Some thoughts on the gamification in Gatchaman Crowds

November 15, 2013

One of the thematic clashes in Gatchaman Crowds is between Rui's idealistic vision of the world as a place where the population takes care of things through altruism without needing leaders and power structures and his actual implementation of this vision, both with the carefully selected Crowds users and that GALAX gives people rewards for their actions (and sometimes frames things as contests). By the end of the series Rui has thought better of one of these, giving the Crowds power to everyone instead of a select few, but that still leaves us with the contradiction of theoretically altruistic action versus GALAX's gamification of it.

The conventional view of this is that it shows the inherent contradictions and unworkability of Rui's vision. Appealing to people's altruism is all well and good but it doesn't actually work; in practice the large mass of people only act when they get paid for it, even if you're only paying them in social kudos. Rui is smart enough to realize this, which is why GALAX gamifies the whole thing despite Rui's professed views.

But there's an alternate view that starts with the observation that GALAX's rewards are not, say, money or anything comparable to it. Instead they're basically meaningless and I find it notable that in a show as aware of social media as Crowds is, no one ever talks about how many GALAX update points they have. Rather than being people's motivation for action in place of a nonexistent or stunted altruism, GALAX's meaningless rewards instead simply serve to give people a little push towards action and also to give them feedback to reassure them that they have successfully done the right thing. Or in short people are altruistic but also passive and GALAX's gamification exists simply to overcome this passivity.

(People may also be uncertain about what actions they should do, although having GALAX provide answers there edges into potentially darker territory. See this blog post by r042 for more elaboration of this idea.)

In support of this view, note that many of the things that GALAX asks its users to do are all out of proportion (in terms of time, effort, and risk) to any possible reward that GALAX is providing. In the course of the show, Japanese teenagers openly defy their teachers and school authorities, off the clock medical people dash into bad situations and hazards, and people spend significant amounts of time doing boring work to help strangers, all for nothing more than GALAX updates. It's hard not to call this altruistic.

Written on 15 November 2013.
« Link: Gatchaman Crowds essay by Joe McCulloch
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Last modified: Fri Nov 15 14:36:25 2013
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