Steve Fenton

Gamification is either infantile or manipulative

Gamification - image by Kenny LouieI may be alone on this one, but I utterly hate gamification and funification. As soon as something gets gamified I lose a good portion of interest in it. This is an increasing problem as people attempt to adhere to a mythological image they hold of a “cool software company” that has everyone turning up to work in fancy dress, climbing playground equipment to get to their office, riding around the building on electric scooters, and using crayons to design their software.

Gamification – the application of typical elements of game playing (e.g. point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity.

Funification – adorning work space with toys, brightly coloured objects, and pub games with a view to introducing artificially-created fun.

Gamification and funification are leaking into every aspect of software development, from programming to retrospectives. I’m bored of it.

Here is my problem. I actually enjoy software development. I like solving problems. I like writing well crafted code. I like talking about how we could do it better. I don’t need to turn any of these things into a game in order to find enjoyment in what I do. I enjoy all aspects of software development in “serious mode”. I don’t need it to be turned into fun. It is enjoyable already.

Attempting to make a game out of everything is an infantile and simplistic way of trying to inject enjoyment into something that, when done right, is incredibly satisfying. Software development is full of difficult work from which immense satisfaction can be found. Rather than trying to turn it into a game, try turning it into a profession. Doing things the “software craftsmanship” way is hard, but ultimately more satisfying than turning it into a game. The dark side of gamification is when it is used as a mechanism to manipulate people, or to disguise poor working conditions (for example, lack of autonomy).

“I actually think that the agile community’s obsession with Lego and other games/toys is one of the reasons the ideas aren’t taken seriously.” – Neil Killick

As a software developer (i.e. anyone involved in delivering software), I expect you would enjoy your job more if it could be performed under the right conditions. Self-actualisation is better when it is fuelled by genuine personal achievement and a sense of growth. As someone working with software developers it is better to get software written by people who are motivated by creating software, rather than simulated achievement.

Don’t let the games become the reason you write software.

Image: Kenny Louie

Written by Steve Fenton on