Ethics in Game-Based Solutions and Gamification | Episode 153

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Special episode Engagers! This time we have no guest and I dive straight into the very important topic of ethics in our world of game-based solutions and gamification! I talk about some ideas of fellow creators and past guests Andrzej Marczewski -@daverage- of and Nir Eyal. I mention this in the episode but we’ll highlight this here as well, we’d love to know what do you think about this! Drop a comment below, reply to an email if you are in the email list, find our social media and tell us what you think about what the ethics are or should look like for this!


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Full episode transcription

Rob (5s):
Welcome to professor gain podcast, where we interview successful practitioners of games, gamification and game thinking who bring us the best of their experiences to get ideas, insights, and inspiration, to help us in the process of getting the students to learn what we teach. And I’m Rob Alvarez. I teach and work at IE business school in Madrid, where we create interactive and engaging learning materials. Want to know more? Go to, start on our email list and ask me anything!

Rob (39s):
So hello, engagers. Welcome back to another episode of the professor game podcast. And today we have a very different episode because today it’s going to be only me. There are no guests, and we’re going to be talking about a very specific topic, which I think is also very important in this contact in this context today in this, in this situation in general, because I think the ethics, which is what we’ll be talking about today and how they relate to game-based solutions in general, which as on Andrzej Marczewski at some point put it, he said that that can in globe together, things that go from gamification game-based solutions, sorry, game-based learning series games, simulations, and so on.

Rob (1m 23s):
So the idea is we’ll be talking about this. Remember that my definition of gamification is pretty ample. So the use of game design game elements and play for purposes beyond entertainment, this kind of extends as well to the use of games in general and game-based solutions at a broader sense. So let’s talk about it in that direction. We’re going to be talking about ethics. I’m going to be bringing in some of the definitions from other people, some of the solutions of other people to make sure that the ethics are being respected, but in general, this is what we’re going to be targeting at.

Rob (1m 56s):
And towards the end, I also want to talk a little bit about how this applies specifically, of course, in our passion topic in education. That’s one of my main focuses as you know because I work at a university, I also teach at the university and it’s also been my main area of expertise. So how does this extend to the use of games, of course, games that are very, you know, broad topic by itself, games, for entertainment, those have a, their own set of rules, and that’s not what we’re going to be talking about today? We’re going to be talking about things that are games for, with purpose game-based solutions, gamification, all the things that are, you know, related to games, but not necessarily the typical games that you have whose only purpose is entertainment.

Rob (2m 39s):
And of course, making a buck for those who, who create them, which is perfectly fine. I have no argument with that. All of us have to make living. And that’s part of what we’re going to be talking about today. So the first thing as usual with ethics is, is the purpose. You know, what are we doing this solution for? Why are we using a game-based solution? That’s gamification one of these strategies that we’ve talked about, why are we doing it? What is it the purpose in and of itself? And this is also a, got a lot to do with you remembering the anniversary episode, perhaps my strategies towards creating, you know, the basic steps towards creating a gamified solution.

Rob (3m 19s):
This has to do with the why, but this is a why that goes a little bit deeper. It’s not just, what do you want to achieve? What’s your objective, but also why you’re doing it, that, that the big, why, why are we using this? And of course, it has to do usually with, you know, engagement, having people do things that they would normally probably pass by, but it has to do with something that is very important. Are you in any way asking or trying to get people to do something that they actually don’t want to do that they wouldn’t typically or normally without using these solutions want to do?

Rob (3m 53s):
And it’s a very big, and I would argue very important question as well is you have to ask yourself this question to make sure that whatever you’re again, creating is within certain boundaries, certain ethical boundaries. This is a very broad question, and there are many ways to approach it. There are many, you know, in software, in gamified solutions, there are many ways of just saying, well, you don’t want to do evil. You don’t want to do this and that, but it’s, it’s very general. So there are some concepts that I want to bring in some work from other people as well, that they have been working on this in some way in some capacity.

