Creating Technology for Social Change

Is Civindex gamification?

On the project workshop session with professor Sasha Costanza-Shock, he suggested the reading of Ian Bogost texts about games and “gamification”, in the light of my final project, which aims to develop a project to create a tool to measure individual civic participation on the web, which I named Civindex. I had never heard the expression “gamification” before, but it seemed to make sense, as there are indeed some game elements in the use of the tool, as we are attributing a score related to people’s discussions and actions related to human rights, development, environment, urban improvement and other civic activities.

However, I was intrigued with Bogost’s position: “Gamification is bullshit” is his main text on the subject. He starts from the definition of bullshit by Harry Frankfurt: “Bullshit is used to conceal, to impress or to coerce. Unlike liars, bullshitters have no use for the truth. All that matters to them is hiding their ignorance or bringing about their own benefit”.

According to Bogost, “more specifically, gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway”.

I don’t disagree with that view. After all, some existing indexes which try to score people according to their participation in social networks do exactly that. They create this game environment where, in order to improve their score, people end up engaging in marketing of products. “Influential” people gain coupons, invitation to cocktails, tickets to events. It’s a money maker.

But then, that is not the objective of my project. Civindex will not use the civic engagement measurement to trick people into doing something else. The objective of the index is exactly what it conveys: to incentive public engagement for civil action in Society. It is about what people do, who they are and what they stand for.

Civindex score can have an important impact on the social media landscape and foster more civic engagement. By generating the individual score and conveying it in a friendly way, it will show to people with high scores that, with their influence, they also have increased responsibility for public action. It is possible, for example, to invite them to mentor and organize people with lower scores, but who would be interested in doing more. In the other hand, people with lower scores can find channels and other people, in order to do more. It is all about raising awareness.

If successful, the initiative can constitute the base for an innovative landscape of web scores, leaving the market based ones behind.

Civindex also may have useful applications for social networks research, enabling different types of analysis of the bulk of data collected. The analytical information this project can generate will constitute a valuable database of individuals and their interests, which can offer multiple possibilities to understand how people organize and engage in public actions around specific objectives.

So, now I am ready to go back to the initial question, is Civindex gamification? Well, no, at least not in the interpretation of the expression used by Bogost. It does use game elements. But its objective is not to bullshit anyone.