There are many problems with “gamification” but I don’t think this is one of them. Essentially, all UI design is about manipulating users, whether you’re coming up with the most easily understood button labels that will get people to click on the correct button, the most readable typeface that will get people to read your essay, or design ideas taken from video games. The goal of UI design is to get people to use our products successfully. That’s “manipulating people”.
My issue with gamification doesn’t come from the idea, but how the term was adopted by people who had a simplistic understanding of it and employed it only as a set of tactics to manipulate their users into becoming addicted to non-rewarding, and time wasting activities like games and social networks.
It’s true that gamification like all UI design is manipulation, whether good or evil depends on who’s using it, but I also understand it as going beyond only manipulating actions. It also defines the rewards, it defines what the purpose of the game is, it helps the user better understand the environment and his role within it, it defines the feedback the user gets so he knows how he’s doing, and it also give the user a sense of accomplishment and growth as he’s introduced to the next challenge. Most importantly it rewards users for accomplishing defined actions.
And again, it can be used to help people or to hurt them.
Where I think the term “manipulation” is negative is when it overrides the user’s goals with its own. While a humane design would help a user determine what his goals are, and then accomplish them.
Gamification isn’t about being manipulative, it’s about being addictive. The way the whole process works, whether humane or manipulative, demands that the reward experience be repeatable.
The dilemma then becomes: Is getting people addicted to a healthy behaviour as evil as getting them addicted to an unhealthy one?