Rob (4m 29s):
And the first one is in my, my fellow friend Andrzej Marczewski from Gamified UK also known as Daverage or Dave, Dave are Dave average. So the thing is that Andrzej has this, what he called the open gamification code of ethics, which has a fundamental question there. And I, and I like the way it’s phrased. So I’m going to be quoting here. He says, is gamification used to manipulate users in a way that does not benefit them and puts their needs at the core.

Rob (5m 5s):
So here, what Andrzej seems to be putting forth and I am a subscriber to this game, this open gamification code of ethics myself, what Andrzej is fundamentally asking here if what you’re doing is whether it includes manipulating, manipulation or not. And we can have a whole episode on what manipulation looks like. We’d have an argument or in discussions, interesting discussions with many different people about what it means, but even assuming that manipulation is there in some shape or form, are you doing it for something that does benefit them in some way, or that does not benefit them and put their needs at the core?

Rob (5m 40s):
So there he is making a fundamental question. And it’s a question that I think I would argue that it’s something that we always have to ask about this, are we putting their best interests, you know, and putting that forth that, so they are, they’re voluntarily there. And even if, you know, there is that level of manipulation that he, that he argues as well, is it in their best interest and benefit? That is a very important question that I think we should always be asking, you know, and it includes things like honesty.

Rob (6m 10s):
You know, we have to be honest with both users and the clients giving realistic expectations. It should not be used as a way to dishonestly gather information. Again, I’m, I’m reading from the code. It also talks about integrity, talks about transparency, quality, respect, things like accepted regional social practices, personal ethical boundaries, human rights, of course, in general, it should not be used for illegal activities obviously, and law and illegal means different things in different countries. So this is, it sounds very obvious and straightforward, but it’s not that easy again in international when you go international and especially nowadays with software, this is very easy.

Rob (6m 50s):
And we’re talking here in a podcast, I’m talking with you through a podcast that can potentially reach anybody in the world, right? So basically I have to try and make sure that whatever I am doing and saying here, or my guests, of course, is not violating those, those laws, but this is a very, very hard topic to get through, you know, illegality, but this is not the topic of today. So again, I’m just going through the ethics code of, of Andrzej Marczewski at

Rob (7m 20s):
Again, many, many people are already subscribers. I’m one of them. And of course, I would invite you to be another subscriber. I think it in no way hurts to be agreeing to these basic principles in general, that they’re being set forth. So again, not being used to manipulate users, especially those who are, might be most vulnerable for, for only commercial purposes, especially. I mean, if you’re just manipulating people for your own personal gain, that doesn’t seem to be very, you know, close to integrity in itself.

Rob (7m 51s):
And you know, you’re not playing proprietary of other people’s published work. I mean, these things that you read them, and in general, they sound like very much common sense, but then of course we have to see how do we apply them in every single situation. Things like transparency about being open to the system for both users and clients. Of course, there are things like copyrights, intellectual property, trade secrets, etcetera, but we try to be very transparent with things like the aims of the system, the data we will collect, how that data is being collected, encouraging free access to information, not sharing personal data without consent, again with GDPR and all of these data enforcements that are coming forward.

Rob (8m 31s):
I think it’s, it’s not only important legally, but also ethically. Quality. Of course, we’re always going to be striving for providing the best service and experience possible and respecting things like, you know, not justifying violence, any sort of phobia towards people who have any sort of sexual preferences, racism, abuse with misogyny or anything that has been already or will be considered in the future in that direction. And of course the impact, the sustainability of our projects and workshops that has to do with the environment.

Rob (9m 3s):
We have to take that into consideration and minimize that impact, consider it, and do the best that we can with that. That is, as far as that open gamification code of ethics, I do invite you to take a look at it further. You can find it in this episode. This is episode 153. You can go to, search for ethics, and you’ll probably be knocking into this. So that is the first thing that I wanted to get through with you. It is, I think it is a very complete, a very good co open code that Andrzej set forth, that he put there for all of us to be able to read into it and to abide voluntarily too if that is what we wish, there’s something else that is very interesting in that I’ve run into.

