China Gamified Citizenship Into a Dystopian Nightmare

Citizens' credit scores are now tied to how much they agree with the government. And it's fun!

Sesame Credit is a new app that allows Chinese citizens to measure their credit score. Credit scores were just introduced last summer and operate on a scale from 350 to 950. While this number seemed part of an innocuous system at first, it is continually developing into a more elaborate, bizarre system that uses the app to gamify citizenship. It sounds cute at first, like a reward for being more patriotic, but it quickly twists into something more ominous.

So to recap: China made it a fun, app-based game with reward systems for being a more obedient citizen, and it was developed by its largest internet portal (Tencent) in tandem with its Amazon-equivalent (Alibaba), in conjunction with the government. When you post information from state-sponsored sources, your score goes up, but linking to unofficial news or reminding China of its complicated history will earn you a hit. Since it’s also tied to China’s largest online retailer, certain purchases can raise or hurt your score. A higher score makes it easier to get a loan or the paperwork required to leave the country, while a lower score has no negative penalties … until the system becomes mandatory in 2020. Your “Obedience Score” can also be dinged as the system scans friends on your social network for their scores.

This video from Extra Credits makes for a nice explainer.

Are you freaked out? Yup. Same here. Re-education and censorship passed from government to citizens, via their friendships, in a competition to see who can agree with the system the most? Why is it suddenly so cold in this room?

Perhaps what is most frightening is what a good idea it is, and how easily transferable good ideas are across the world. These systems started in video games, and now that so much of our lives prime us to be competitive, I feel like I can already picture my five friends that would be cut-throat completionists for this right out of the gate. Maybe I would, too? Like some idiot who loves to hurt his own feelings, I’ve been looking at houses in my neighborhood lately and thinking I should buy. On a writer’s salary. But if me being more patriotic led to me getting a better mortgage rate, you can bet I would Vine my Pledge of Allegiance every morning at sunrise.

Basing this on social networks also looks at something more real than who we are as people by instead focusing on changing the projections of ourselves we share with the outside world. For example, if a similar system were implemented in the United States, I think Facebook Brock would have a much higher score than Twitter Brock, because Twitter Brock loves to shout naughty bad-boy words at politicians he disagrees with. Instagram Brock is mostly sunsets and friend selfies, which I think we can agree are very patriotic. Amazon Brock is almost entirely video games and vinyl records, which is a toss up, because these items are neither pro-work nor imported from other countries, so Amazon Brock is bit of a draw.

Twitter Brock is the real problem. I’ve befriended too many counter-cultural types with complicated platforms and messages, and they would just smother my score. Also, measuring all of this is a real issue in a country that doesn’t have a single political party. Under Bush, I would be guilty of Credit Treason and under Obama I would be … fine-ish. But what would happen if I was rocking a solid Obama 780 Score when Trump gets handed the White House? Does the scale of patriotism flip over night, or would America need to stick to more general rules?

The structures in place for America wouldn’t allow for this to happen overnight, but if you don’t see this as at least a fragment of what we’re headed for then I’m going to preemptively dock you 100 points. That’s right: the future of Democracy may look like an episode of @Midnight and if you want to keep your vote, you’ll need more American flag pins in your selfies.

Related Tags