Gamification and Post-Fordist Capitalism
The Gameful Word: Approaches, Issues, Applications
Eds. Steffen P. Walz and Sebastian Deterding
Publication Date: 2015
Work and play have not always been distinct phenomena. However, as Western civilization transitioned to capitalism, work became synonymous with alienation. Unlike play, alienated labor is not intrinsically rewarding, and it is certainly not fun. For this reason, Marx once observed that “as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague.” Yet, capitalism is not static; it has proven remarkably flexible in adapting itself to new circumstances. Alienation is simply a means of achieving capitalism’s true purpose: i.e., the accumulation of wealth via exploitation. Alienated labor, however, has its limits. Individuals are psychologically capable of handling only so much alienation. Moreover, the material abundance associated with consumer society makes it increasingly difficult to convince individuals that so much alienated labor is justified when our basic needs are so easily met. So, while alienated labor was still an intrinsic feature of consumer capitalism, (Post-Fordist) capitalism has developed in a different direction: It seeks to exploit the kinds of activities that people already do voluntarily (e.g., socializing and play). Gamification is one such process native to Post-Fordist capitalism that implodes the distinction between work and play (itself originally exaggerated by capitalism) to create the new phenomenon that some have termed “playbor.” By introducing exploitation into play and then masking that exploitation, gamification creates a historically unique situation where workers enjoy highly exploitative activities. In other words, gamification is theft with a smile.