Gamification and Work

Just found Heather Chaplin’s critique of gamification in Slate. I was most powerfully moved by her argument that Jane McGonigal’s claim that gamification of work can provide a solution to the problem workers feeling dissatisfied with their lives can overshadow other reasons workers feel discontent, such as poor wages, etc.

What she misses is that there are legitimate reasons why people feel they’re achieving less. These include the boring literal truths of jobs shipped overseas, stagnant wages, and a taxation system that benefits the rich and hurts the middle class and poor. You want to transform peoples’ lives into games so they feel as if they’re doing something worthwhile? Why not just shoot them up with drugs so they don’t notice how miserable they are? You could argue that peasants in the Middle Ages were happy imagining that the more their lives sucked here on earth the faster they’d make it into heaven. I think they’d have been better off with enough to eat and some health care.

I think these issues in placating workers by treating their work as a game long pre-dates video games. Any effort at morale-building using tokens, rewards, competition, scoreboards is basically gamification of work. This is an on-going project in instrumentalizing the human sciences to adjust people to the lives they lead, ones in which they too often find themselves powerless and bored. Digital gamification, in particular, is just the cyberculture iteration of this, old wine in new bottles.


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