IDF Ranks: it’s NOT about Gaza or war. It’s Gamification.

-Brought to you by: Dwight Hunter, Paulina Rajkowska and Periklis Tsikizas

Last month the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched a major offensive operation, Operation Pillar of Defense, against the Hamas as a part of the ongoing Gaza-Israel conflict. This operation lasted from November 14-21st but sparked continuing viral attention online due to the IDF’s somewhat brilliant, albeit morally and ethically debatable, use of social media.

The most viral portion of this social media campaign might have been when the IDF’s Twitter account engaged in an actual public exchange of Tweets with Hamas. Now while this is interesting (and a bit entertaining) in its own right it’s not the most controversial aspect of the IDF’s use of social media. No, that award is given without hesitation to IDF Ranks.

IDF Ranks seeks to make viewers of their blog into “a virtual part of the IDF” by utilizing a technique called gamification. What exactly does this mean? Simply put this is a virtual reward system. Viewers can gain points to level up in rank and earn medals for doing any number of things… visiting the site, reading posts, liking, commenting, sharing on Facebook/Twitter, need we go on?

Now this game caught a lot of attention, most stemming back to an expressive post by John Mitchell on where he describes the IDF’s gamification of war as “absolutely horrendous” and “unconscionable”. His thoughts were shared with similar stories appearing on more websites like Time and Gamespot. But we don’t want to get caught up in this debate of morals, warmongering, right and wrong. Nope. Not where we’re taking this.

Alright, so let’s step outside the emotional cloud and controversy that surrounds IDF Ranks. Instead let’s shoot back (see the wordplay?) right here –> Gamification <– “the concept of applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.” IDF Ranks is an incredible use of gaming as an incentive to get the public engaged not only with the blog but within their own networks of friends. Maybe right we look at this as just some horrible aberration because of the content on the IDF’s blog but how will this be viewed in the future? What if we applied their model outside the contexts of war?

Gamification isn’t something new or unique to the IDF’s blog. Just check out this new game, Airman Challenge, released by the US Air Force. If anything gamification is becoming a more popular method of generating interest. However, the IDF’s use of gamification becomes unique due to its integration of social media and politics. The IDF Ranks game is a successful utilization of competition, entertainment, social media and public relations work to promote itself. We see this as a possible insight towards the future of promoting civic participation.

Might this be a new future for political campaigns? Will you be seeing similar games popping up in your next elections on your favorite politician’s blog? What if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had their own ranks game attached to their campaigns? Would supporters have started comparing their dedication and involvement by points, badges and rank? Maybe reward the most active participants with invites to banquets or stage seats. Stir up and use all the best aspects of social media, gaming and competition to win PR campaigns. Why not?

Could activists utilize this style of gamification to draw attention to their causes? Promote continued involvement and try to overcome slacktivism by offering systems of virtual/symbolic rewards?

We see this is a very real possibility. What’s your view?

This article was created because we loved this topic and for its pure awesomeness. But, possibly also because of a class project for Internet, Social Media and Society at Uppsala University and the chance share our perspectives on technology with you… the readers… because we like you and hope to get you interested!

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8 thoughts on “IDF Ranks: it’s NOT about Gaza or war. It’s Gamification.

  1. Dimitra TSOUMPERI says:

    This is a real possibility indeed!

  2. Jeremy says:

    So let’s look at this as it relates to the actual mechanism of gaming addiction and how game designers (like Blizzard or Squaresoft) create the process by which people are willing to invest hundreds to thousands of hours on a game with no tangible reward other than the pixels on the screen.

    There is a mechanism in the brain, the dopamine-reward pathway (hereafter referred to as DRP) in which when you do an action that results in some form of success or accomplishment a small amount of dopamine (one of the brains main happy chemicals) is released. Now it has long been understood in psychology that if the action itself is easy then it releases a large amount of dopamine initially, but that tapers off rather quickly, as an action gets more difficult it releases less at first but more in the long term.

