ENQUIRE PROJECT DETAILS BY GENERAL PUBLIC

Project Details
Funding Scheme : General Research Fund
Project Number : 11600817
Project Title(English) : All Play and No Work? The Ideas and Realities of Gamification 
Project Title(Chinese) : 只玩耍不用功?遊戲化的理念與現實 
Principal Investigator(English) : Dr Leino, Olli Tapio  
Principal Investigator(Chinese) :  
Department : School of Creative Media
Institution : City University of Hong Kong
E-mail Address : otleino@cityu.edu.hk 
Tel :  
Co - Investigator(s) :
Dr Aarseth, Espen
Dr Moering, Sebastian Martin
Panel : Humanities, Social Sciences
Subject Area : Humanities and Arts
Exercise Year : 2017 / 18
Fund Approved : 283,000
Project Status : Completed
Completion Date : 31-12-2019
Project Objectives :
Devise a theoretical model of gamification outlining the conditions under which it can be described as possible (e.g. what kind of understanding of ‘play’ or ‘games’ it would necessitate), based on a synthesis of insights on the relationship between play and non-play, and, games and non-games in existential philosophy, play theory, and computer game studies.
Provide a (road)map of the current field of gamification by cataloguing examples of existing applications of gamification into a new typology to be developed according to two dimensions: contextual (e.g. field of application, popularity) and structural (e.g. use of ‘game mechanics’ or ‘game design patterns’) properties. Identify, using the typology, prototypical examples for further analysis.
Provide a critical reflection on the phenomenon of gamification by analysing the prototypical examples identified. Contribute to gamification discourse by contextualizing the findings in relation to real-world practice through exchanges with gamification designers. Contribute to wider debates in play theory, new media- and game studies by describing what gamification can teach us about studying technological gameplay. Explicate how our methodological approach could be replicated / built upon by others.
Abstract as per original application
(English/Chinese):
Traditionally play and games have been understood as frivolous, creative, free, separate from everyday life, and standing in contrast to productive activities like work and education. Many are familiar with the thrilling excitement of taking risks on a whim, knowing that it’s “only a game”. Recently, a movement often referred to as ’gamification’, or, ’ludification’, i.e. the use of game elements in non-game contexts, has emerged, promising that the ‘magic’ of game-playing could be added into productive activities to make them more enjoyable, efficient, and productive. Conference talks on gamification have garnered millions of views on Youtube, and, sparked an ever-growing body of professional literature, instructing how to radically transform productive activities. While design practitioners and engineers have embraced gamification and published a number of interdisciplinary anthologies, there are no humanities-based scholarly monographs theorizing gamification and its implications. Vocabulary for a critical study of gamification is lacking, and many questions distinguishing between ideas and realities of gamification have not received the attention they warrant. Is it without problems to harness play, with all the frivolity it entails, to serve the concerns of production and efficiency? Would it not undermine the very nature of play as an ’oasis of happiness’? Is blending of play and non-play theoretically possible? If not, what actually happens when an activity is ’gamified’? Does gamification make actual use of established ‘game mechanics’? Does gamification have something to teach us about technological play and games? Theorizing gamification seems to involve addressing the liminality between play and non-play, and so touches upon questions regarding the role of play in human endeavors. We propose project resulting in a theoretically and empirically grounded critical review of gamification and in a methodological approach that can be repeated by others. Our expertise and track record in computer game studies, existential philosophy, and play theory seems very well suited for answering the above questions. Work is structured into four phases, where subsequent phases validate the preceding ones: theoretical model-building based on synthesis of existing insights, cataloguing examples of gamification into a typology, case studies of relevant examples, and reflection. Considering gamification as ‘test case’, we will also shed light on other contemporary forms of technological play such as “free-to-play games”, and, on established work/play hybrids, such as “serious” and “educational games”, gambling, and professional (e-)sports. Our findings will also help practitioners and policymakers to explore what can be realistically expected from gamification’s transformative capabilities.
