In recent years, the trend of incorporating playful thinking and game elements within working processes has gained popularity among organizations and businesses. The rhetoric behind this phenomenon is anchored in newfound sources of worker empowerment, self-realization for employees and turning labour into a fun and enjoyable experience. This paper aims to critically analyze the practical and theoretical outcomes of gamifying labour by contextualizing such celebratory claims vis à vis technological opaque assemblages grounded in exploitation, surveillance and control.
While the appropriation of play for working and commercial purposes is nothing new, the rise of networked technologies used to automatically track, quantify and analyze worker behavior bring to the fore concerns about increasingly blurring of work and play, and the way in which productivity, motivation and labour politics are understood. But the instrumentatlization of play and games disrupts their “proper place” in society, generating liminal spaces that pack logics of empowerment and exploitation at the same time. By using several practical cases, this paper exemplifies the balance between the utilitarian and hedonic logics of gamification and the contradictory tensions between the empowering and exploitative motives behind its use.