China has gamified being an obedient citizen with the creation of Sesame Credit. The game links to your social network and gives you a score for doing things that the government approves of, but it also reduces that score for doing things the government disapproves of. Even your friends’ scores affect your own, and being friends with people who have a low score will drag your score down as well. This insidious system applies social pressure on people to ostracize their friends with lower scores, either forcing those friends to change their ways or effectively quarantining their rebellious ideas. While many sci-fi visions of a dystopian future have centered around a bleak government that controls through fear, Sesame Credit shows us that a government can use gamification and positive reinforcement to be just as controlling. And it’s real. While currently the system is opt-in, the government plans to make it mandatory in 2020. Once mandatory, it may give rewards for good scores or penalties for bad ones. And in the meantime, making it opt-in has already set the tone for the game: people participate willingly, so they find it fun, and they set a very high standard for what the “average” score should be. Already people have begun sharing their scores on social media.
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