傳統上,嬉戲行為與遊戲本身常被認為是自由的、有別日常生活,而且與工作和教育等生產活動形成鮮明對比。許多人都熟悉這種跟從一個怪念頭冒險而又驚又喜的感覺,明白到它最終「只是一場遊戲」。近年,一場常被稱為「遊戲化」(gamification 或 ludification)的風潮開始冒起:把遊戲元素用於非遊戲場合,期待遊戲「魔力」的注入,可以令生產活動的過程更加愉快,而且更有效率與成果。然而於人文學術範疇,關於遊戲化的理論研究與應用至今鮮見。用於遊戲化批判性研究的詞彙有限,而且很多區分遊戲化理念與現實的問題亦欠缺應得關注。利用遊戲所蘊含的隨意性,去達至生產與效率的目標,這真的沒有問題嗎?本項目將提供一個遊戲化的理論與實證研究基礎理論的批判性探討。
Realisation of objectives: As documented in the mid-term report, we found that while the concept of 'gamification' helps uniting researchers from various traditions across disciplinary borders, it has little theoretical traction in the context of humanities. During the first stage of the project, we argued that the experiential qualities of play are often very similar to those of work, i.e. they can both be 'boring' in a similar fashion, and, players, like workers, can long to 'downshifting' from the demands of the game. Following the developments noted in the mid-term report, in the second year of the project we continued work under the revised three objectives, by focusing the project on the ontology of play, games and work from a theoretical and philosophical perspective. This warranted a closer investigation of the assumed differences and similarities between play and work, not only in regard to the subjective and experiental qualities, but also concerning with the nature of the game object involved. Rather than focusing solely on those examples labelled outright as "gamification", we looked at a wide range examples which blur the boundaries often associated with play and work, including but not limited to: playful and serious, outside and inside concerns of society, useless and productive, expression and purpose. This translates to computer games that are boring, computer games which make carnival out of real-life politics, games which seek to unite people together rather than separate them through competition, experiences and attitudes of the player running counter to the intentions in the game artifact, players who play not for winning but for others to see, etc. Due to these reasons, the roadmap of gamification described under objectives 2 and 3 remain underachieved. This theoretical and philosophical orientation reflects a scaling back of ambitions due to exceptional circumstances during the social unrest in Hong Kong in 2019 (albeit which now compared to Covid-19 seem much less strenuous than at the time!), during which it was difficult to carry out research in crowded places populated by young people. Hence, the plan for producing a monography within the timeframe of this project was not feasible and we did not hire an RA for this purpose. Thus, we are returning about 70% of the allotted RGC budget.
Summary of objectives addressed:
Objectives Addressed Percentage achieved
1.Devise a theoretical model of gamification outlining the conditions under which it can be described as possible (e.g. what kind of understanding of ‘play’ or ‘games’ it would necessitate), based on a synthesis of insights on the relationship between play and non-play, and, games and non-games in existential philosophy, play theory, and computer game studies.Yes100%
2.Provide a (road)map of the current field of gamification by cataloguing examples of existing applications of gamification into a new typology to be developed according to two dimensions: contextual (e.g. field of application, popularity) and structural (e.g. use of ‘game mechanics’ or ‘game design patterns’) properties. Identify, using the typology, prototypical examples for further analysis.Yes35%
3.Provide a critical reflection on the phenomenon of gamification by analysing the prototypical examples identified. Contribute to gamification discourse by contextualizing the findings in relation to real-world practice through exchanges with gamification designers. Contribute to wider debates in play theory, new media- and game studies by describing what gamification can teach us about studying technological gameplay. Explicate how our methodological approach could be replicated / built upon by others.Yes65%
Research Outcome
Major findings and research outcome: First, we investigated the relationship between play and work, and how these activities can be described as intertwined especially in the context of what the Belgian philosopher Michel Feher has called the "neoliberal condition", a world in which self-fashioning and identity-building have turned subjects into "entrepreneurs and investors in themselves". We found that this intertwined nature of play and work is also reflected in the themes of many triple-A mainstream games, such as "Animal Crossing: New Horizons" and "PC Building Simulator", and building on Feher and the German media archeologist Claus Pias, we speculated that the wide acceptance of these and similar titles may be due to their resonance with the challenges and demands the young generation of players is facing in their everyday lives. Assuming that Feher's "neoliberal condition" is an accurate description of contemporary society, it follows that the play/work distinction, which served play theorists like Huizinga and Caillois and their contemporary followers, well for a century, may no longer apply. Games feel like working, and, employers would like employees to feel like they are playing. This creates a set of messy relationships, into which computer games, as commercial products needing to be marketed and consumed, can tap by replicating patterns previously associated with work. This thread of research is documented in the DiGRA 2019 paper "Games on Working, Games on Gaming, Working on Games, and Games on Working on Games: On the self-referentiality that entangles neoliberal play and work". Second, we approached the ontology of play/work from the player's perspective, theorising the relationship between a game's player and its designer. Given the interactive and ergodic (Aarseth 1997) nature of computer games, they require non-trivial effort from their players. Describing this non-trivial as 'labour' raises the question of fairness of the compensation received by the player-labourer. We asked whether the player can "own the game" through their in-game actions, and found that paradoxically the player and the designer can be described as being in diametric opposition to each other, and this tension cannot be resolved. This thread of research is documented in DiGRA 2019 "God is a Game Designer" and the DiGRA 2020 paper "The Tragedy of the Art Game". We also evaluated the flexibility of the player's position as a player-labourer: whether the attitudes and perspectives the player can overcome the impossibility of "owning" the game. This resulted in a model of two positions for the player: the naïve and the sentimental. This is documented in the paper "Computer Game as Potentiality: The Naïve and the Sentimental Player" in the proceedings of Process, Performance and Mediation: New Paths for Intermedia Studies 2020, and, in the paper "On Naïve and Sentimental Player: Rethink the Potentiality of Computer Games" in the proceedings of Chinese DiGRA 2020. Third, we investigated the nature of games and play as "remediated" (Bolter & Grusin), repurposed, and reappropriated into productive activities. For this purpose, the notion of "performance" turned out to be very useful. This not least because of its double meaning in the context of games: apart from the obvious performativity dimension, it also signifies measurement and evaluation - traits found in both games and work. We evaluated work-like, 'boring' games, through their involvement in various forms of performance, and investigated the potential of the human player's agency in realising a performance using a computer game. This strand of research is documented in the chapter "Performing Profound Boredom in Euro Truck Simulator 2", published in the LUDIFIED anthology (in press).
