Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gamification and Law - 1

Gamification is the idea of using game design to solve real world problems. The most tangible application for game design is crowdsourcing. Game designers are adept at testing a rule system, observing the consequences and improving the system in response. They do this by having players try a system out and then changing the rules to produce the intended effect. Fresh ideas like rewards or levels are included in this approach as new way to ensure the system is effective.

For the purposes of this essay though, we’ll focus on some smaller examples of where one could use crowdsourcing and gamification in the legal system. One of the easiest places to apply this skill would be improving the consistency of judges. To give you an idea of how fickle court rooms can be, a recent study by Shai Danziger compiled 1112 parole hearings to check for what effect the time of the day had. Parties were 65% more likely to get parole if the Judge had eaten lunch and taken a break. That’s unfair for someone whose hearing is scheduled right before lunch or at the end of the day.

To combat this issue some states use sentencing guidelines to make punishments mandatory. A committee creates a formula to calculate the punishment based on long term goals proposed by the government. These formulas are "evidence-based", which means they try to assess a criminal's risk of reoffending as an element in how long to send them to prison. These formulas are based on the statistics of people that have been through the system. An article on Missouri’s sentencing guidelines claims it has been effective at reducing the number of repeat offenders because it channels them into the best programs for rehabilitation. It also allows a state to implement goals into their prosecution system by taking a stance on being merciful to non-violent criminals and only being harsh on violent ones. The goal is to reduce prison populations, discrimination and insure consistency in the judicial system. The downside to this is that a lot of sentences that come out will seem shockingly low or high despite the nature of the crime. A game designer could improve the efficiency and productivity of this system just with their innate understanding of how to channel players towards various goals.

Another area that affects all members of society would be digital contracts. These are those voluminous contracts you’re asked to click “I Agree to the Terms” whenever you try to purchase software or services online. The problem is that nobody reads them. This is further exacerbated by some companies using unconscionable terms such as Blockbuster’s, “We reserve the right to change this contract with or without notice to the parties.”

This kind of environment is very similar to the one that led to the home mortgage crisis. Law Professor Lauren E. Willis, in an essay on predatory loaning, explains that one of the problems with deregulation is that every loan company was using their own loan agreement. These were progressively more confusing and resulted in consumers purchasing loans they did not understand and consequently couldn’t afford.

The solution is to create a standardized form throughout the industry that allows consumers to have a better understanding of what’s going on. Since these transactions are all happening online, it should be possible to apply playtesting to the problem. You could design a digital contract. Things like what portions are examined, for how long and how many people later have problems with the contract are all important for recognizing what the consumer understood. Imposing this concept by law is unattractive for many reasons, ultimately it’s in the best interest of corporations to do this voluntarily for improved stability and customer loyalty.

The application of crowd sourcing to greater social issues calls for a fundamental shift in how we evaluate ourselves as a society. All claims about the merits of someone’s position would be based on their effects rather than any intrinsic worth. We would no longer rely on the politician or the pundit proclaiming that a law will solve a problem. We, as a society, would have to start asking them to prove it. That will, in turn, require us to begin accepting those results even if they don’t always say what we want them to. If gamification is to have any lasting impact on society, it has to go beyond merely incentives and begin producing tangible results.

Go to Part 2.

No comments: