In a recent discussion with Venessa Miemis, Venessa asked me whether I thought cooperation can be “gamed” or not. While it could be true that it is tough to game a mutual rating system (example: ebay rating system), there are known examples of ebay ratings being “gamed” by way of groups of people pretending to give one another good ratings.
Beyond mutual rating systems, there are a number of other ways cooperation and collaboration may be “gamed”:
Of course, Douglas Rushkoff’s classic book by the same name (D Rushkoff – London: Little, Brown & Company, 2000) gives scores of examples about how human nature and it’s propensity to want to give, help, cooperate and collaborate are used to get people to the bidding of others. Cooperation is “gamed” in some ways by pushing people to commit to relationships where most of the value flows away from them and towards you (perhaps with vague promises, or combined with other cooperation gaming techniques). Then, you can “freeride” on their contributions once you’ve locked them into committing. In P2P networks, I contend this coercive attitude is actually increasing as more people gravitate towards sharing ecologies, gifiting cultures, and commons-based approaches.
Propoganda is also used in this way (on mass scales, and on person to person scales). http://www.propagandacritic.com/ highlights many of the classic techniques employed in groups of all scales. The core point of employment of propaganda techniques is to convince others to come to a pre-fabricated conclusion. Appealing to emotion over reason, using convoluted logic, creating a “band wagon” effect.
I wrote about this back in 2006 (incorrectly attributed to Paul Lamb in the smartmobs blog). Also discussed on ZDNet and ZDNet “Koolaid guy saga”. Very much along the lines of hoaxes that spread around the internet, the idea is to take advantage of people’s desire for being included (really another form of coercion), combined with people’s reaction to the novel, unique, and polarizing. Muzafir Sherif had an early perspective on this with Sherif , et al work on “Assimilation and Contrast Effect” (Muzafer Sherif, Daniel Taub, and Carl I. Hovland, “Assimilation and contrast effects of anchoring stimuli on judgments.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1958, 55, 150-155.) Giving people black and white arguments to take sides on will push them to one side or another. Access to a medium where they can relay their side-taking, and resonance with wanting cooperate with your “side” can see the message spread extremely fast and widely through networks. In this way, an “information cascade” is used to game people’s propensity to want to collaborate stigmergically, or cooperate with “like minded” people, or to get support for opposing non-“like minded” people
Co-opting, one-way using, not giving attribution
This can be as simple as using from what is shared and contributing nothing back, to more subtle and artful forms of cooperation/collaboration gaming. One of very worst and most widespread variations of this takes the form of not giving credit or attribution to contributors or sources of ideas, theories, and actual work. Attribution is the currency of open and commons based systems. If you are not giving credit and attribution (which usually literally takes seconds to do) you are definitely gaming the system, and destroying the commons where the value you co-opted and subtly represented as your own, was originally freely shared by others. Not giving attribution, and co-opting value discourages future open contribution. Not finding a way to contribute back or reciprocate value back to commons you are drawing value from, makes those commons unsustainable.