"Gamification" is an increasingly popular con to trick people into doing horrible things by pretending they are fun games. From dieting apps that bestow badges on users for eating broccoli, to a "virtual incarceration system" that gives prisoners points for adhering to their house arrest, nothing is so unpleasant that bureaucrats and Silicon Valley thinktrepreneuers have been unable to gamify it. Unsurprisingly, the NSA is a big fan of gamification, expertly exploiting humanity's universal love of accumulating points and meaningless trophies in its quest to preserve the world's Facebook status updates and Google searches for future generations of spies.

German newspaper Der Spiegel has just published details of a 2012 internal NSA report dealing with the Agency's European Cryptologic Center (ECC) in Griesheim, Germany. According to the report gamification is a big part of the NSA's XKeyscore system, which allows the NSA to spy on pretty much anything a target does online.

From Der Spiegel:

To create additional motivation, the NSA incorporated various features from computer games into the program. For instance, analysts who were especially good at using XKeyscore could acquire "skilz" points and "unlock achievements." The training units in Hesse were apparently successful. ECC analysts had achieved the "highest average of skilz points" compared with all other NSA departments participating in the training program.

This actually sounds like a fun game:

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: "Bladder of steel." You have violated hundreds of millions of internet users' privacy without taking a single bathroom break. +100 skilz points.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: "Just following orders." You have absolutely no reservations about your role in maintaining the surveillance state's iron grip on its citizens. +200 skilz points.

ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: "Obfuscation nation." You successfully paid lip service to civil rights concerns over mass surveillance while avoiding any commitment to meaningful reform. +200 skilz points. (Available to President Class only.)

If they get the rights they can call it Edward Snowden: NSA 2013.

[Graphic by Sam Woolley]