    How does this relate to gaming, well in most online games now, there is a level or rank system. The first few levels come rather quickly and easily, getting progressively harder as you go, thereby spiking the initial surge of dopamine, and then also catching the later sense of accomplishment from a difficult task. There is also another process which has been seen to occur, in which the rewards themselves become less frequent or introduce an element of randomness, called intermittent rewards. Gambling has long taken advantage of the fact that if there is an element of anticipation, coupled with deflation and failure, then randomly out of the blue there is a reward, the spike in dopamine release is significantly higher than with steady rewards (see item drops in most online games.

    Now this process is actually designed by game manufactures to mimic the process of addiction in the brain, by providing the same process of getting high (accomplishment), the come down (the let down), trying to get your next fix (anticipation), lessened rewards (tolerance), and finally getting high again (intermittent reward). Drug dealers have long known about making the first hit, or time trying the drug free, that ease of accomplishment, and then later on requiring more and more money and making their rules more strict (diminishing rewards).

    Take this process and then apply it to something that has a perceived (but not real) tangible reward to the people participating (the above mentioned IDF twitter battles or a political election). The actual results of the actions of the IDF will have very little to do with the lives of most of the people who get sucked into their “game” but now the IDF is getting them “addicted” to the process involved via these psychological tools. With this expansion on the themes originally developed for actual games, this gamification can be used to engender people with very little real personal investment in something, a huge sense of PERCEIVED personal investment.

    Make of this what you will, but companies, governments, and even people are learning better and better ways to control the populace using tools like the ones described above.

    • You know Jeremy this is actually a really fascinating perspective and one that I never addressed before. Definitely something that’s worth looking into! Maybe we will have to do a post on DRP related to gaming sometime?

  3. Elizabeth says:

    This is quite interesting and thought provoking.

  4. pinupbaker says:

    I definitely agree. It’s like a positive reinforcement for getting involved. Though it is sad that one must be rewarded to do such a thing. People should just not be lazy, imo.

  5. Texasmom says:

    The reward system is at our basic level of human function. Interest will always be where one gains the most benefit. It’s time tested and millions of people who play games can’t deny it. But to inject this front and center into a real situation is beyond unconscionable. This isn’t Call of Duty or Sim City. Unfortunately, it’s a situation just like facebook. It allows you to interact with detachment with no real gains to show for the effort. Disturbing to say the very least…

  6. Blubb says:

    10/10, would read again

  7. ImperiusMagnUS says:

    The language and the form of the public debate (in Europe) has changed and evolved dramatically since the invention of the Gutenberg press. For centuries more and more people in European societies had been focusing and committing themselves to the public affairs of their countries and societies. And that factor is vital in modern democratic states. But the experiences of democratic elections and issues in XIX and XX century showed that most citizens are not “that” interested in the public affairs and do not have the necessary knowledge to correctly respond to the public problems of their time.

    This is why it is important to have that “minority” which is focused and interested in public affairs on your side

    Also as a volunteer in campaign I have to say that the best way to gain both “focused” and “unfocused” citizens around your cause is the direct contact with the voter. The best way to gain support to your cause and political program is direct, transparent contact with the “common Joe”. If your goal is clear and good for the public interest, normal people will definitely support it.

    Yes RP campaigns in media are visible, but the campaigns concentrated to the work directly on the “field of battle” are victorious.

    And I understand the “gamification” of described issues have the same goal. To get the “unfocused” to recognise tour point of view, and the “focused” citizens to support, know and believe in your point of view. Is gamification a successful way for people to gain some knowledge?

    Yes. For example the “khan academy” which is a new way to tech people around the world. Even I am using it to improve and develop my match knowledge. And it is going far better than in high school or my University. Gamification is a good way to pass the knowledge to others.

    And maybe it is a new way to increase the number of “focused” and “und focused” citizens of the world on your side. And maybe it is a new “innovation” in the public debate.

    But still I have to say from my perspective, and from my experience the best way to persuade people that are not agreeing with you is a friendly conversation. Even if you have other political views or morals with the person that you are currently debating with. A skilled volunteer will manage to do it.

    A simple program will only persuade the “unconvinced” and the “uninformed”. And maybe it will create your own “focused” minority. But it will not probably persuade your political adversaries and their supporters. Especially if the emotions are very high and the ethnicity is different.

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