The gamification of games ⊗ Government technology needs better governance ⊗ Degrowth and MMT — No.143

This week → The gamification of games ⊗ Scream if you want to go faster! Why government technology needs (much) better governance ⊗ Degrowth and MMT: A thought experiment ⊗ Reasons revealed for the brain’s elastic sense of time ⊗ Architecture & mixed reality

A year ago → The most clicked link in issue No.98 was This economist has a plan to fix capitalism. It’s time we all listened.

The Gamification of Games

Most people tend to think of gamification as using gaming tricks and concepts to make other products and services more interesting. Ulysses Pascal positions it also as a series of techniques to extract more data from players, and argues that most gamification is added on top of games and not necessary for the functioning of it. It’s a form of quantification of our lives through games, like so much of digital these days, it’s always about getting more data. Pascal starts with a history of games and gamification and, to my mind, makes it a bit too nefarious. As I’ve mentioned before around capitalism, it’s not a grand scheme from the beginning, making it look like it just weakens the point.

With games, measuring performance and adding tricks to keep people engaged was fine as long as we bought games and they were not communicating back to the companies making them. When the context changes and games are connected to the net, sometimes even provided and only available through it, then companies start splitting their intent; delivering a great game on one side, and finding other monetization avenues on the other. That’s where they start edging into Zuckerbergian territory, which is very well explained and sourced in the piece.

Achievements and rewards reduce the heterogeneous experience of different players playing different games to a common currency, allowing platforms to gather and compare data across all the games their systems can run. […]

The company GameAnalytics boasts the ability to collect and analyze data on 850 million monthly active players across 70,000 game titles. […]

In fact, every gaming platform is now designed to collect numerous data points, as their privacy policies specify. This includes account information, payment information, user content, messages, contacts, device identifiers, network identifiers, location, achievements, scores, rankings, error reporting, and feature usage as well as maintaining the right to share or resell the data to third parties. […]

Numerous academic papers purport to have discovered statistically significant relations between users’ behavior in games and outside them. Several academic research papers have concluded that “a video game can be used to create an adequate personality profile of a player.” […]

Google and Amazon’s move into cloud gaming integrates the data-generating power of games with their existing data-collecting empires. Games are important assets because of the unique affordances they offer to attention retailers: surveillance, control, and undivided attention.

Scream If You Want to Go Faster! Why Government Technology Needs (Much) Better Governance

Though focused on the UK, the article is valuable for many other countries, cities, and large companies. Rachel Coldicutt explains this new technocracy brought on by Cummings and Johnson, where processes, speed, pseudo-agility, disregard for bureaucracy and laws, and lofty yet very vague goals become the “strategy” and the plan. For all intents and purposes, it’s cargo culting early-stage Silly-con Valley startups, and applying the “move fast and break things” ethos to slower-moving, vital, and structured government programs. It’s the useless internal innovation lab infecting and “leading” the whole company, but for life and death situations at country scale.

To paraphrase the startup meme:
1) MOAR data and faster processes.
2) …
3) Profit! (For our friends, framed as “world leading” to citizens.)

This is a dream of a low-friction, innovation paradise in which numbers tell the truth while bureaucrats (and ethicists) get out of the way. It is less a vision for society, more an obsession with process and power. […]

This is a technocractic revolution, not a political one, driven by a desire to obliterate bureaucracy, centralise power, and increase improvisation. […]

Cummings’ (surprisingly recent) paper on ARPA and PARC sets out a commitment to save the world with “dramatic breakthroughs that advance knowledge and civilisation” — but there is no detail on what these breakthroughs might be, or what they will achieve. Instead, there is a focus on process, and on the right kind of genius, who is — luckily — able to conjure the right kind of number. […]

There is little political regard for either complexity or specificity; goals are there to be measured against, but who sets them and the impact of achieving them is not considered — and the most common criteria for success appears to be “world-leading”, “innovative”, “novel” — or simply “fast”.

Degrowth and MMT: A thought experiment

This one by Jason Hickel reads as almost too good to be true. Because it is? Or because classic capitalism, money, and dept are so engrained in the foundations of our thinking?

He explains some of the basic principles behind Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)—which is basically that dept for countries does not exist and they can print as much money as they want, as long as they keep inflation down—and shows how it could fit perfectly with degrowth—i.e. “reduce excess resource and energy use (specifically in high-income nations) in order to bring the economy back into balance with the living world” and reduce inequality.

Hickel would issue enough currency to “develop generous, high-quality universal public services,” completely replace fossil fuels with renewable energy within years, and “introduce a public job guarantee, so that anyone who wants to work can get a job doing socially useful things that communities actually need.” Then tax the rich (initially) to control inflation and consumerism, to reduce demand to levels the planet can sustain. Basically, he argues that “by reversing artificial scarcity—by providing public abundance—we can dismantle the growth imperative.”

Other than if all of that is actually doable, the thing I’m wondering about is; how does this work if one or a few countries do it? What do the others say? How does it “connect” with existing markets and treaties?

They do not have to “balance their budgets”, and, crucially, they do not have to tax or borrow before they can spend. In reality, they create the money they spend – and they can create as much of it as they want. […]

The key limit is inflation: if you spend too much money into the economy, demand gets too hot and risks driving excess inflation. MMT economists propose that we should use taxation to mitigate this risk. In MMT, the purpose of taxation is not to fund government spending (again: governments fund spending simply by issuing currency), but rather to reduce excess demand. […]

[A]s Thomas Piketty has pointed out, reducing the purchasing power of the rich is one of the single most effective climate policies we can deploy, because the energy use of the rich is way out of whack.

Reasons Revealed for the Brain’s Elastic Sense of Time

Article at Quanta largely based on a paper at Nature Neuroscience, by a trio of researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Humans perceive time in a very elastic way, varying according to multiple factors, for example emotions, music, events in our surroundings and shifts in our attention. There seems to be a link between time perception, dopamine, and “the mechanism that helps us learn through rewards and punishments.”

They found evidence for a long-suspected connection between time perception and the mechanism that helps us learn through rewards and punishments. They also demonstrated that the perception of time is wedded to our brain’s constantly updated expectations about what will happen next. […]

But decades of research suggest that the neurotransmitter dopamine plays a critical role in how we perceive time. Dopamine has myriad effects on how much time we think has elapsed in a given period, and these effects may conflict confusingly.

Architecture & mixed reality

Two Strelka talks, one by Ben Cerveny on the “IPhone Moment in Architecture” and the other by Liam Young on the “Green Screen World”. Fascinating speculations on some of the “architectural and urban consequences of mixed reality.” Like dialing up or down the layers of augmented reality; luxury becoming the resolution of the world you can afford; buildings that become nothing more than green screen stages where everything else is projected; or collaboratively owned, designed, and built buildings created with planners and architects functioning more as game designers.
(File this under Synthetic Reality & The Metaverse.)