Points, badges, and leaderboards are creeping into every aspect of modern life. In You've Been Played, game designer Adrian Hon delivers a takedown of how corporations, schools, and governments use games and gamification as tools for profit and coercion. These are games that we often have no choice but to play, where losing has heavy penalties.
Hon slips easily between the perspectives of expert, enthusiast and critic. An education in neuroscience informs his explanation of the behaviorist underpinnings of gamification ... Some of the book’s most insightful moments come when Hon discusses how his team considers ethics and user experience when deciding how much to use gamification tricks in their own work ... Firsthand testimony...is often illuminating and persuasive. That Hon is neither Luddite nor scold lends his criticisms of gamification bite and authority. You’ve Been Played is at its sharpest when Hon dresses down lazy or coercive gamification ... Hon makes a strong and sophisticated argument that workplace gamification is in fact 'doubly coercive' ... Less cogent are digressions into some au courant topics for digital hand-wringing, like conspiracy theories and crowdsourcing criminal investigations, whose relevance here is less obvious ... Still, the book is charming and accessible enough to overcome these moments of overreach, just as you might excuse some hyperbolic asides in a conversation with your nerdiest friend about why he is both worried and optimistic about tech’s future. It’s worth keeping up your reading streak to finish.
It’s refreshing that Hon comes from the UK tech scene rather than California’s, and he has not bought into Silicon Valley’s values of disruption and data-harvesting. Instead, he is quietly incisive, sceptical of ‘charismatic technologies’ ... You’ve Been Played not only catalogues the rise of a sinister and pervasive trend, it also functions as a primer on the psychological and philosophical implications of games themselves ... It is Hon’s eye for strange details and quirks of human behaviour that brings his arguments to life ... As the book progresses, its subject becomes ever more abstract ... Perhaps it is proof of this title’s ambition that it left me with spiralling thoughts, and a series of questions about life, and games, and competition ... Hon could write several more books on this theme, and I suspect that I and other readers would not be bored. In the meantime, though, this expansive, fascinating study, equal parts dismal and dizzying in its implications, is a valuable testament to the era we’re in, and an aid for unravelling the spirit of competition that runs through our culture, and which we are so often sold as self-worth.