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Research capsule

Hidden behind the game…

The digital world has been a fertile ground for the emergence of gamification, the process by which the mechanics of game playing and the state of mind it induces in users are used to lead them towards certain objectives.

The misuse of game playing raises several ethical, communicational and social issues.

First appearing in the retail sector, for example with loyalty cards, which allow customers to accumulate points with every purchase, gamification has made its way into other areas of activity including education, work and health. The explosion of social media has only added to the phenomenon. This misuse of game playing raises several ethical, communicational and social issues, as shown by the work of Maude Bonenfant, a researcher in the Department of Social and Public Communication at Université du Québec à Montréal.

A certain type of gamification is based on a behaviourist approach. It seeks to change behaviour in exchange for material rewards (points, money) or immaterial rewards (approval of others, feeling of success). However, it always imposes a norm, and therefore an ideological model, defined by the designers of the game strategies. At work, for example, seemingly playful applications such as RepTivity and DueProps stimulate competition between employees to increase sales and productivity. They thereby promote the normalization of a vision of the economic system that is centred on accumulation, efficiency and productivity.

Furthermore, in the digital universe, gamification is often used to keep individuals connected in order to produce data that will be used to more accurately profile them. Users are also encouraged to voluntarily share information in exchange for an application that makes an aspect of their daily lives more fun. This leads to the creation of new monitoring tools, in which gratification and pleasure conceal power relationships. Maude Bonenfant’s work highlights the importance of studying this growing phenomenon in order to identify the underlying ethical dilemmas.