Games, gambling and gamification

oculus rift

ocular rift

My teacher at college didn’t have any time for film and he would get cross with us when we started discussing Polanski’s Macbeth or the the film of Henry V. This puzzled me and I asked him why. This (as I remember the answer accross nearly 40 years) was why.

Film shows you a story through the eye of the camera, a play shows you the story through your own eyes.

This thought has stayed with me and rather tempers my enthusiasm for the cult of games, gaming and gamification,

What my teacher would have made of the fantasy world of gaming as seen through

If you don’t know what gamification is (or you sort of do but are too afraid to ask), then read through this excellent Wikipedia article.. In summary, gamification is about engaging people in something that appears hard by breaking things down into simple games which are fun to play but lead you to the right place in the end.

Gamification is different from gambling, which is the business of taking choices based on chance, because it is predictive, it gets you into the right place.

Gamification is different from gaming, the submersion into a fantasy other world of virtual reality in that it is real world.

Right place -real world, the language of gamification is – like the film camera’s eye, controlling your experience. That control can be for good or ill.

The gamification of snake oil?


The current enthusiasm for gamification in the pension world is clear from the publicity Dermot Coutier has got from Kingfisher’s gamification software distributed to members of its pension scheme to make hard pension decision making easy.

Search “Kingfisher gamification” on google and (once you are past the ads) you have literally pages of the same story, recycled over nearly a year. Gamification is the gift that keeps on giving (to pension sub-editors).



I am a fan of what Dermot is doing and say so in one of the articles, but I’m not a fan of some of the uncritical comment that is served up on this story. Like the appalling debates that seek to sanitise pensions by calling them “retirement spending plans”, “gamification” is now being touted as the way of restoring confidence in old school malpractice by painting it pink.

Put gamification in the wrong hands and people are being led down the garden path. At best gamification is part of the answer, at worse it’s just another way of selling snake-oil.


This the public know, but the snake-oil salesman has always made money. The mountebank would peddle his wares from a travelling circus, Autolycus from Homer to  King of Thieves  sells his “gallimaufries and gambols” as playthings.


Playing games seems to be a licence to steal

As Bruce Campbell puts it

“I’m a thief – there’s news!”

There is nothing new in using play as a means of making money, and sadly stealing money, to the likes of the mountebank is child’s play.

Sorting the sheep from the goats

The Pension PlayPen is consciously using gamification techniques to get people to buy the right kind of pension. It is a leap of faith selling “due diligence” as child’s play and it takes a leap of faith to get past the initial disruption.

Where Kingfisher (and I hope gets it right, is leading people back into a real world of sensible decision making which is based not on chance but on informed choice. If gamification has an element of gambling in it, it is about reducing the odds of losing , stacking the cards in the player’s favour.

Where gamification is different from gaming, it is that while gaming is conducted in a world of virtual reality, gamification is rooted in the practical world of nuts and boults.


In the right hands, gamification creates engagement, provides engagement and leads to empowerment to take good decisions.

In the wrong hands, gamification like gambling and even gaming, can lead people down the garden path into a very dark place.

Let’s not get carried away, but (like Kingfisher) let’s use the new technology to make gamification do if for ourselves.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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