Are We Game for Gamification? Potential and Limits of Game-Design Elements to Foster Civic Engagement and Encourage Participation

Paper by Gianluca Sgueo: “Together with robotics, artificial intelligence, biometrics and data, (serious-) games fall within the technological paradigm that is evolving the administration of public entities. The use of game-design elements beyond mere entertainment is not entirely a new approach to problem solving. Business actors have long-incorporated game-design elements – such as badges, points, levels, rankings, prize challenges, and virtual currencies – into their marketing and communications strategies. However this phenomenon has progressed dramatically in recent years, with the public sector at the forefront of experiments with ‘gamification’. To public regulators, the gamification of governance seems promising on three fronts. First, it encourages innovative, and cost-saving, approaches to regulatory challenges. Second, it presents an opportunity to nurture the trust of citizens, and thus enhance perceptions of legitimacy. Third, it creates new incentives to promote civic engagement and foster participation. What was once simplistically labelled as ‘play’ could become a primary form of interaction with public regulators. After all, who wouldn’t want to have an opportunity to impact on public choices, and do so in a non-boring, novel and dynamic, way?

The gamification of governance – claims this paper – shows great potential to foster civic engagement and encourage participation in policy-making. The data around the general publics’ response and perception to game-design incentives are encouraging. Yet – argues this paper – gamification is not without risks. Various challenges are posed by gamified policy-making, particularly with regards to security and inclusiveness (i.e. do gamified policies conform to recognized security and privacy standards? Are they sufficiently inclusive?). Additionally, concerns surround the quality of public’s response to gamified incentives (i.e. is gamification merely encouraging low-risk/low-cost engagement, or does it genuinely drive public participation, both online and offline?). Questions have also been raised about the longevity and duration of engagement – are game-design elements fostering long-term, durable, civic engagement, or do they merely encourage one-time, occasional, participation? This paper develops around five concepts that are key to understanding the link between gamification with civic engagement and public sector’s innovation. The first is “Reputation”, followed by “Automation” and “Structure”. The fourth and fifth consist of “Nudging” and “Crowdsourcing”, respectively. Alongside the analysis of these concepts, and their respective interplay, the paper provides an empirical account of efforts to ‘gamify’ public policies, at both national and supranational levels; it illustrates the outcomes that public regulators expect from efforts with gamification; and it considers the weaknesses, both practical and theoretical, related to the use of game-design elements to encourage participation….(More)”.