From Gamified Commercialization to Gamified Activism – A Scholarly Text Critique

*In my pursuit of further education I am enrolled in a course on games and learning. Part of the expectations for this course is to take ownership of my learning and explore the connections between games and learning for myself, this blog post is a continuation of the documentation of my learning.

The first few months of 2017 have been a time of mulling over and realigning my priorities, and my independent research for my Games and Learning class reflect this change in priorities. I launched into this course’s independent research looking to support and strengthen my classroom teaching practice, but as the semester has continued my preoccupation with the current political climate has shown up in my independent pursuits. I have been using my article critiques and play journing to be playful with ideas of activism and games. For this article critique I have found a powerful text from Micah White, PhD,  a leading thinker in the field of political activism and the co-creator of the Occupy Wallstreet movement. His piece, From KillCap to WikiSwarms; Gaming and activism combine, appeared in Adbusters magazine, which is a not-for-profit magazine focused on fostering a de-commercialized society, and a publication that White is an editor of.

White leads off his discussion of activism and games by sharing a condensed history of gamification and commercialization. White asserts that corporations are using gamification techniques to make commerce more playful and to therefore further commercialism in society.  I agree with this statements about consumerism in today’s society as corporations use marketing promotions, social media, advertisements, “viral videos” to make buying products a game and owning products as badges for success. The twitter feed from Wendy’s fast food restaurant is an example of this playful approach to selling products.  

wendys 1

These playful tweets humanize the cooperation and if they go viral they become the subject of clickbait stories that expand the range of Wendy’s marketing reach and support the selling of more burgers.

wendys 2

These actions of mixing gamified techniques in commercialization shift the focus away from what economic actions are necessary for healthy, happy lives to winning the commercialization game or, as shown with the Wendy’s example, aligning oneself with the winning corporate team. The gamification of commerce makes the corporation the dungeon master providing the gold stars and badges to consumers who become game players trying to master the corporation’s game. White suggests that the script can be flipped, in playful ways, and a collective of loosely connected activists can take charge of the game to slow or stop what White calls the corporatocracy. Thus the individual’s identity can be changed from a player with little control over the design of the commercialization game to a player/designer hybrid in the activism game.

The player/designers in activism games have the opportunity to question the role of commercialism and corporations in society and have a chance to actively participate in a new narrative that redefines the power structure between individuals and corporations in the consumer economy. White supports, as the first step moving from commercialization games to activist games, the construction of video games and simulations that give users the opportunity to explore roles as activists through games and suggests that independent producers will be creating these games. In my independent research I have seen examples of these independently developed games that give a user a digital world simulation of specific acts of civil disobedience, and have written about them in previous blog posts. Games that come from independent producers give the user a perspective of an individual that has first hand connection to a given cause, providing the user exposure to the values of those individuals, not the values of corporations.  

Beyond games that are simulations of activism White suggests that activism movements themselves can be gamified. In the article White share the model of organizing direct action used by WikiSwarms where, users vote on a target corporation, then determine the action to take and even develop a message that they are sending, just like a flash mob. I love this on-demand protest organization but I worry, however, that with flash mob style direct action the novice users will not have the benefit of an experienced mentor. Who could advise about the physical world consequences for those participating in political actions that break the law. I would propose a similar activist organized flash protest game that is integrated with a legal bot that gives a novice activist the ability to simulate possible legal outcomes for proposed protests. Legal bots are messenger application chat bots, powered by legal databases, that users can ask legal questions to and get answers from, LawBot, for example, is a tool developed by Cambridge University students.


Connecting with a legal bot will give another layer of knowledge for the user to protect them from partaking in protests and civil disobedience without understanding possible consequences.  

From Gamified Commercialization to Gamified Activism – A Scholarly Text Critique

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