy your fantastical contributions and unusual observations. I am sorry if I have stolen your thunder regarding quizzes. I have no doubt you would have related your experiences far more amusingly than I am capable of doing. Do it anyway.

    CO, I take your strongly worded sentiments on competitions and sympathise with them to some extent. But I wonder if you really are as antagonistic towards gamification as you claim to be. You see gamification when pushed to its limits, can measure any skill you may have. It may be knitting, cooking, smoking, gardening, drinking wine, collecting pejorative terms or even acquiring and firing spousal units. You do not have to know your competitors. They do not have to know that you are competing. You simply measure yourself against others.For most people there is bound to be something that they feel they are quite good at. Of course many subjects are of no useful purpose to anybody other than a few motley individuals, but at some point somebody somewhere is going to want to compile a lexicon of derogatory terms for politicians. I am sure that you would rise to the challenge in providing a fair few.

    As for our performance this evening, I am sorry to say that my earlier hubris was met by an irritating lack of success. We came third of nine teams. 4 points behind the winners. I felt somewhat robbed by the fact that the quiz master would not accept the ‘7 Deadly Virtues’, Mordred’s song from Camelot, for the 7 Heavenly Virtues. He wanted Faith instead of Fidelity, Fortitude instead of Courage and Chastity instead of Purity. But in fact his list seems to me to have been a bit of an invention. I am not bitter. I was pleased to offer CB Fry as the England Cricket captain who also held the world record for long jump.

  9. theroyalist :

    And like the cynic (for that, read bad loser) I am I accused them of googling (not to their face, of course, I’m not as brave as my wolf cousin, OZ) My team used no outside devices and for that I considered us as the rightful, clean winners.

    Ah well. You need large fangs, bulk and fur on a short fuse to be brave.


  10. Hi LW, I certainly do not like the word. I am sure that etymologically it is all wrong. It may not be, but it feels that way.That is the problem when new words are added to the lexicon by people lacking a classical education. I mean when a new species of plant or animal is found, scientific naming conventions ensure proper nomenclature is applied. Pop technology and those responsible for it, are far more cavalier in there approach. New words gain traction too quickly for the purists to approve them.

    I am afraid I do not share your view on First or Nothing and I confess it used to annoy me when Nike ran a campaign to that effect. I think that attitude creates a nation of losers, since the vast majority of people are going to lose. Certainly no more than 50% can win. Of the 36,000 runners who enter the London Marathon 35998 are losers with the ‘winning is everything’ philosophy. I do not believe that winning is everything, I believe that participating is hugely important and I believe that coming second is better than coming third and is worth striving for. Life has to offer people the chance to improve. Going from 10th out of 10 to 9th, 8th, 7th…. represents improvement. My experiences of living in different circumstances in different parts of the world has led me to believe that it is much better to be at the bottom of the heap and to be climbing it, than it is to be at the top slipping down. The winner can only look down at the view is frightening. This is somewhat reflected by my decision to move back to Zimbabwe. Life there is pretty basic but is getting better. Whereas in most other places, Cape Town, London and Atlanta, things are a whole lot better, but are getting worse. In my view, Having said that, I do not believe that those who come first should not receive their just rewards for doing so, though they should realise that those rewards may carry a sting to them as Messrs Pistorius and Armstrong have recently discovered.

    Hi Ara, yes, I think you are right in all your points. Interestingly, studies have been carried out comparing the behaviour of groups of young boys who have been given sets of building blocks with that of young girls. The boys compete to build the tallest piles they can, on their own, while the girls work cooperatively to do so.

    To all reader, for the record, I am not seriously suggesting a ranking of all our performances in the various competitions. I was merely wondering what the effect would be were it to happen.

  11. I reckon it should be ‘ludofication’ akshully. As Bill Shankly might have said, it’s no a matter o’ life and death, this winning – it’s more important than that. Of course one should not forget that for the ‘effortlessly superior’, winning is hardly relevant. Don’t you agree, Sipu?

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