Propaganda Games: Sesame Credit – The True Danger of Gamification – Extra Credits
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Propaganda Games: Sesame Credit – The True Danger of Gamification – Extra Credits

August 26, 2019

Okay. So one of you recently brought this to our attention, and when we first started looking into it, we couldn’t believe it. Even now, looking at this, I keep thinking that there’s gotta be something about this that I just don’t understand. Like, I must be reading this
wrong. it’s just so clearly something out of dystopian science fiction. And yet, here it is in our world. And people are actually embracing it. Apparently, China has gamified being an obedient citizen. Going under the innocuous name
of “Sesame Credit”, China has created a score for how good a citizen you are. And that’s one of the scariest things I’ve heard in quite a while. It’s jointly run by Tencent: Yes, that Tencent, the one that owns Riot Games, and has a significant share on EPIC and Activision Blizzard, and also the ascendant Chinese
competitor to Amazon: Alibaba, hence the name “Sesame”. So the owners of China’s largest social networks have partnered with the government to create something akin to the US credit score. But instead of measuring how regularly you pay your bills, it measures how obediently you follow the party line. They dredge data from your social networks, so, if you post pictures of Tiananmen square, or share a link about the recent stock market collapse, your Sesame Credit score goes down. Share a link from the state sponsored
news agency about how good the economy’s doing, and your score goes up. But Alibaba and Tencent are also the largest online retailers in China. So Sesame Credit is also able to pull data from your purchases. If you’re making purchases the state deems valuable, like: work shoes or local agricultural
products, your score goes up. If you import anime from Japan though, down the score goes. And this score has real-world consequences. Like many games, Sesame Credit has
tiers and levels. And having a higher score give you special benefits. Like: making it easier to get the paperwork you need to travel, or making it easier to get a loan. Now currently, there are no consequences for having a low score, but there’s been talk about implementing penalties once the system becomes mandatory in 2020. Penalties like: slower internet speeds for low scoring citizens, or even restricting the jobs that a low-scoring person’s allowed to hold. But there’s one more layer to Sesame credit, and here’s where this goes from being
repulsive to downright insidious. Because this is all part of a social network, it
also scans your friends. So you will lose points for having friends with low obedient scores, and it tells you this. At any point, anybody can check anyone
else’s score. And when you check your own score, Sesame Credit provides a handy map of your friends to show you who’s dragging your score down. Have you ever had that thing, where you play a game with somebody who wasn’t doing very well, and you’ve tried to change their behavior to make them do better? Or maybe after a while, you just sort of stopped playing with the people who were holding you back? That’s at the heart of how the system works. And it’s also what makes this one of the most terrifying tools of authoritarian oppression I’ve ever read
about. Because like: mass censorship, jail time, assassinations, those are all big messy implements for keeping a population in line. That messiness and severity foster resentment, eventually rebellion. They’re expensive, they’re unwieldy. In the end, those tools are impossible to maintain. But social pressure? Ostracization? Those things are free. They happen on their own. And as a government tool, they don’t have nearly the same potential for going embarrassingly, disastrously wrong. With a system like this in place, a government doesn’t even have to tell neighbor to spy on neighbor to read each other out. Because that’s all built into a seemingly innocuous game system. The government need not step in! Re-education will be handled for them, by friends, classmates, and relatives who want to maintain a high score. And if that doesn’t work, then potentially dangerous ideas still end up quarantined by the social isolation this game system causes. Expressed, or help to spread too many radical ideas, and people will stop associating with you. And not because some jack-booted thugs showed up at the door with threat, but simply because
associating with somebody with those ideas will lose them all the privileges
they’ve worked so hard to obtain. It re-contextualizes obedience to an
authoritarian regime. In the past, you obeyed such powers because you were afraid. Fear kept you motivated, but fear is negative. It fosters resentment. The world we’re stepping into instead, uses positive reinforcement to promote being subservient to the will of the regime. Its big brother’s kinder, gentler hand. And the things that make this scary, is that we’ve seen the efficacy of this only too well in games. You may not actually know this: But when World of Warcraft was in its early stages of development, it had an unrested penalty mechanic. That started limiting experienced gains for players who had played too much. And players hated it. They resented it, and they
complained about it every day. So, after brainstorming on this for a while, Blizzard had the idea to simply change
how the mechanic was presented. Without changing any of the existing numbers or systems, they started referring to the unrest experience penalty state as normal, and made it the default. And they started calling the original normal experience gained state as rested. That’s all they changed, and everybody loved it. People would log on every day just to
get that bonus. Positive reinforcement works wonders. But unlike World of Warcraft, which built a system just to get people to embrace meaningless grinding, Sesame Credit has built a system to get people to enjoy falling into line. Now the system’s not mandatory yet. It’s opt-in right now, but it’s going to be mandatory in 2020. And there’s a terrible brilliance to phasing that in. The early adopters are going to be people excited about this system. People who are already patriotic, and are eager for anything that’ll help display that patriotism to the world. And as early adopters, they’re gonna talk it up. They’re gonna give it an air of being positive and fun. Then it will be foisted on the society as a whole. More than that though, the early adopters are going to compete. Already you can see hundreds of thousands of tweets, displaying people’s high scores, or showing off the new milestones they’ve hit. Giving a hard numbers to their patriotism, and giving them bragging rights for being the most patriotic, most right-thinking person they know. And that’s gonna set the tone for how Sesame Credit is intended to be used: As a competition to see who can agree with the government the most. We’ve talked about propaganda games on this channel before, but for all the time we’ve spent examining and deconstructing terrible games that espouse hate, and for all the studies on propaganda games James has done, this is the use of game systems that frightens me the most. Because to most people, Sesame Credit will seem benign, perhaps even fun. It’s a conversation starter, something to share with your friends. But it’s making heavy use of all the psychological motivators that we game makers deploy in scoring systems, and ladders, and levels. Systems that we built to shape play habit, and to keep people coming back. Like I said, I’m still kind of in a state of disbelief looking at this. If any of you are watching this from China, please tell me if I’m misunderstanding this thing, because I would love to be wrong about it. if not, well, I hope this episode can do some
small amount to help the fight to keep such a system from becoming mandatory. For everyone in the rest of the world, I hope this helps remind us all how
important it is to be aware and to be vigilant. All of these gamification techniques we’ve learned through making games, offer incredible opportunities for making this world a better, more engaging place. But, every great tool carries with it the potential for misuse. And it’s on us as a community who understands this amazing new medium, to do what we can to stop that. We’ll see you next week. Hey everybody, just so you know, the extra credits team is gonna go on hiatus for the next couple weeks so that we can all get some rest, and spend some time with our families and such. But we will be back at the start of the new year with more extra credit, more extra history, more stuff on extra play, everything we make. So, I hope you guys have a fantastic holiday. Thank you for watching, and uh ya, we will see you in January. so long!

