Over the past couple of years, I’ve been doing a bit of reading on gamification. For those of you who don’t know, gamification is using game mechanics to motivate people to work harder or to buy your product. I’m tempted to say things like leaderboards, points, etc, but I know that at least a couple of proponents of gamification would take me to task and tell me that it was a terrible oversimplification, because – like a lot of things – the definition will vary depending on who you’re talking to.
You know, like the way that the Liberals can get all outraged about Sally McManus telling us that she’d support unions breaking “unjust laws” and say all those things about respecting the law, and then a few weeks later, three ministers in Turnbull’s government attack judges in what seems to be an obvious contempt of court. When this is pointed out, well, we’re told that contempt of court is a silly law and shouldn’t even exist because these representatives of the people have a right to speak their minds. (Gee, how many oxymorons in the previous sentence?) Now, I guess we could ask if there’s a difference between an “unjust law” and a ridiculous law, but I expect we’d be here for quite a while and we’d end up bringing up such wonderful things as George Brandis writing a letter in support of Peta Credlin arguing that she shouldn’t get a penalty for being over the legal limit as she only did so because she was pissed at the time. Or whatever reason he gave…
But I digress. Gamification.
Now, I don’t know if anybody’s likely to take this up, but while I was reading I suddenly worked out this wonderful idea for curing an addiction to pokies. For those of you who’ve never been to a pokies venue, they’ve borrowed a lot from Mihali Czikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow. While Czikszentmihalyi’s initial interest was in how artists can lose themselves in their work to the point that they lose track of time and don’t remember to do basic things like eat, his work expanded into other areas and he concluded that people reach a flow state in all sorts of endeavours.
To cut to the chase, poker machine venues and the machines themselves are designed to push people into something like the flow state. There’s no natural light or clocks, and the machines themselves are giving you positive feedback every time you have the slightest win – even a few cents, and they make a little noise and flash at you. And when I say win, I mean, compared to a few seconds ago, not compared to when you first put money in the machine.
In case you’re not familiar with Skinner and his experiments on rats, it’s worth noting the value of randomness in keeping people hooked. Rats learned that by pulling a lever a food pellet would appear. For some rats, this happened every time they pulled the lever; for others it was a random reward. Once the experimenters stopped rewarding the rats, the ones getting the random pay-off persisted a lot longer than the others. Which makes sense, particularly if you image how long you’d stay after your boss said that you wouldn’t be getting paid any more, but feel free to stick around and help out of loyalty to the company and gratitude for all it had done for you. Compare that with the number of times, Richmond AFL supporters continue to go to games in the hope that they’ll win a final again one day.
But back to my really bright idea. The Government should set up its own pokies venue. Anybody who has lost a lot on the pokies can be given a set amount, say $5,000 to pay back. They then have to go to the government venue, where they’re paid twenty dollars an hour to pay back the money. They don’t put any money into the machines and they don’t win any money. They just have to mindlessly sit there, pushing the buttons for twenty dollars an hour for several hours a day. When they’ve done the required time, I’ll bet they’d never want to see a poker machine again…
Well, I think it’s worth a try.
It’s like voting. We keep voting governments in, and every now and then, like with Gonski 2.0, when something even vaguely positive is achieved, everyone reacts like it’s a turning point and they’ll actually starting paying off regularly and that jackpot is just around the corner.
Yep, if Malcolm can manage just one more spin, it’ll all be ok. Just one more spin…