Tensions between #gamification elements and location-sharing in #Foursquare

At the recent workshop on Gamification and game design elements in non-gaming contexts at CHI 2011 in Vancouver, there was an interesting paper about Foursquare entitled Gamification and location-sharing: some emerging social conflicts. The paper reports various observations on conflict that appeared between gamification elements (supposed to drive user engagement) and other usage motivations for location-sharing. The results are based on users interviews, surveys and ongoing analysis of real-time ‘check-in data’ involving 20 active foursquare users from Sweden, The Netherlands and the US.

Some examples of the conflicts described in the paper:

  • "Playing for points vs. ‘nonsense’ venues: A way to gain additional points and mayorships is creating new venues to check-into. However, venues that just have been created for ‘the game’, can also be a non-informational annoyance
  • Mayors & badges vs. privacy & identity management: Mayorships are publically visible on users’ profile, and are also shown to any user checking- in to that venue. This means that mayorships can threaten privacy (...) Some participants worried about getting mayorships or badges that would threaten their identity. Would one want to become the mayor of the cheapest eatery in town?
  • Mayorships vs. ownership: A mayorship appeared to communicate not only identity, but also public ‘ownership’ over a place, which was not always desired.
  • Anti-cheating aka ‘you’re using it wrong’: services employing gamification need to consider which messages their ‘game-rules’ send to users who might have very well appropriated the service in other ways.
  • Inappropriate can be more fun: Multiple participants described 'getting caught' and ‘doing it under the table’. Exactly this social unacceptable aspect of using the service also invoked playful behaviors"

It's interesting to see how their results show that game design elements such as mayorships, points or badges can both engage participants and restrict the use of the service.

Why do I blog this? I'm interested in this sort of frictions as they reveal relevant tensions in users' behavior. Mostly because we've been conducting a field study to understand the usage of Foursquare here in Switzerland. I'm looking forward to see the other results from this research team.