Gaming the system (also gaming the rules, bending the rules, abusing the system, cheating the system, milking the system, playing the system, or working the system) can be defined as using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system in order, instead, to manipulate the system for a desired outcome.
According to James Rieley, a British advisor to CEOs and an author, structures in companies and organizations (both explicit and implicit policies and procedures, stated goals, and mental models) drive behaviors that are detrimental to long-term organizational success and stifle competition. For some, error is the essence of gaming the system, in which a gap in protocol allows for errant practices that lead to unintended results. Although the term generally carries negative connotations, gaming the system can be used for benign purposes in the undermining and dismantling of corrupt or oppressive organisations.
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The first known documented use of the term "gaming the system" is in 1975.
Henry Paulson, considering that the financial crisis of 2007-08 demonstrated that US financial markets had outgrown the ability of the system that had been used to regulate them, saw as a necessity a better framework than US financial markets had used before. This framework would be one that featured less duplication and that restricted the ability of financial firms to pick and choose their own, generally less strict regulators--a practice known as regulatory arbitrage, which enabled widespread gaming of the regulatory system.
A similar, contributing effect has been identified within corporate rating systems, where gaming the system becomes virulent when formalization is combined with transparency.
Designers of online communities are explicitly warned that whenever one creates a system for managing a community, someone will try to work it to their advantage. Accordingly, they are advised from the start to think like a bad guy and to consider what behaviors they are unintentionally encouraging by creating some new social rules for the community.
Parental divisions on child-rearing will always give the child plenty of opportunity to play one parent off against the other.Object relations theory stresses, however, that while, if a child finds one parent easy to get round, compared with the other who is trying to set limits, it is likely to take advantage of that split. According to this theory, this is always a hollow triumph; what the child is really hoping is that such parents will eventually begin to see a need to get together on the issue of limit-setting.
On the particular point of contingent feeding--offering treats on condition that a certain unpopular food is eaten--it has been specifically noted that contingent feeding encourages children to argue and practice gaming the system fighting over the fine print.
NHS dentistry in the UK sees the frequent use of "gaming the system" to describe the use of adapting treatment to the payment system, and is frequently referred to as simply "gaming". The practice of adapting treatment to payment systems, rather than clinical need, is thought to be widespread in NHS dentistry and is considered by some to be as a result of a poorly-planned target based system. The term is also used to describe obfuscation of the scope of NHS dentistry in order to "upsell" items of treatment that should be available.
A classic case of this existed before the 1980's where dentists were paid on a per filling basis for performing fillings on children's teeth (for which there was no charge to the child's parents). The dentist would lecture the child (and his parent(s)) on inadequate oral hygiene and perform half a dozen or so otherwise unnecessary fillings. This particular practice was eventually countered when the government changed the payment to dentists to a fixed fee regardless of the number of fillings, if any, performed. The NHS still bears some of the burden to this day of periodically replacing such fillings.
In performance management, gaming the system is finding ways to achieve good scores on performance metrics (for employees or departments) without achieving the aims of the corporation which the metrics were instigated to promote. This is related to the well-known problem inherent in incentive system design, in that people will tend to pursue incentives, even by means that make no common sense, should the incentive be naively constructed.
Eric Berne identified a kind of gaming the system in a clinical context through what he called the game of "Psychiatry", with its motto "You will never cure me, but you will teach me to be a better neurotic (play a better game of 'Psychiatry')." A few patients, he noted, carefully pick weak psychoanalysts, moving from one to another, demonstrating that they can't be cured and meanwhile learning to play a sharper and sharper game of 'Psychiatry;' eventually it becomes difficult for even a first-rate clinician to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Some people confuse "gaming the system" with "working the system". Gaming the system has a negative connotation, while working the system has a positive meaning. Working the system implies that one is using an understanding to work within the system to attain sets of goals that align, whereas gaming the system implies using this understanding to attain specific goals that don't align with the rest of a set of goals. Depending on the observers interest or preferred goals, this may be perceived as unfair or as an outcome for which the system was never intended. The cause of the difference between gaming the system and working the system lies in the existence of a (perceived) conflict between goals.
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