There is NOTHING wrong with Israel Gamifying War

Israel War Gamification

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A quick background of the Israel Defense Force Conflict

You may be aware that Israel and Palestinian nations have been upset about each other for quite some time now. Most recently on Nov 14-21st, 2012, the Israel Defense Force started Operations Pillar of Defense, where it launched an attack on the Gaza Strips, supposedly as a response to the 8,600 and more Rockets that were fired into Israel from the other side between 2001 and 2009, and 1000 more rockets this year alone.

Along with this, IDF introduced many game mechanics and gamification techniques on their website in the form of IDF Ranks. This is a game that is meant to stir up patriotism and get Israelites (and other nations) to stand up and support their efforts.

Users get points by reading, commenting, watching, and sharing information and updates they post on the websites and level up into different ranks, as well as earn badges. This will also allow regular civillians to feel like they are contributing to the war effort and helping their country.

Unsurprisingly, the social media world pounced on that with strong criticism. It is covered by publications like Time, Gamespot, and more. Jon Mitchell at ReadwriteWeb wrote, “Innocent people are dying on all sides, and the IDF wants to reward people for tweeting about it…It makes me sick.”

This post is about why I think, as controversial as it may be, IDF has the RIGHT to gamify their war efforts.

What this post is NOT about

Before anything, I want to say that this post is NOT about:

  • Promoting war, or saying war is fun. Just like Jon Mitchell said, war itself is horrible, with innocent people dying on all sides. I do NOT like war. I abhor it, and feel sad about all the killed/injured people and their family members in any war.
  • Who is right or wrong. I’m not going to make a moral judgement on which side is right. People fight wars for various reasons (In fact, weren’t we the United States just in a “war” recently?), and as a Gamification Professional, I’m going to leave my political opinons on this aside. This post is merely on whether gamifying war efforts, GIVEN that a nation is in a war, violates codes of basic morality or “taste.”
  • Evaluating how GOOD the gamification actually is from the IDF. Even though the gamification efforts from IDF isn’t very well designed and implemented from a professional opinon, this post is about whether they should do it or not in the first place instead of how well they do it.

Now with that aside…

It’s the other way around: most games were created to MIMIC war

You know how Gamification is applying game elements into non-game context? Well guess what: most games since the very beginning are simply applying war elements into non-war context.

War has been around for as long as there are people. Operations and practices of war have long been around before games appeared, and they’re basically all about defending/invading nations, staying alive, and keeping soldiers motivated.

Soldiers have naturally been keeping score or “points” based on how many enemies they have killed. Some warriors in various cultures hang their enemies’ skulls on themselves as trophies, while others “capture enemy flags” to keep score and showoff their victories and inspire their entire armies.

These practices are accepted in their respective cultures because war is serious, gruesome, and has devastating consequences if lost. There must be ways to motivate soldiers who are going through dreadful lifestyles, missing their families, and risking their lives everyday. And the way to do it is to have them focus on their enemies as well as their own progress and accomplishments in a battle.

These things are very necessary to win a war (again, losing has devastating consequences), so instead of feeling distaste because of wars that use game mechanics, shouldn’t it be more valid to say that it is sick and distasteful that games are modeled after wars?

What’s the most popular win-state to gain points, experience, or trophies in games? Enemies destroyed.

Pretending to be in a war when we’re actually not is arguably the sick part of our psych, as opposed to pretending we’re in a game during war to keep morale up and make things more bearable.

Oh, and where do games get the concept of “badges” from in the first place? The military of course. When a soldier has accomplished many missions, he gains a badge that represents recognition and honor.

Is it sickening that we are recognizing and honoring people who likely have taken lives away from people?

Self-Defense has no rules

Again, in this post I’m not saying which side is right, or which side started it all. But the truth of the matter is, Israel right now is being bombarded by rockets (even if they exaggerate the numbers), and so they must find ways to protect themselves from their enemies and save their own people.

Some countries call their military departments the “Defense” when in fact they are usually the aggressor and attack for economic reasons (one particular country is top of mind), but I believe in this case, Israel’s military is truly focused on Defense (of course, both countries next door to each other could both be defending).

When you are defending yourself, you are doing all sorts of things to stay alive. For one, you kill. You not only kill, you train people to kill, and you also spend hard-earned tax dollars to kill. Can you argue that all of that stuff is “distasteful” when the goal is to defend your nation?

