Adele Peters recently wrote a piece for Greenbiz.com with the headline ‘Weekend Reading: Using Game Theory to Make the World a Better Place’. Adele is clearly an intelligent woman as she works for the Haas School of Business, but the headline is an example of what is becoming a frustratingly common misuse of the term ‘game theory’.
The article is actually an interview with Gabe Zichermann, a gaming expert, on the application of gamification to improve sustainable behaviour and has absolutely nothing to do with game theory. In fact the article never mentions game theory, it is just used lazily in the headline.
Let’s clear this up:
Game theory analyses strategic situations where one person’s strategy is dependent on the strategic choices of others. (Like the Prisoner’s Dilemma)
Gamification is using game play mechanics to get people more involved in an activity, particularly on a website. It uses rewards to encourage particular behaviours. Foursquare is a well known example.
There are plenty of other examples of these terms being misused, please let me know in the comments if you come across any others. We need to stop this before ‘game theory’ gets hijacked by people who should know better!
Today’s takeaway: Language matters, please be precise