Gaming the system

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Gaming the system (also referred to as 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.[1]

According to James Rieley, the American banker, 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.[2] For some,[who?] error is the essence of gaming the system, in which a gap in protocol allows for errant practices that lead to unintended results.[3]

First known documented use

The first known documented use of the term "gaming the system" is in 1975.[4]



Henry Paulson, considering that the financial crisis of 2007–08 demonstrated that our financial markets had outgrown the ability of our current system to regulate them, saw as one necessity a better framework 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[5] that 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.[6]


Designers of online communities are explicitly warned that whenever you create a system for managing a community, someone will try to work it to their advantage.[7] Accordingly they are advised from the start to think like a bad guy and to consider what behaviors you are unintentionally encouraging by creating some new social rules for your community.[8]

Others however would valorise the libertarian implications of the loophole, arguing that gaming the system, for all the harm it presents to the collective endeavour of a project such as Wikipedia, likewise marks a potential in its own right and emphasizes the continuing role of agency in the singular event.[9]


Parental divisions on child-rearing will always give the child plenty of opportunity to play one parent off against the other.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

NHS dentistry

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. [13] 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.


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')."[14] 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.[14]

See also

Further reading


  1. Joseph Potvin. "The Great Due Date of 2008, slide 5" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>(membership required)
  2. James Rieley (April 2001). Gaming the System: how to stop playing the organizational game and start playing the competitive game. ISBN 978-0-273-65419-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Mark Nunes[who?], Error (2010) p. 188
  4. 1975 Systems Engineering Conference Proceedings, Las Vegas, Nevada, November 19-21, 1975
  5. Hank Paulson, On the Brink (London 2010) p. 441
  6. M. Lounsbury/P. M. Hirsch, Markets on Trial (2010) p. 147
  7. Gavin Bell, Building Social Web Applications (2009) p. 274
  8. Bell, p. 274
  9. Nunes, p. 188
  10. Skynner, Robin; Cleese, John (1994). Families and How to Survive Them. London: Cedar. p. 221. ISBN 0-7493-1410-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Casement, Patrick (1997). Further Learning from the Patient. London: Routledge. p. 114. ISBN 0-415-05425-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Benaroch, Roy (2008). Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth Through Preschool. Westport: Praeger. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-275-99347-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Holden, A.C.L. (12 April 2013). "Justice and NHS dental treatment - is injustice rife in NHS dentistry?". British Dental Journal. 214 (7): 335–337. doi:10.1038/sj.bdj.2013.323. PMID 23579129.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Eric Berne, Games People Play (Penguin) p. 136
  15. "The irrational guide to gaming the system". Mind Hacks.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>