All Play and No Work? The Ideas and Realities of Gamification

Project: Research

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Traditionally play and games have been understood as frivolous, creative, free, separatefrom everyday life, and standing in contrast to productive activities like work andeducation. Many are familiar with the thrilling excitement of taking risks on a whim,knowing that it’s “only a game”. Recently, a movement often referred to as ’gamification’,or, ’ludification’, i.e. the use of game elements in non-game contexts, has emerged,promising that the ‘magic’ of game-playing could be added into productive activities tomake them more enjoyable, efficient, and productive. Conference talks on gamificationhave garnered millions of views on Youtube, and, sparked an ever-growing body ofprofessional literature, instructing how to radically transform productive activities.While design practitioners and engineers have embraced gamification and published anumber of interdisciplinary anthologies, there are no humanities-based scholarlymonographs theorizing gamification and its implications. Vocabulary for a critical studyof gamification is lacking, and many questions distinguishing between ideas and realitiesof gamification have not received the attention they warrant. Is it without problems toharness play, with all the frivolity it entails, to serve the concerns of production andefficiency? Would it not undermine the very nature of play as an ’oasis of happiness’? Isblending of play and non-play theoretically possible? If not, what actually happens whenan activity is ’gamified’? Does gamification make actual use of established ‘gamemechanics’? Does gamification have something to teach us about technological play andgames? Theorizing gamification seems to involve addressing the liminality between playand non-play, and so touches upon questions regarding the role of play in humanendeavors.We propose project resulting in a theoretically and empirically grounded critical reviewof gamification and in a methodological approach that can be repeated by others. Ourexpertise and track record in computer game studies, existential philosophy, and playtheory seems very well suited for answering the above questions. Work is structured intofour phases, where subsequent phases validate the preceding ones: theoretical model-buildingbased on synthesis of existing insights, cataloguing examples of gamificationinto a typology, case studies of relevant examples, and reflection.Considering gamification as ‘test case’, we will also shed light on other contemporaryforms of technological play such as “free-to-play games”, and, on established work/playhybrids, such as “serious” and “educational games”, gambling, and professional (e-)sports. Our findings will also help practitioners and policymakers to explore what can berealistically expected from gamification’s transformative capabilities.


Project number9042588
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1823/12/20