Is manipulation wrong?
The answer is, “It depends.” If manipulation is used to make us make decisions that we eventually regret, then we think of manipulation as distasteful, bad, or even evil depending on the end result.
“Manipulate” tends to have a negative connotation. According to Merriam-Webster.com, “to manipulate” can be defined as:
2 a : to manage or utilize skillfully; b : to control or play upon by artful, unfair, or insidious means especially to one’s own advantage
3: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose
Sounds sinister, doesn’t it?
But what if a business, designer or teacher induces “change by artful… means so as to” increase sales or productivity, to make overcoming personal illness “fun,” or to encourage students to develop a deeper understanding of physics? What if a business, designer or teacher chooses to gamify a process to make an unpleasant task more enjoyable which in turn encourages their target audience to do something they’d rather not do? Is this manipulation, and if so, is wrong?
Nir Eyal, behavioral engineer and creator of the blog http://www.nirandfar.com, writes about manipulation in this post: The Morality of Manipulation . He discusses the idea that the intent behind the activity defines four types of manipulation. Here’s a table from his blog post that identifies four categories of manipulation:
Read his blog post to learn more about these four types of manipulations. Then let us know: a) is “gamification” a type of manipulation? and b) in which category do you think it falls?
[Need a refresher on gamification? Read our earlier post on gamification by clicking here.]