Potential for further development of the research
and the proposed course of action:
We are continuing our research on the ontology of play/work with S. Möring, and are currently in the process of turning the DiGRA2019 paper on self-referentiality into a journal article. The research on the double meaning of 'performance' in the context of games and work opened a new avenue of research which resulted in a GRF proposal in the 2021/22 round.
Layman's Summary of
Completion Report:
Gamification is usually understood as the attempt to make productive activities more engaging by introducing playful or game-like qualities into them, thus increasing productivity. At the time of its emergence a couple of decades ago this concept was revolutionary, and even sounded oxymoronic to those versed in play theory, as it tried to combine things that are not combinable. Through theoretical and philosophical research into the ontology of play (and work), in this project we investigated contemporary examples, which blur the assumed border between play and work, ranging from boring computer games replicating patterns of work, into attempts of using computer games in artistic performances. We argue that while games and play on the one hand, and work on the other, have traditionally been considered as significantly different, if not even diametrically opposed, in today's context, where according to the philosopher Michel Feher, everyone has become an "investor in themselves", play and work resemble each other to the extent that the concept of 'gamification' has become almost tautological.
Research Output
Peer-reviewed journal publication(s)
arising directly from this research project :
(* denotes the corresponding author)
Year of
Publication
Author(s) Title and Journal/Book Accessible from Institution Repository
2021 Hao, Yu  Gamenvironments 13, 257-289. (ISSN 2364-382X) University of Bremen, Germany.  No 
2021 Leino, O.T.  M. Ciciliani, B. Lüneburg, A. Pirschner (eds.): LUDIFIED - Artistic Research in Audiovisual Composition, Performance & Perception. Berlin: The Green Box. ISBN 978-3-96216-004-3  No 
Recognized international conference(s)
in which paper(s) related to this research
project was/were delivered :
Month/Year/City Title Conference Name
Singapore Commodified Technological Play/Work: gamification, free-to-play, eSports  Digital Colosseums: Competitive Video Gaming as Mass Entertainment 
Copenhagen Escape from C-D Road: On the value of boredom in Euro Truck Simulator 2 multiplayer  Philosophy of Computer Games 2018 Conference 
Kyoto God is a Game Designer Accelerating ‘Existential Ludology’  2019 DiGRA International Conference - Game, Play and the Emerging Ludo-Mix 
Kyoto Games on Working, Games on Gaming, Working on Games, and Games on Working on Games: On the self-referentiality that entangles neoliberal play and work  2019 DiGRA International Conference - Game, Play and the Emerging Ludo-Mix 
Lund, Sweden (online) Computer Game as Potentiality: The Naïve and the Sentimental Player.  Process, Performance and Mediation: New Paths for Intermedia Studies 
Tampere, Finland Computer Games as Social Sculptures: Toward a Reevaluation of the Social Potential of Games and Play  DiGRA 2020: Play Everywhere. 
Ningbo, PRC (online) On Naïve and Sentimental Player: Rethink the Potentiality of Computer Games.  Chinese DiGRA 2020 
Tampere, Finland The Tragedy of the Art Game  DiGRA 2020: Play Everywhere. 
Other impact
(e.g. award of patents or prizes,
collaboration with other research institutions,
technology transfer, etc.):

  SCREEN ID: SCRRM00542