Game Research

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Gamifying the perfect employee – A zombie in the organisation?

The paper “Gamifying the perfect employee – A zombie in the organisation?
by Mikolaj Dymek was presented at the 36th Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism and the 7th Australasian Caucus of the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism conference, August 17-20 2018, Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan

This paper explores zombies as a rewarding avenue of inquiry on the notion of so-called gamification within organisational settings, and in particular as analogy for its users and players – the organisational strive to mold the “perfect employee” transmutes its characteristics into that of the zombie. The analysis centres on implicit and explicit conceptualisations of gamification players/users (Hibbert, 2003; Ayllon and Azrin, 1968; Kazdin and Bootzin, 1972; Asplund, 1987) in gameful/playful systems such as organisations (Huotari and Hamari, 2017), as a departure point, to propose that many assumptions of players/users are based on generalisations that reduce the nature of the player/user to the point of dehumanised subjects with voracious and simplistic driving forces, which lends itself to analogies of “zombification” of users.

Academic critique of gamification is extensive – and the frequent analogy of zombification is a pop cultural trope that this paper explores and applies as an rewarding avenue of inquiry. However, the paper stresses that frequently laudatory gamification researchers and practitioners are fully aware of this trend’s shortcoming – as are the millions of (semi-)active participants. How do we reconcile this growing divide between the practitioners/academic proponents of gamification, and the opposing academic criticism with accompanying “zombification” arguments?

This paper turns to the the very use of “analogies as interpretive venues of sensemaking” within management, film, media, literary – and game studies – by claiming there’s a certain level of fatigue. What does “gamification as zombification” mean – beyond the analogy? A hypothesis of “slippery chrome referents” is presented – “objects/referents without delineated signifieds/concepts, or definitions, but simultaneously a
profound source of cascading meaning and sensemaking”, which is eminently applicable on the notion of gamification. This is a notion that lacks consensus regarding theoretical empirical definition, is heavily criticised – but still attracts believers, proponents and millions of participants.

Is there a zombie in the organisation then? It’s certainly not the employee, not
gamification trend as such, but the “slippery chrome
referents” (such as gamification)!

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