Saturday, 2 March 2013

The gamification of research

As I drove my daughter to dance class this morning, we listened to a program on Radio 4 called Hardeep's Game of Life.  It was rather interesting (okay, Flora didn't think so and wanted to listen to Radio 3, as usual).  The program was about how turning worthwhile actions that are not much fun into games can help promote them.  For example, if you get some "points" for taking exercise, and you care enough about the points, then you can be motivated to take more exercise.  The whole idea has been dubbed gamification, and discussed how many social networking games rely on the kind of addictive qualities which make gamification help motivate people to do things that they otherwise find it hard to find motivation for.  There was a somewhat amusing example of a game, called Cow Clicker, which was a kind of pastiche of some online games, and involved getting points by clicking on a cow, which you are only allowed to do once every six hours.

The thing that really occurred to me during the program, though, was that things like league tables for Universities and the metrics-driven "key performance indicators" demanded by senior managers at universities have turned much of academic life into a gamified proxy of what it actually should be.  I seem to have taken up the gamification.  After all, I'd like to get promoted, have a nice life, be able to buy a house, things like that... Thanks to my profile on google scholar citations, I can see how "successful" I am at the game of academic research.  It tells me how many citations I am getting - and look; I already have gained a quarter of the citations I had in 2013 as I had in all of 2012 and it's only been two months.  Isn't that great?  Maybe.  I worry I am just trying to win a game, and that somewhere the idea of doing research because it is interesting, correct or worthwhile has been lost.  

By the way, the image attached to this post is from a cellular automaton called the Game of Life, taken from this page at San Diego State University.  It's an interesting topic in its own right.  Another time...