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gaming the system

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Gaming the system is manipulation or exploitation of the rules designed to govern a given system in an attempt to gain an advantage over other users.

Black hat SEO methods, such as keyword stuffing, are an attempt to game the search engine’s system for ranking websites.   It’s recommended, for example, that a website’s title and URL contain the most relevant, descriptive keyword for the content and that a page’s text should include terms likely to be used to search for such content.  Overuse of keywords and other black hat SEO methods are designed to make a site appear higher up on a search engine results page (SERP) than it would naturally, gaining an advantage over sites that should, by rights, outrank it. However, because the page is written for a bot rather than a human, when someone clicks the link they may not find very useful information.

Similarly, the actions of patent trolls are an attempt to game the system established to protect the rights of legitimate patent holders. Such companies, which are more formally known as patent assertion entities (PAEs), obtain large volumes of patents and make money from launching patent infringement suits.

In the New York Times, Catherine Rampell wrote about a case in which computer science students at Johns Hopkins University gamed the professor’s grading system.  Professor Peter Fröhlich’s system was to award an A to the student with the highest mark on an exam and to adjust lower marks accordingly. The students reasoned that if no one took the test, all marks would be zero, and because the highest mark was zero and all marks were identical, every student would be awarded an A. Although that attempt to game the system was successful, Professor  subsequently revised his grading system, stipulating that if all students receive a zero, that will be their grade. Fröhlich also reserves the right to award all students zero percent if he suspects another attempt to game his marking system.

 

See also: game theory, gamification

This was last updated in September 2013

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