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Hi everyone! We went live with this and then I disappeared for a week…I figured our political episodes never get that many views right ; )

    Anyway I just got back and read the comments. There seems to be a ton of debate about what exactly system is and that's totally fair, as mentioned in the video I'm actually not 100% certain so here's a bunch of articles about it, some agree with the video, some disagree, but I feel like these should help at least provide a broader picture:


    P.S. When researching this I became surprisingly cynical about the Chinese government's supposed "shock" about some of the Alibaba tactics. It seems like really good political cover, especially if they have to scrap the system eventually because of outcry and so far as I can find (again it's tough to get accurate information out of china so I could be completely wrong here) they haven't penalized Alibaba in any substantive way.

    P.P.S. Accurate information about China is especially hard to get not only because of the state control of information on the Chinese side but because there's a lot of alarmism with regard to Western coverage of China. I really don't want to contribute to that. That was not the intent here at all and I hope no one lumps some of China's more extreme policies and the people of China together.

  2. Ok, I am a Chinese, I am very curious, where did you hear this fake news? Come to China to see it. Because of the ignorance of Westerners to China, any false news is spreading so quickly. When you were shocked, did you ever think that you might be a victim of fake news? Or are you really brainwashed? A ticket is not expensive, and the door to China is always open.😌😌

  3. If this shit happens in the USA then it's a civil war. Neither political party wants this shit so whoever tries to push this garbage here will beg for the treatment that the colonials gave the british tax collectors compared to what we will do to them.

  4. And so many people selfishly support those systems until they start complaining because it affects themselves. Then it is too late. And as someone seeing the early warning signs and not joining in the evil, it can be difficult to just get through life.
    This world is killing the solutions, and the rest is just dramatic theater.

