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From Gamification to Shamification

Gamification, using game mechanics to improve learning, engagement and behavior change, has been a trend for a long time now. Make it a game! Everything from fitness to work to school has been wrapped in a game layer lately in an effort to more effectively inspire change.

Are all of these games working? Proponents say yes. The challenge-achievement structure found in games stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain (a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) – so it feels good to meet that goal.

But we are seeing an emerging motivational trend in another, more disturbing direction – shaming, or as we call it – “Shamification.” It’s the exact opposite of gamification. Shamification makes people feel bad about a particular habit or behavior, so that they (hopefully) make a change to escape the feelings of shame.

You may have seen the popular websites like dog shaming, cat shaming or even drunk shaming. We have witnessed the emergence of the online “slut shaming” phenomena in which women are criticized for some (perceived) form of overly sexualized behavior. Ads have also been popping up around New York City using shame as a method to discourage teenage pregnancy, and numerous other experts have been proposing shaming as a way to battle obesity.

While it may not be pleasant, Shamification is gaining traction in culture. Look for this trend to continue and strengthen in the near future, as more parents, teachers, bosses and even companies get in on the act (both as an actual way to make change happen, or as a relevant cultural reference). But be warned, positive reinforcement has traditionally been found to be a healthier and more sustainable way to motivate people. Take a page from Cinemark theaters. The movie theatre chain has found an innovative way to keep movie viewers from texting through the use of a CiniMode App that dims phones and automatically sets them to vibrate. When users make it through a movie without texting, they get a digital credit that goes towards rewards.

The key implication here is to understand that Shamification functions as a form of novel, ambient peer pressure. With the incredible reach of social media and carefully designed digital personas, people are becoming hyper-aware of the potential results of anything and everything they do. As individuals make the cultural shift from simply being human to the individual as highly mediated personal brand, complete with meticulous personal presentation and good behavior, shamification has the potential to become an ever more powerful motivator.

What do you think? Will Shamification lead to positive change, or is it a negative, thinly veiled form of bullying?

sparks & honey is a next generation agency that helps brands synchronize with culture. Follow us on Twitter at @sparksandhoney to stay up to date on the latest, high energy trends.


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