When the Twin Towers fell, and the U.S. decided that it was under attack and needed “Defense,” did it not do things that were radical? It started to place everyone’s privacy as a secondary goal; it recruited, trained (to kill), and sent soldiers to attack Afganistan, while most likely vilifying the “enemies” in an unfair manner; and for some reason, it also sent the troops to Iraq too, all the way until the U.S. finally declared itself “safe” and no longer needed the Defense.

And what happened when people found out Bin Laden was killed? Below is a excerpt from Wikipedia:

Before the official announcement, large crowds spontaneously gathered outside the White House, Ground Zero, The Pentagonand in New York’s Times Square to celebrate. […] As news of bin Laden’s death filtered through the crowd at a nationally televised Major League Baseball game in Philadelphia between rivals Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets, “U-S-A!” cheers began.

Bin Laden War Gamification

Would you say that it is sick and distasteful when everyone is cheering for a man’s death? For those who commented that “Sharing the news about assassinating an enemy leader on Twitter is SICK,” did you know that during Obama’s speech about Bin Laden’s death, there were 5000 tweets PER SECOND about it? Many would argue that this is justified and righteous because we are simply defending against and retaliating to an enemy that deserves it.

Again, this is all from ONE attack.

Now imagine if we were attacked by rockets every single week, how would a nation like the U.S. respond?

When a nation is actually in a state of constant danger, what place do nations at relative peace have to say about how “brass” their war efforts are, especially when its just a way to structure their websites and communities, as opposed to other REALLY bad things you can do in “self-defense,” such as torture or even worse things?

Gamification is the least sickening thing you can do to facilitate a war

War is cruel, and there are many things nations do to win a war. Some countries send spies; some countries sabotage the other country’s economy by dumping currencies; some assassin the leaders; some tortue prisoners; some just build a really big bomb and drop it.

If turning your website into a system that originated from war in the first place can motivate people to read it, and if somehow reading articles, commenting, and sharing things on Twitter can ACTUALLY help a country win a war, I would say that this is the most peaceful, benevolent, and effective war tactic I have ever seen.

Video Games are proven to be effective in motivating behavior, which is the entire premise of the Gamification Industry. And the U.S. recognizes that too with many studies and games that help the US Air Force recruit talent.

Again, Gamification is just a tool to achieve desired goals, just like cars, Twitter, and the Internet. It wouldn’t be distasteful if Israel used Twitter, vehicles, or the Internet to facilitate their war efforts. If fact, it would be STUPID for them not to do it. So why not Gamification then?

Having a Right to Gamify

I’m not saying every country SHOULD gamify their war sites, nor am I saying that Israel SHOULD do it. My point is that there is NOTHING wrong with Israel doing it to defend itself.

We are not under constant threat by surrounding nations, so we shouldn’t pretend to know what it’s like being in that state and make judgements on their morality or taste when they are just trying to survive through fear and devastation.

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11 thoughts on “There is NOTHING wrong with Israel Gamifying War”

  1. I think everyone who is interested in understanding human focused design should understand that humans have never ever lived in peace. In fact the idea of peace is mythological, there are something like 300 wars going on in the world at any one time in recent History.

    This idea is beautifully explained by one of the greatest psychologists to ever write on the subject ” the Terrible love of war” James Hillman

    The very idea of a “human” being embodies both good and evil intention and hence motivation can apply to both.

  2. Old post but superb indeed and still quite up to date since last episode about this war happened just one year ago.
    Besides my own ideas on the conflict (which i will not discuss here), I also believe “Gamification” or, as Yu Kai wisely calls it, Human-Focused Design, has been used with all rights and in a proper context.
    War is horrible, most of us agree on that, is as much far as it can be from a gaming environment but, as much as we don’t like it, it’s part of Human nature, an extreme aspect of competition, ownership (most of it on that case) and survival instinct.
    Also, war too much often passes unconsidered when it doesn’t touch directly our own lives and i do believe this kind of approach serves well when some sensitization is needed.

  3. I studied in the west Bank and in Jerusalem at Palestinian and Israeli Universities and I know the conflict is not winnable by either side. The more Israel will build settlements that are in contradiction with the Geneva Conventions and the more radical Palestinian Groups like Hamas try to undermine any attempts for a reasonable peace, the more violence will ensue. When this happens, radical groups (rockets) and IDF (counter attacks) will take the forefront. Not reason and negotiations.

    Gamification can be used for any purpose whatsoever, whether it be aggressive or peaceful.

    From the perspective of the Israeli military and the task they have in defending Israel, I can understand why they would implement this Gamification project to bolster support at home (Hearts and Minds). It’s not new and defence forces around the world are doing it. Gamification is just a more clever way of doing this, it is not something new (and not more sinister). Just like Gamification will never change your product radically, also this project will NOT change the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

    Let’s encourage peace groups in Israel and Palestine Territories to follow the example of the IDF and gamily their websites/apps too. The IDF is taking its task serious (as you want your army, or any branch of government, to do), so should they!