  5. I’m a sesame score user resides in Canada cause we can use alipay here in Toronto. Many major cities in the world already support it. Sesame credit is the Alibaba’s answer to American Equifax or fico credit score. This is important because that’s how visa and MasterCard or any banks in the states or Canada use to assess your credit worthiness and then assign you a proper credit limit on your credit card. if you are a credit card user, you would know that if your credit score increases, it’s more likely you can get a credit limit increase. Visa and MasterCard have long been doing businesses in China for decades. However, internet giants like alibaba and Tencent are in the payment business now and want to disrupt that completely. Alibaba’s sesame credit is essentially the credit score system for their Huabei virtual credit card. HuaBei (meaning “spend it”) is a cardless credit card resides in the alipay app. It basically assigns a different credit limit for different users and you pay with alipay using HuaBei. As long you pay it back within the end of next statement period, you won’t be charged interest. It works exactly like a credit card except it’s cardless. Also there is another product called JieBei (means “borrow it”) it’s a revolving personal line of credit account also build into the alipay app. Basically alipay app uses your transaction histories and then build a credit score for you with machine learning and big data. Remember that you can still use alipay app by linking to your debit card like PayPal and that’s what most ppl do. That’s what sesame credit is right now. There is no link that sesame credit will become a social credit score system similar to black mirror etc. That’s why many articles and videos online are misleading. I think the reason is a lot of content creators simply want to generate controversy and buzz in order to generate a lot of views and clicks hence the facts are distorted. Maybe Chinese government will push out a social credit score system but there is no evidence that. Sesame score is a financial score, that’s it. To prove my point, if you google “sesame score Canada visa” you will find that Canadian government actually accept sesame score as a proof for your financial worthiness for online Canadian visa application. As you can see sesame score and Alipay are direct threat to MasterCard and Visa monopoly. It does not use any of the MasterCard or visa network when doing transactions. It’s actually pretty amazing to finally see a product form that truly challenges master card and Visa card. I’m sure other companies like Square or PayPal will walk on the similar path to challenge MasterCard Visa card this way.

    I see there are people asking how does the credit score gets raised lowered with sesame credit. Again, it works like your credit card, I already talk about your transaction volume, frequency and amount with alipay app will influence your score. Also if you enable HuaBei, the virtual credit card I mentioned, if you pay back every month then your score will go up as well, if you miss, your score will go down. It works exactly like credit score system in North America. One area of innovation is bike sharing and battery pack lending. You can borrow bikes with your sesame score. If your score is over 600 you can borrow bikes or battery packs in many participating stores without any deposits. And if you return the stuff then your score will go up too. One more thing, if you upload your education certificate like university diploma to your personal profile in alipay and also your car ownership certificate, your score will be higher as well.

  6. America already has a credit score. Try getting a car, home, loan or even a job or apartment with a bad one.

    Facebook and Google can already build a profile on you faster and more accurately than any world government, we are literally a flip on the switch from this taking over at any time.

  7. There have been penalties already though. Millions have been barred from booking flights or high speed train tickets. This terrifying, authoritarian tool is already negatively affecting peoples lives.

  8. There are consequences that have come up since this video was made. If you have a low score, you can't travel period and you have trouble getting work and loans. In a place like China, this affects your marriage prospects and your ability to buy property and pass on property to your children.

  9. I don't think this is a bad idea. Just how it's implemented. Voting, paying taxes, giving to associations, helping people, this should give you score. But informing youself about gouvernement or watching japanese animation, this giving a bad score ? seriously ?

  10. could you not metagame this a bit? finding out what products give higher score so you buy them, giving you some leeway to do more 'negative' things?

  11. I read the title as propaganda games— Sesame Street— the true dangers of gamification and I was very curious as to what you where talking about

  12. As a person from the Republic of China, I… am… terrified of this… it's uncanny…

  13. @ all the people from China in the comments and defending sesame credit: ya'll can't even legally speak out against your own government so no, this is not a good thing 🙄

  14. This is insane!!
    For me it seems like a new level tool for the government to make all those Who dosent think like Them silenced. Its soviet all over again
    I hate this controlling system

  15. Yeah, there's no point in watching this. The only reason somebody would disagree with a Social Credit system is if you're a criminal or engaged in anti-social activities, aka the exact types of people this system is designed to remove from society. Think of a country like an organism – If the organism is to continue living, harmful elements must be purged. In the case of countries like China – And the USA, come to think of it – Harmful elements are quickly outpacing the healthy elements, forcing the government to institute harsh, but ultimately fair measures like this just to keep their nation afloat. Your options are A. Gamification, or B. Mass executions and strict government control. Make your choice, but bear in mind that only one can prevent a dictatorship or total societal collapse.

