Rika’s Lair – The “Gamification” of Submission

I hope you have been enjoying Rika’s Lair, my monthly column dedicated to thoughts and experiences regarding power dynamics in Service-Oriented D/s relationships. Look up “Ms. Rika” in the search box above for links to all of my articles in KinkWeekly! This month, I wanted to share some ideas I originally introduced in my second book, “Uniquely Us” regarding a trend that I’ve seen in our culture. It’s a phenomenon that plays in our everyday life, and it’s having an impact in the way people are viewing their D/s dynamics…perhaps in a way that undermines the long-term success of our relationships.

In our online experiences, we live in a world of advertising-based compensation, where the experience is free for the visitor and advertisers pay the way, in exchange for being able to post their marketing information where you’ll see it. This is the old TV methodology, which has been reborn (after a temporary death due to cable TV) in the digital world and is prevalent in online gaming, intranet-based businesses, and online sites, like KinkWeekly and FetLife. This has created the need for new techniques, designed to assure visitors continue to return to the site, where they can be repeatedly exposed to the advertisements. The industry term is “Attract and Retain“.

One of the trending techniques, is called “Gamification“. It’s the introduction of game-related artifacts (e.g., badges, rewards, goals, “likes”, etc.) into a situation that isn’t really a game. The goal of gamification is to make a “challenge” out of an experience; with small, achievable, usually free, measurements and rewards, designed to provide the feeling of success that encourages people to stay with the program. The advertisers recognize that people tend to have short little spans of attention that require short-termed successes in order make them desire to return. Games fit the bill.

It started to dawn on me that there are a lot of folks seeking to “Gamify” power dynamics. As an observation and not a generality, I’ve noticed that this tendency seems to be more prevalent in the men I meet. I’ve seen a lot of discussion of “Point systems”, “Goals”, “Rewards”, “Consequences”, etc. – The belief is that you will obtain better submission by offering artificial, obtainable, objectives into play, to encourage a submissive to raise their level (or “Level-Up”). They can amass “points” and eventually exchange them for something desirable.

Here’s the issue: Gamification plays to the sub-centric mind and encourages sub-centricity – since obtaining objectives and short-termed wins is all about the player. These objectives shift the sub’s focus from the long-term, practical objective of serving one’s partner, onto the immediate, tangible, short-termed measurements of the game. In short, the objective becomes about “achieving” rather than “providing”. It is very easy for a sub to lose sight of the ultimate objective of their submission – the pleasure obtained by providing the best possible service they can to their chosen dominant – as they turn their attention to “beating the game” and earning rewards for themselves.

I’ve started to realize that the major objective of my approach to D/s; that of dominant-centric submission; deliberately avoids the gamification of power dynamics. The focus of my methodology is on providing for the dominant. As you already know if you’ve read my previous articles or my books, I don’t use rewards or punishments, but rather put the emphasis on communication and expectation. I push away the notion of empirical measurement and encourage the practices of dominant-centered assessment and feedback, where the measurement of success for the submissive is purely the subjective opinion of the dominant. The dominant’s generosity drives reward (gifts/treats), as subs cannot “earn” them by achieving specific goals. My approach is about improvement of service over the long-haul, not short-term gain. It’s about evolving into the best submissive for a unique

dominant, rather than achieving a set of goals / thresholds. Gamification works against those dominant-centric tenets. It distracts a submissive in a way that is decidedly sub-centric. I advise against it.

I’ve had to consider this position carefully…because gamification is a highly successful, proven technique. There is no denying the effectiveness of stimulating dopamine, the body’s neurotransmitter most commonly associated with the brain’s pleasure and reward system (in some games, you earn points that are actually called, ‘Dopamine Packs’). We feel good when we achieve. Whether we are products of our environment, or simply vulnerable to the “immediate gratification mentality”, people respond very well to games (and again, as an observation, more men than women). However, the downside is that playing games makes the benefit to the dominant a secondary consideration, and dilutes the imbalance of power within the dynamic.

Some people feel that, “If it works, do it” …and that’s fine, but I fear there is a cost. Is a person who plays the game and achieves within the reward system, REALLY engaged? Is their submission based in reality or just artificially, within the scope of the game? Will they eventually bore of the game or move on to another one? As a dominant, do you have to keep raising the stakes to maintain the submissive’s interest? What about the quality of their submission; is the highest quality of service obtained when it is intended to serve the preferences of the dominant, or when it is self-serving?

From my perspective the answer to these questions are straight forward. I don’t want to be served as part of a game, I want to be served as part of our reality. Being a game-keeper is more work for me, which is certainly not desirable. Plus, I refuse to have to play within the rules of a game to be a dominant.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Respond in the comments below, or write to me at Ms_Rika@hotmail.com…or do both! I look forward to hearing from you.

– Rika.

Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A- Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”.


  1. genderbender101 says:

    interesting topic and perspective

  2. laceandpearls says:

    never thought of this before

    • Great! Agree or disagree, my goal is to stimulate thought. Glad to have stirred the pot a little! 🙂 – Rika

  3. Dear MS Rika,
    As a submissive, I am inclined to agree with Your thorough analysis. “Gamification” sounds like a bad idea, although in nearly 20 years of having several FemDommes with various tastes, that never came up, so my opinion is just that, having no personal experience with it. I always saw my first duty as obedience, and then learning what She wanted and needed and fulfilling those wants and needs as fully as I could. It seemed to work. The several “breakups” always had to do with outside factors, not from within the D/s relationships themselves.

    dougie aka madpoet451

    • Thanks for that Dougie! The next time you’re in a relationship with a dominant woman try this slightly different approach: Instead of making your first duty “obedience”, make it learning exactly what that unique woman feels best served by. Perhaps it’s obedience, perhaps it’s anticipatory service, perhaps it’s a brat (although I doubt it). The point is, good submission is whatever it is considered to be good, by the dominant being served. So don’t assume “obedience”…it may not be your particular dominant’s preference. Be a student first. Learn what your dominant prefers…then do THAT!
      – Rika

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