Rob (9m 46s):
And it’s somebody that’s also been a guest on the podcast. It’s actually episode 100 Nir Eyal. He has put forth something that he calls the regret test. It’s very simple. It’s just a phrase. And the idea is that running through this will get you to be more, will be very, very helpful in the sense that you will be able to understand whether you are looking at something that might be crossing some ethical boundaries in general. Right? So the question is, and again, I’m quoting here from his regret test.

Rob (10m 17s):
He says, if people and in people here, we’re talking about probably users. So if people knew everything, the product designer knows. So you as a product designer or a creator, a gamification designer game-based learning solutions, game-based solutions designer, you’re the creator of this. If people knew what you knew as a product designer, would they still execute the intended behavior? and very, very importantly, probably even more importantly, are they likely to regret doing this?

Rob (10m 48s):
So again, I’m going to read this again completely. So I do the complete quote. If people knew everything, the product designer knows would they still execute the intended behavior, and are they likely to regret doing this? So, especially for me, I think the second part is fundamental because sometimes even if, sometimes you know about this and this sort of many, manipulation that people might be doing, they’re submitting themselves voluntarily and not knowing the information helps them, you know, be manipulated because, and this is acceptable because you are helping them with something that they intend to achieve as well.

Rob (11m 25s):
They’re not regretting that action after they know what you’re doing. What are those actions? What are those strategies that you’re employing there? They say, huh? So what this designer app that this system did this physical or digital system did was this, interesting. It’s good that they did it, that they probably would think because I wouldn’t have done it otherwise probably. And I did want to do it in a very clear and easy example are fitness apps, right? Because we know or many people know that they want to more exercise, right? You’d want to have, you want to put in more physical activity to be healthier, to be, you know, look, look better, whatever it is your objectives are.

Rob (12m 1s):
But the problem is not knowing that that is better good for you. For most people, at least the problem is actually getting yourself to do it. So again, whether those techniques are transparent to you or not, if it’s helping you achieve something that you want, you know, those techniques are being used on you, you understand them whether or not you do. The important thing is, Oh, they use these techniques. What I regret doing that, probably not because there was an objective in itself from the beginning from me, right? So I wanted to achieve this, or I would have wanted to achieve this.

Rob (12m 33s):
I could have figured out that I wanted to achieve this. What do we want to make sure? And this one is that we’re. And again, I’m quoting from, from part of his article, I’ll put the article of the regret test of Nir from his blog nirandfar, is that it is if we’re not considering this if the answer is no, then what we’re doing is no longer persuasion. It is coercion, right? We’re not putting a gun on people’s heads to tell them, do this or die. Right. That’s not what we’re doing anyway, but you’re making them, you’re in a way you’re using strategies and things that only you are aware of as a designer and you’re pushing them to do something, then, then they would regret.

Rob (13m 15s):
So you’re getting people to spend something that they probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. And that when they see the result, they say, huh, I really wish I hadn’t done that. And if you asked me, that’s definitely not ethical by any capacity. So I think the combination of these two things, again, for different situations, for different things, I think brings us together to something that is very, very powerful. Very good. Because again, gamification has potentially a lot of power game-based solutions.

Rob (13m 45s):
We’re talking about making the best of our understanding of human psychology in many ways, to get people, to do things that somehow, for whatever reason that otherwise wouldn’t, again, there reason, the reason is very, very important. Maybe they’re not doing it because they, they, they don’t feel like it, but they actually would like to do it at their core. So again, this regret test combined with the open ethics gig, open ethics, gamification code, open code. I forgot the name. You’ll find in the show notes. Don’t worry. So the open gamification code of ethics, that’s, that’s the right name.

Rob (14m 18s):
So combining these two together using at least one of them is something I encourage you at least to think about every time you’re creating something, consider this. And in particular, as you know, gamification and education for me are definitely the right mix. So what does this, how does this look like in education? Again, here? It is a slightly different situation because in education, again, it could be at higher education or primary level, K through 12, whatever, what are that looks like that some people are there because they have to be there.

Rob (14m 51s):
Some people are there because they’re whether their parents in quote-unquote here forced them to be in school, or the system forces us to be in school. Or the system pushes us to go to university or college. Some people could be there out of a hundred percent voluntary situation because they want to be there. They’re enjoying it. But whether or not people are there by choice or duty, as I like to, as I like to say, are our techniques geared at tricking learners? Hopefully not right? Because what we’re trying to do here.

