Ugh, it’s so condescending, isn’t it?
Here you go… well done, you did a good job, here’s a gold star ⭐️
Yeah, sometimes it’s funny and ironic (like when you finally do the housework) but when it comes to life?? Come on… who are we kidding?

I get that it’s a fun way to get kids engaged in certain tasks, give them a chart, something to fill, let them work their way and see their progress… awesome. It makes something real and tangible to children. But adults?
What do adults get out of it?
What tangible real-life thing do they get out of collecting gold stars??

Do they pay the bills?
Can you use them to buy your dream house, or car, or a holiday?
Can you use them in any practical way at all?

No.

Can you fuck.

And yet “gamification” is spouted as the be-all and end-all way to keep people engaged, to keep them coming back for more.

I’ve been in quite a few courses and programs for business owners that use “gamification” as some kind of reward system. Complete a task – get a gold star, or a badge or some shit. Seriously, I’m not even kidding you.

Apparently it’s something to do with the reward centre in the brain. You achieve something, complete a task, and you feel better about yourself and you’re more likely to carry on and complete the rest.

But surely as adults, we’re past the need for gold stars?

I was never interested in gold stars as a kid. In high school, we had a merit reward system. Teachers would hand out “merits” in a seemingly arbitrary way to reward good work or good behaviour. We had a page in the front of our planners that we had to fill in and the teacher signed off to say how many merits we’d earned, then they’d get tallied up and the winner had a prize.

I never won a prize.

Not because I never got any merits, I got a shit ton, but because I never got the “improvement” merits.
Example: In English, we had a list of 20 spellings. We wrote them, counted them up, retook the test after a week, and recounted how many we got right.
If you improved your score you got 10 merits, if you stayed the same, you got 5 merits, if you got worse, well… you sucked at spelling and got 0. I always got 20/20 the first week, and 20/20 the second week… so the most I would ever gain was 5 merits. It didn’t matter that I’d already scored full marks then wasted another 10 minutes seeing if I still spell them all correctly.

The thing is, I knew people who always got more than me, they always made improvements, even if it were just 1 more right answer, and good for them – but surely the reward system is weighed in their favour? They were already destined to “win” by not knowing or hazarding a lucky guess in the first place?? OK, that sounds harsh and a little bitter, I promise you I’m not. But this “reward system” had no value to me. It never led me to work harder, or do more, or strive for more, because I couldn’t get any more! I was already maxed out before I even began. Luckily for me, school was easy and I was a straight-A student without any trying and didn’t need the additional “push” to keep trying.

The other thing I’ve never got a kick out of – computer games. I had them growing up, would play a few levels of Sonic and then be done, I was bored. But I knew people, other kids, some adults (still do, a lot of the kids from before all grown up, sorta), who could play them for hours and never get bored! They liked seeing the scores going up, the names on the leader boards, the gold stars and rewards and badges and whatever else racking up on their screens. They got a kick out of it. Something I still, to this day don’t understand.

Where’s the real-life value?
What can you do with it in the real world?

Nothing.

I can play Monopoly all year long, but still not be any better off financially. It’s a great game when you’re a child though and learning how to think in a semi-strategic way and learn about some really basic money stuff… go round the board, get paid, buy stuff, pay stuff, earn some more… It’s never helped me on my way to being a property mogul in the real world though. I’m not minted, and I don’t own half of London (or whatever’s on any of the other million and twelve versions)

Now, as an adult, I look at what needs to be done and my equivalent of a “gold star” is a checkmark on a to-do list, or sometimes something crossed off. It doesn’t make me want to do any more or cross off the next thing, it just means it’s done.

Surely the reward for completing a task is the task being completed?
Do we really need to see a gold star, or celebrate our small wins on the way to our big wins?
Isn’t the completion, or achieving the goal celebration enough? Does it really need trussing up with a gold star and a ribbon? Having a fanfare go off as you cross some invisible finish line? Fireworks? Balloons? A little trophy here and there for a job well done? (OK, some trophies are totally worth it, but some are bullshit)
Aren’t you already too busy working on your next goal to realise you just hit the last one??

Surely you are capable to see where and how you’ve developed without an arbitrary reminder that you completed something?
And surely if you need to count on “gamification” to finish something, you’re not really into it anyway?
Wouldn’t you be better off putting your thoughts, time and energy into something that you want to finish? That you would do even without a reward? And have the completion and development be the reward in itself?
Do you really need to live your life infantilised and condescended?

Do you need a “badge” by your name to tell you you’ve done well, or commented most, or clicked a few buttons?

Did you manage to read all of this?
Do you want a gold star?

Or is reading it and being ready to move onto the next thing enough for you?
I don’t even want a gold star for writing it… I’m already itching to see what the next thing is that I can come up with and unleash into writing.

I’ll see you there.

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