Chinese Sesame Credit: The Dark Side to Gamification

Chinese Sesame Credit: The Dark Side to Gamification

So this is going to be quite a short blog post. I wasn’t planning on writing one (and even skipped it yesterday) due to exams. However, I came across this and had to share it with you.


So I don’t know how, but this was big news last year, but nonetheless passed me by, which is why I want to call some attention to it – Just in case you missed it as well. I should also say this post is 100 % inspired by a YouTube video by Extra Credit. Check out the video as well, those guys do an amazing job.

Anyway, you may or may not know about gamification. The term generally covers the act of making often-times mundane tasks fun through the implementation of game elements. For instance, Duo Lingo helps you learn new languages through gamification – you get points for completing small tasks, and logging in every day, whilst also being able to compare yourself with your friends. These things all come from the development of video games, and work as excellent ways to motivate people into repeating otherwise overtly repetitive tasks. It is a kind of behavioural conditioning, and here is the issue. Gamification can be a great way of making tasks more fun, but this is actually so effective that it can become dangerous.

Enter China, and Tencent. Most of us know the concept of credit scores – this colourful metre that shows you how well you are doing financially, and acts as a guideline for credit companies in regard to peoples financial credibility.


Well, Tencent has, in cooperation with the Chinese government, taken this concept one step further and created the Sesame Credit. You see, Tencent is one of the largest media corporations in China and therefore has many ways of tracking peoples behaviours on the internet, when joining forces with the government.

In short, share critical messages or photos about the Chinese government and your score drops. Say something positive and it increases. But a score in itself isn’t enough. It is also becoming possible for people to earn rewards through a high score, and there is even talk of punishments for low scores!

The worst of all though, is the future feature of viewing your friends scores AND having your score influenced by those friends. You see where this is going? If you have a low score you will drag those around you down, and may face social exclusion. The point here is the government does not have to punish those who voice critical thoughts about them with such a system in place, people will do that for them through social pressure and ultimately exclusion. The game elements make this system fun, which can blind people to the real life consequences – governmental control of its populations behaviour.

It sounds incredible that this would ever work? Well yes. Except, it is opt in for the time being. So the patriots will join early, talk it up, sell it neatly packaged to many others. This in turn could result in enough people already having opted in, because of for instance the benefits of the high scores, that when it becomes mandatory in 2020 it has already become the norm to use it, and there are enough with a positive score around you, that you wouldn’t want to be the person who ruins it for everyone else. It becomes easier and way more fun, to simply fall into line…

2020. That is four years from now. Quite a few things are up in the air about this system, and hopefully some of it remains hot air, but I am afraid that isn’t going to be the case, and I am really afraid to see this system work efficiently. There is a certain dystopian air about the Sesame Credit. And people seem all to easy to manipulate through such gamification elements.

Anyway, that was all. Just wanted to mention this in case you didn’t know either. Here are a few of the sources concerning the system:
















Do we become more morally sensitive by acting badly in video games?

Do we become more morally sensitive by acting badly in video games?

In previous blog posts, I wrote about whether video games make players more violent, and also Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, which created a feeling of guilt during game-play. In this post I look at a research paper that connects these two by looking at how video games elicit guilt and thereby salience towards care and fairness.


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