Rob (15m 23s):
And at least that is my aim. And that’s why I believe education can be powered up by gamification, game-based learning, all of these techniques learned from games. It’s because we are aiming at helping our learners learn more, learn bearable better, and course, if possible, enjoy the ride a lot more, be there and feel better about being there. There’s there’s this, this very interesting discussion, always about, you know, whether gamification is about making things fun or not necessarily…

Rob (15m 54s):
Again. And this is a very good article by my friend Andrzej well, where he argues that you know, even making it just suck a little bit less than that is a good purpose. The person, the user, the learner, in this case, was there and is feeling the activity as a little bit more enjoyable or a little bit less regrettable in general that he wants to be there a little bit more than he originally would have wanted to be there, had game-based solutions not been there, that is a, in my, in my world and my arguments and my ethics.

Rob (16m 25s):
That is a good way of doing things. You’re helping them feel better, be better and learn more because they are there exactly for that reason, again, by choice or duty, they are there to learn. They’re there to be learning more. So again, we can go through, is it being used to manipulate users in a way that does not benefit them? Definitely learning is a benefit. And if you’re putting them forth to enjoy more of your experience and you’re putting their needs at the core where they need to learn why they are there, why they want to enjoy being there a little bit more, you’re at least putting that at the core of what you’re creating.

Rob (16m 60s):
You’re definitely on the right path, asking the regret test as well to this works perfectly well. If they, if our students knew the, what we know, would they still execute the intended behavior? Yes. In general, I would say, yes, I, there there are, I don’t want to call it exceptions. There’s just ways different ways of seeing this. Because for example, one of the simulations that we execute at, IE Business school and IE University, if you knew in advance, how it works, what are the results? What are you going to learn? You would probably not behave the same way within the simulation because…

Rob (17m 32s):
and we don’t give them that transparency. We tell them right after, of course, but we don’t give them that transparency because it ruins their experience and their learning. So again, we are putting their needs and their intent and their best desires at the core. So they are able to have that experience. And then we disclosed that again, they’re, they’re just playing, it’s just a simulation with no real-world consequences. In fact, the results of the simulation are not what they’re being used to be graded on. There it’s actually the discussion in general. But what I mean here is we don’t disclose that very openly because it would ruin the experience, but then we of course disclose and open up and show them what will be the results.

Rob (18m 10s):
And we are very jealous about not disclosing this information out to the public. And that’s why I’ve never gone into details in this podcast, for example, on that simulation, because if people knew in advance, they wouldn’t have a good experience and you would basically ruin the possibility of using that simulation in your class. So that, that is the transparency we give right after. And we also ask our students to be not very transparent to others about what this simulation is about so that they don’t ruin their experience. Because again, we’re putting their needs at the core we’re being, we’re looking at this from their benefit and are they likely to regret this, which is the other part of the regret test?

Rob (18m 46s):
Definitely not. They enjoy it a lot that they would actually probably regret if we told them in advance because it would have ruined their experience. So again, that is my take. That is my take on this whole ethics aspect, at least an education, I’m sure we can delve deeper into specific aspects of ethics. I’m sure you also have your opinion. So I’m very, very much looking forward to knowing what do you think about this? So you can find me as you know, on Twitter, you can find me on Instagram. You can find the Professor Game’s page on Facebook.

Rob (19m 16s):
You can put your comments on This is episode 153. I’m very much looking forward to knowing what do you think about this topic? What would you add? What do you not agree with as well? Then that is a very, very open discussion. Ethics is a very open and complex topic. So I’m very much looking forward to that. Again, you can find all the details of this episode, the transcript as well, the links that I shared on You just look for ethics and this episode will definitely come up.

Rob (19m 47s):
However, I know this has been a shorter episode, but I hope you enjoyed it and you take a lot from it as well. However, so I, as I said before, at least for now and about this topic, and at least for today, it is time to say that It’s game over.

End of transcription

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