The Gamification of Games

With psychological insight into the values, ideals, and fantasies that users are not so willing to admit in search queries, emails, and purchasing habits, games are valuable supplements to the data Google and Amazon already collect.

Companies with ties to Google — such as DeepMind and OpenAI — use games to try to develop strategic AI capable of playing complex open-world games. Game-playing AIs have already beaten the world’s top human players of traditional games like Go and video games like Dota 2. Microsoft’s project Malmo is an effort to use open-world network games like Minecraft to help build intelligent agents capable of navigation, bartering, and collaboration. The purpose of this research is not purely theoretical. The defense contractor Aptima won a $1 million bid with DARPA to develop artificial agents that learn to work alongside human players in Minecraft, by modeling unique play styles of human players. With AI trained on Minecraft players, DARPA hopes to one day develop AI capable of monitoring soldiers on the battlefield. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have now sponsored a series of competitions that prompt teams of developers to engineer algorithms capable of accomplishing various game tasks such as navigating randomly selected game worlds, mining a virtual diamond from the depths of a Minecraft’s digital caverns, or scheduling a rail network of in-game trains.

These efforts make it evident that the principles of gamification assume that humans are no different from algorithms in how they respond to rewards. Like machine learning algorithms, humans in algorithmically controlled spaces can be nudged and reprogrammed to have better habits. Far from making life more game-like, gamification makes human behavior more manageable and predictable, provoked by feedback loops and captured as data.

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