    Let’s not get drawn into debates on this side on who is to blame for this conflict (or for the India-Pakistan; North-South Korea; North – South Sudan). The pint should be: Gramification is here to stay and will most likely be adopted by many agents of change, whether you agree with their objectives or not!


  4. Hello Mr. Chou! I think the core reasoning behind your argument is flawed.
    Your conclusion is that a country should do anything it can do to win. This is incorrect and the Geneva Protocol is proof of a general consensus of that fact.
    The main problem people have is if this is morally and/or ethically wrong. Dropping nuclear bombs and using chemical warfare is a very sound strategy – you will eliminate your enemy quite quickly. But that doesn’t make it right. You seem to hold that viewpoint but jump around a lot and state conflicting viewpoints right alongside that… so it just doesn’t come through.
    I think the interesting thing to discuss is whether encouraging war at all is correct. Saying that subtle manipulation is less bad than torture is easy. But saying that is better than blocking your entire country from the Internet to control thought (a recently used and condemned practice that is also non-violent) is difficult and I don’t believe it should be treated so flippantly.

    1. @smj10j
      Hello Mr Johnson! I think you misinterpret my point, as your summary is not at all what I mean. My point here is actually, beyond what’s right or wrong, that people are being hypothetical about this topic. 
      I made it clear in my post that I’m not saying any country or Israel SHOULD do it (as opposed to “a country should do anything it can do to win”). I’m saying that compared to lots of other stuff that is commonly accepted, this is not nearly as “disgusting” or “sickening.” People kill in a war. Is that right or wrong? People Gamify in war to motivated people. Is that right or wrong? What makes one better than the other? 
      My post had 3 arguments:
      1. Just because games also adopted methods to motivate people (and so we call it Gamification but war actually came up with a good amount of the stuff to begin with), doesn’t mean you can’t use the same concepts in war or that it makes war “game-like.”
      I think its the semantics that is messing things up. If Gamification was called Human-Focused Design (my preferred term), then there’s no more fuss about turning war into a game, but more like “OMG! They used design that focuses on peoples’ motivation!!” Again, I use the analogy of utilizing the Internet during war – it’s just a normal practice to be expected and nothing amoral about it.  
      2. Countries don’t necessarily need to do EVERYTHING it takes to win, but I would say the natural law is that people naturally do everything they can to survive (outside of higher honor codes that is out of the natural and ordinary). If a woman is being attacked by a serial murderer, I don’t think anyone will question her morality if she used chemical weapons to stop him. 
      My point here is that gamification isn’t even taking that concept to the extreme. It’s a very public (not even secret manipulation) way of just getting people to share information. I also don’t think that’s “promoting war.” 
      3. People are being hypothetical when they feel it is disgusting to share an enemy leader being killed. Which one is worse? Giving people points to tweet about that information, or host an entire celebration speech where the President tells everyone the good news and have thousands of people share it on Twitter. 
      Again, I’m not saying one is good or better than the other. I have no answers about that. I’m simply noting the fact that people seem to think one is perfectly fine when the other isn’t necessarily worse. Again, I’m not saying people should do whatever to win a war. I’m saying that when we’re not in a state of being under attack every week, we are in no place to make judgements on others. 
      On the extension topic, I think if your country is in a war and in self-defense, encouraging citizens to participate is not wrong. It should happen. If someone is pillaging your land and no one cares, and you don’t even motivate soldiers to fight (so they’re all fearing for their own lives), it’s going to lead to overall devastation (actually, I guess you could be like the French). If the country is on the invading side, then generally it could be wrong to encourage war. The U.S. luckily has never been on the defending side of a war in modern history. 
      Besides civil wars, all the wars were fought on other peoples’ soils. I think many (including me) don’t understand what it’s like to have a “war worth fighting” because our wars aren’t about saving our people and children. Of course, terrorist attacks are like mini-wars, and I doubt people will get as upset if the government created a game for people to help track terrorists.

      1. @smj10j Finally somewhat worked out the formatting lol! I’m starting to dislike this LiveFyre thing…

  5. Interesting post, Yu-kai. It doesn’t change how I feel about the story, but I think these are all reasonable arguments.

    1. @ablaze
       Thanks Jon for saying my post was “reasonable.” I guess that’s the most I can ask of with a sensitive topic like this!

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