Gamifying the World- The Link Between Gamification and Capitalism

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In recent modern day society there has been a peculiar new obsession with gamifying each aspect of our lives;  Classrooms, sales, small businesses…  Gamification is growing and becoming imbedded into the more practical aspects of life.  It’s an unusual phenomenon.  In this blog post I want to relate what we have talked about in class to gamification, providing a viewpoint of why this might be happening and a couple different perspectives as to what this means.

So what exactly is Gamification?  Essentially, it is turning everyday activities into games.  Gamification usually involves a point system.  That is, doing good work will earn you more points and doing sub-satisfactory will earn you less.  It might reward a student in a class for achieving a certain pre-set goal (the same structure as our “Concept of Power” class).  It also incorporates competition,  Using co-workers and colleagues as measurements of ones own success. Competition has always been an inherent part of both human nature and games.  Having employees or teams compete creates a drive and a passion for higher performance. The overall result from gamification is a heightened work ethic.  People become more passionate, efficient, and work harder.

In Chattanooga, TN,  a young up and coming company has already hopped on this idea.  Ambition, also known as “fantasy football for sales teams,” helps other companies “Gamify” their workspace.  Using their computer and phone software, companies are given the customized lay-out needed to effectively turn work into a game, and ultimately create a more efficient work-force.  They use peer competition, scores,  teams, and a leader board  system. Ambition has found much success in this industry as well.  They have won awards, and also secured some pretty substantial clients.  You can learn more about Ambition on their website here.

What is it about this concept of gamification that is so appealing and effective?  In a world where work has become monotonous, industrious, and autonomous, one could say that gamifying people’s lives returns a lost sense of accomplishment.  People need a relevant goal to achieve in order to feel passionate about what they do, and games help inspire that.  However, In Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism, the author uses “the machine” as a unique analogy that might serve as an excuse to why people prefer games over work.

The “machine” as Weber describes it arose from asceticism– with its radical view on efficiency and productivity.  As time passed, however, the spirit of asceticism left, while its ethos did not.  The religious drive that helped this lifestyle become complete and balanced has disappeared with time.  What society is left with is the machine– an unstoppable, inescapable influence over mankind which forces those born into it to adjust with the ways in which society is run.  The hard-working, profit-producing spirit of capitalism still remains, as Weber states “‘doing ones job’ cannot be directly linked to the highest spiritual and cultural values.” (Weber 121).

From this viewpoint, we can see how gamifying might be a coping mechanism for one’s lack of purpose in society.  Humans are trapped in this mechanical society, but no longer are able to make work a part of their inherent values.  As a result, working loses its meaning, and people begin to half-heartedly do their jobs.  Gamification returns the meaning to work by giving work a more relevant factor.  Through achievement and competition, gamifying peoples lives makes them feel in control and effectively battles the machine which Weber describes.

Another interesting, somewhat funny, viewpoint that should be considered is from that of a Marxist.  This is a pretty obvious point, but not one people may think about often; that a company like Ambition serves only the bourgeoisie by re-sparking the good little capitalist in all the proletarians of society; all for the sole purpose of making more profit for themselves. The illusion that gamification’s purpose is to make our lives more pleasant is only a front for an opportunity to make large corporations more money.  I mean….. the slogan of Ambition IS “Ambition makes companies more money.”  Moreover, not only is Ambition serving the bourgeoisie, but they themselves are making a huge profit off of their business, creating a classic, ironic circle of bourgeoisie winningness.

Personally, I chose to write about this because I feel gamification, on some level truly does have a connection to the trapped state in which lower working classes are found. Obviously my thoughts are up to interpretation.  Whether gamification is a coping mechanism to deal with the way in which society is run, or simply another economic tool to benefit the bourgeoisie, or both, there is something about the relation between gamifying work and our society as a whole that is relevant to us and fascinating.  Please comment and share your own opinions of this subject!

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3 Responses to “Gamifying the World- The Link Between Gamification and Capitalism”

  1. skylifesw Says:

    Gamifying work does returns meaning to work. I would like to point out that what game here means is to involve in a contest and a competition. Gamification of work highlights and intensifies the already present competitive nature of production and any business-oriented activity. However, the bigger question is, what does it mean to be so productive and to earn so much? Is it to knock down everyone else so that we become the winner? Is that something that makes one happy, thus everybody is trying to defeat others to make themselves happy? Or is it because the possession of wealth is something that people view as admirable and privileged, that’s why people want to be rich so that others will admire them? The Puritans wanted to be productive because they think that is an act of glorifying God. If my assumptions above are possible reasons, then the fact that people want to earn a lot now, way more than enough to keep themselves alive, is because of the notion of being better than other people, which makes them feel good.
    The exact reason for each individual to be so productive may vary. I think we could interpret “Game” slightly differently. Instead of creating competition, which make people tensed and resentful towards each another, we could “gamify” our work so that it becomes something of amusement or entertainment. We could tell ourselves: working is so fun, let us all work and have fun! There are people who consider the sort of thing they do for their job amusing and fun. How we get everyone to think working is fun is a problem, but I am sure they would love working if it is so fun because most people enjoy having fun.

  2. gmackin Says:

    I think Sam’s comment gets at what I’m trying to do with the structure of the course. It’s partly a matter of amusement, which in turn should make the work more fun and interesting.

    However, Given’s original post also highlights something else at work here. Part of what’s going on in “gamifying” a class is that the goal is to give you (the student) more control over assignments and content. The hope is that you’ll find something in the class you like and want to pursue further. In this regard, the class is trying to move away from a kind of “top-down” structure: I don’t “force” you to do many assignments; rather, you choose how you want to accumulate points. But in some sense, this is also a bit of a ruse. As Foucault is going to argue, the form of power at work in this course might in fact be even more potent and insidious than a more traditionally authoritarian (top-down) organization. I don’t have to force you to do anything; you end up ruling yourself; all I end up doing is making sure that you rule yourselves in the right way. So what’s happening here is not a relaxing of power, or the increase of freedom; it might instead be an increase in power, so much so that it no longer needs to be exercised openly. Or so one might argue. Stay tuned for Foucault….

  3. akolot Says:

    I think this post brings up an interesting point about the spirit of capitalism and its effects on our identity. Interestingly enough, gamification is evidence of how the capitalist spirit makes its way into our leisure time. When we agree to partake in gamification we basically agree to a set of rules that are strongly based off of the motivation to become more dilifent and consider opportunity costs when seeking accumulation of profit. This is deeply rooted in a Protestant ethic that work is valued above all and that good behavior, rationality, and efficiency leads to good credit. Therefore the motivation of the game deeply reflects on capitalist values. Thus, I would go so far to say that agreeing to participate in gamification is a way to create a covenant between ourselves and those who create the rules, that is, our employers, teachers, etc – namely those in power.

    It’s interesting that to point out the difference in the role of community in gamification between Marxism and capitalism. The motivation in gamification is based on the point system and teamwork, while in Marxism the motivation for good work is to benefit the community. While gamification in capitalism encourages a group of autonomous, competitive workers to work together. The stress of the autonomous capitalist worker is that of acquiring money/success and therefore having a strong reliance on the bourgeios. The worker must compare him/herself in order to establish personal standards and prove is worth in society, whilst the Marxist worker’s value is already established as someone who is responsible for the cohesiveness and wellbeing of the community.

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