  16. I am Chinese and am using sasame credit. its astonishing to find this video. But before any comments, I dont see any evidence of this video‘s claim. I used sasame credit often and it's only use for me is there’s no need for guarantee deposit to rent bike even a car if my scores is high. I check the rules purposely at once and search evidence to imply it can collect information such like history posts we post rather than trades online. So could anybody help to provide evidence before judge?

  17. China really hate Japan huh XD Order anime and the score goes down. Well the Chinese also make show like anime? I don't get it XD

  18. Nobody show this to the republicans – it's just the sort of control system they'd love (haven't watched your daily "The Apprentice"? That'll cost you some points. No Fox News today? Bad boy!)

  19. I'm not usually one for this kind of solution but I kinda think we should have assassins take down the chinese government

  20. Hi, I am really surprised that this video is released 3 years ago, and the most comments are supporting this. That’s just so funny as I from China and never heard about this, the truth is sesame credits is just count the financial behaviors on its application, just like other credit score in the world. I suppose it’s unnecessary to be more specific as someone already explained the truth but people don’t believe him and think he lies for credit? Such a genius! I don’t expect many people believe me. Believe or not is not important, people just want to believe what they believe. The world is crazy than my imagination, hahaha

  21. Yeah… I can see how the low scorers will form unions and guilds and screw the government (how many prions and assassinations can you really have before even the high scorers tell you to gfys?)

  22. I did some research in Chinese and here are some tips to maintain your Sesame Score:
    1. Complete your online personal profile (education background, work authorization, driver's license, etc)
    2. Use AliPay often. (to pay for online shopping, utility bills, hotels, car rental, etc)
    3. Connect with high score players
    4. More investment in stock, real estate, and other financial products

    1. Change cell phone number often
    2. Change personal address often
    3. No credit card
    4. Bought something online, but forgot to click "I received the shipment" (the seller won't get paid until the buyer does so)
    5. Booked DiDi(chinese version of Uber) but failed to show up
    6. Never sent "lucky money" to anyone via Wechat

  23. just let everybody know they're going to bring Sesame credit to the United States what they're going to do is cause the economy to collapse this is going to happen around in 2020 it's going to involve all of EU Canada United States and even included China
    and then are used this to blame our president and then try to get another president elected on the election and the it's going to be a puppet for China

  24. This is horrifying as a minnor not even in china. Espesesly as of 2019. That is incredibly scary . i hope china is ok.

  25. I'm not defending this, but nobody puts more propaganda in games than American companies. In MW2 they make you shoot up a Russian airport. Now try that the other way around, have a Russian game company have a level where you shoot up Grand Central Station, or have an Iraqi game company make a game about flying planes into American skyscrapers, if any of that happened, the US would impose sanctions on that country and ban all sales of the game. The opening to COD:BO had you attempt to kill Fidel Castro, now imagine if there was a game where you got to assassinate JFK or Lincoln. And there is literally a game called America's Army that was paid for by the US Army and is literally used as a recrutement tool. These games are literally forcing you to kill enemies of the state and get rewarded for it.

  26. just a simple source:

    In November 2017, Zhima Credit's general manager, Hu Tao, stated that no Zhima Credit data is shared with the Chinese government or other third parties without a user's consent. She also denied the company monitors social media content, or any other method, to assess a customer's 'qualitative characteristics' for Zhima Credit.

  27. they're going to integrate this worldwide in 2020 or mid 2020 when the economy collapses in 2020

  28. This was a good video with legitimate points.

    3 years later, and now your channel is essentially advocating for people to follow a moral watchdog system almost identical to the seasme credit system. How the mighty have fallen.

  29. Sesame Credit measures how well you obey the state. Credit measures how well you obey capitalism.

    Glass houses.

  30. North Korea, is just people playing video games and agreeing with their dictator to get a lootbox.

  31. Tbh I could see a huge revolt in China with everyone attacking there own sesame credit by posting hate against it

  32. I foresee other nations using similar systems under different names as even the pseudo democracy of the 20th century dies throughout the 21st.

  33. I have to say it's a lots of fake info in this video. Try to live in China and learn more about this credit before you do the video plz.

  34. I am one who's in the wall and feel this is quite…stupid and hilarious 😛
    Why are people who outside of the wall so dumb to believe this

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