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Getting Played: Gamification and the Rise of Algorithmic Surveillance

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Freshly published in the journal Surveillance and Society is an essay I wrote exploring my observations on the broader rise and discussion surrounding gamification. In the essay I reflect on the rhetoric surrounding the rise and the broader systems at play during the period, which had a significant impact on how game developers reacted to the idea.

Gamification, the idea that game mechanics can be integrated into assumed “non-game” circumstances has gained ascendance amongst champions of marketing, behavior change and efficiency. Ironically, some of the most heated critique to gamification has been the broader community of “traditional” videogame developers. Connecting broadly to projects surrounding “big data” and algorithmic surveillance, the project of gamification continues to expand and intensify. This paper examines the complex relationship between game designers and the rise of arguments in support of gamification. The essay presents an analysis of the various actors and interests mobilizing arguments, deconstructing their underlying assumptions about the relationship between games and social phenomena. Turning to an analytic framework rooted in Actor-Network Theory (Latour, 1999) and work in Game Studies on the Assemblage of Play (Taylor, 2009) and emergent forms of (played) control (Taylor, 2006) the essay critiques assumptions on either side of the debate on the role of games and play. The strained connections between debates on gamification and broader interest in serious games offers an important moment to explore algorithmic surveillance.

Get the PDF for Free Over at the Journal’s Website

About Casey O'Donnell

Casey O'Donnell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University. He is part of the games faculty and Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) lab at MSU. He is also part of the game development collective Affinity Games. His research examines the creative collaborative work of videogame design and development. This research examines the cultural and collaborative dynamics that occur in both professional "AAA" organizations and formal and informal "independent" game development communities. His research has spanned game development companies from the United States to India. His research examines issues of work, production, copyright, as well as third world and postcolonial aspects of the videogame development workplace.

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