Video Games At Work? It Sounds Fun, But There Are Ethical Risks

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Gaming might be thought of as a fun and frivolous hobby. The video game industry generates huge amounts of money , but it does little to improve the world.

However, recent developments are changing this view. Increasingly, organisations are using video games to address real issues , like energy reduction or water conservation. The UN has even developed an online game called Mission 1.5 to help tackle the climate crisis .

This approach is referred to as “gamification” . Gamification is meant to generate the same sense of purpose and accomplishment we might feel when we are playing video games, but with a different kind of outcome – like saving the planet. And it is also being used to affect how people work .

Many companies have been trying to make the workplace more playful for decades, with table tennis or board games available in recreational areas. Some have even invited staff to develop their collaboration and communication skills using LEGO .

But gamification is different. Instead of absorbing employees in a standalone game, gamification imposes a digital“game layer” on a particular job.

For example, when an Amazon worker plays the fantasy video game Dragon Duel , they are also actually doing their normal work – in this case, selecting items from warehouse shelves and preparing them for delivery.

The idea is that by adding a game layer to work, gamification can make boring tasks less tedious. But beyond this, gamification promises to make work intrinsically rewarding. The aim is to turn work into an“autotelic activity” – something that is done for its own sake, entirely for its own reward.

This would make working more like a hobby, such as dancing or rock-climbing, or indeed, playing video games. Most people do these activities because they are inherently enjoyable, not because of an external motivator like money or status.

Research in psychology has linked autotelic experiences to individual wellbeing . Put simply, we feel good when doing things we truly want to do.

This is an idea that dates back to Aristotle . For Aristotle, happiness (or what he called“eudaimonia”) involves engaging in an activity that serves its own end. Aristotle thinks that philosophy is the most autotelic activity because it involves contemplation for its own sake.

More recently, the psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi made a similar point about play. Play, for Csíkszentmihályi, is the ultimate autotelic activity , through which we enter a“new reality” that is rich, intense, and meaningful – a zone of optimal experience . In this zone, Csíkszentmihályi said, we will be able to reach a state of deep enjoyment and total involvement.

This is where gamification comes in. Gamification is an attempt to redesign work around autotelic principles which, so the theory goes , will boost morale and engagement among staff. Employees may be more likely to experience their job as intrinsically motivating if work feels more like playing a game. The hope is that gamification can make workplaces happier and more humane.

Ethical risks

But there is a dark side to gamification . Critics suggest it is often poorly designed and implemented.

For example, a business-oriented video game will probably not resemble the kind of sophisticated video games that people have become used to playing in their free time.

This is why some commentators have gone as far as saying that gamification is“bullshit” – because it fundamentally misunderstands what makes games so appealing in the first place.

But our recent research highlights deeper problems with gamification. Despite its playful promise, gamification can actually be used as a way of disciplining and controlling workers . The games may be monitored and tweaked so that they quickly become a digitally enhanced version of“scientific management”, a system that seeks to maximise efficiency through analysis and measurement.

Gamification is not a benign technology that induces happiness, or eudaimonia. On the contrary, it is often a managerial strategy to optimise output while hiding its true intentions behind a video game smokescreen.

The problem with gamification is that it makes employees feel that their work is more meaningful – without it actually becoming so. Gamification is like a sticking plaster for low morale and engagement. It covers up the problem but fails to address the root cause.

Fun and games? Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

In fact, gamification may obscure (and further entrench) systemic issues, such as poor pay, intrusive surveillance, and hazardous working conditions. And it can hinder true critical reflection on what meaningful work might involve and how it might be achieved.

A happy workplace cannot be engineered through digital technologies like gamification. Research suggests that what makes work meaningful is being surrounded by colleagues who have a genuine interest in you as a person – and not as a digital avatar or a competitor on a leaderboard.

The Conversation


The Conversation

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