Given my interest in labor and employment law, I thought I would spin out some of the consequences and issues that surround the gamification of work. I’d classify the gamification of work into four categories. First, some gamification is designed to sell copies of more in-depth gaming software or to keep eyeballs fixed on a social networking site or another Internet website for longer periods of time. This is making customers do “work” by generating value for the company. Second, gamification may be designed to alleviate tedious and repetitive work tasks by making them more engaging through a gaming mechanism. This could include matching different players or including a reward for a task well-done. Third, some gamification of work occurs without anyone necessarily knowing about it – people may just believe they are playing a game or doing some other innocuous task, when they in fact really are working. Fourth, the last form of gamification involves the converse of the third form, where workers are hired to play video games for others – often utilizing labor from the Third World. This last form is known as goldfarming.
For now, let me skip to category #2. We’re all intuitively familiar with dreading a work task that we think is going to be stressful or boring, but then, with the right colleagues, support, or attitude adjustment, the work becomes easier than we originally contemplated. It is true that many workers find the “daily grind” incredibly boring and repetitive. If there were a way to structure such jobs to be more like a game, it might lead to people feeling much happier and more satisfied with their work.
That’s the optimistic view, of course. Gamification, like many technologies, is neutral. Its promise (or peril) all depends on its implementation. One could imagine a scenario in which work is turned into a competitive type of game, with adverse employment action against the “losing” employees. Such a high-stakes game could be be far from fun – indeed resulting in extreme stress for workers. So what kinds of games should we play at work? Should we look at incentives for winners rather than penalties for losers? These are some of the important questions in designing games for work.