Don?t trust his wholesome face. Image of Duolingo owl.
For a person who avoids social media and loves the quick thrill of achieving something while still in bed, Duolingo is my app of choice. I like the threats of the little green owl and whenever on long-haul flights I feel myself fear not for the plane crashing, but the fact that I may lose my learning streak with a time change.
This year Duolingo released a new way for users to interact and a new facet to gameify their app. Initially there were groups of users you were a part of, seeing who topped your group but not as much incentive to impress these strangers. Then came this feature. The Bronze to Diamond League. You start off in Bronze and have to be part of the top 10 to progress to the Silver League. In the Silver League you need to be a part of the top 10 to progress to the Gold ? or be in the bottom 5 and be demoted again to the Bronze. So on and so forth.
Each time, you see users with 1000s of points ascend to the higher plane of language learning. I told myself that I was more concerned with my learning, that individual pace is the key and you can?t compare yourself to others. That is when my monkey brain came in. I needed to compete. Akin to an early explorer, I wanted to be where I was not needed.
To achieve the points, I would do one lesson then press the challenge section button where if you passed, you would double the points achieved. My spare time was now Duolingo time. I Duolingo?d to get to sleep. I Duolingo?d on transport and cursed the names of the people on screen as we salsa?d back and forth over the leaderboard. If I known any of the people in real life, no doubt we would have bonded over our mutual interest for language learning. However in the leagues they were my enemy. I wished popularity and data outages on them so they would get off the app and give me a fighting change. Steadily I climbed, until low and behold I made it. My Everest, similarly littered with bodies and rubbish. The Diamond League. Duolingo?s Nirvana.
What do you get when advance to the Diamond League? Absolutely nothing. A sense of achievement I guess? Or maybe the gift is the sheer anxious will to stay in the Diamond League. After realising that there was no where else to advance to, that my illusions of grandeur had been shattered, my Duolingo identity folded in on itself. I was quickly demoted back to Ruby League where I have been languishing ever since.
I am not alone in my transfixion of Duolingo?s drive to keep people on their platform. If you go onto any of the message boards the questions read like an existential crisis. ?When does it end?? says one, another goes with an optimist slant ?There is no way out?. I highly recommend a read through of the message board. It is a group of people genuinely trying to figure out why they are addicted to this thing they know has no real value.
Comments from the message board
Though we think that imaginary internet points mean nothing to us, time and time again we are proven wrong. The research behind the success of gameification is that it taps into ?three basic psychological and intrinsic needs are postulated: the need for competence, the need for autonomy, and the need for social relatedness (Deci and Ryan, 1985, Ryan and Deci, 2002, Ryan, 1995).?
We are complex but kind of the same as humans. Gameification is rarely just the will of being a competitor, not only are we are proving that we do have an aspect of knowledge to our ?tribe? we are showing that we need to feel as though we are the ones who chose to progress. It seems like a null point that we submit to this prechosen journey of progressing through the leagues in order to feel that we are masters of our own mind. The thing I didn?t get from the leagues was the sense of social relatedness or community. Though I loved progressing, after achieving the end destination, there was nothing much to keep me there. I will continue to learn and use the app but I am now not as afraid to slip down the ranks and rather focus on the progression I am making as an individual. Doing things a bit more thoughtfully than with a points based system in mind.
But good to know that I can be psychologically manipulated easily. I am now cautious of the little green owl?s face.