Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 152, Issue 1, pp 27–39 | Cite as

Gamification of Labor and the Charge of Exploitation

  • Tae Wan KimEmail author


Recently, business organizations have increasingly turned to a novel form of non-monetary incentives—that is, “gamification,” which refers to a motivation technique using video game elements, such as digital points, badges, and friendly competition in non-game contexts like workplaces. The introduction of gamification to the context of human resource management has immediately become embroiled in serious moral debates. Most notable is the accusation that using gamification as a motivation tool, employers exploit workers. This article offers an in-depth analysis of the moral charge of exploitation. This article maintains that there are no clear grounds for believing that gamification of labor is exploitative and that if gamification of labor involves a wrong or vice, it must be something other than exploitation.


Gamification of labor Gamification ethics Labor relations The ethics of human resource management Incentives Motivation Exploitation 


  1. Arnerson, R. J. (1981). What’s wrong with exploitation? Ethics, 91, 202–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnold, D. G. (2003). “Exploitation” and “the sweatshop quandary”: Exploitation by Alan Wertheimer; The Sweatshop quandary: Corporate responsibility on the global frontier by Pamela Varley. Business Ethics Quarterly, 13, 243–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arnold, D. G. (2010). Working conditions: Safety and sweatshops. In G. G. Brenkert & T. L. Beauchamp (Eds.), The oxford handbook of business ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Arnold, D. G., & Bowie, N. E. (2003). Sweatshops and respect for persons. Business Ethics Quarerly, 13, 221–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Arnold, D. G., & Bowie, N. E. (2007). Respect for workers in global supply chains: Advancing the debate over sweatshops. Business Ethics Quarterly, 17, 135–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bogost, I. (2011a). Persuasive games: Exploitaionware. Retrieved from Gamasutra:
  7. Bogost, I. (2011b). Gamification is bullshit. Retrieved from The Atlantic:
  8. Bogost, I. (2014). Why gamification is bullshit. In S. P. Walz & S. Deterding (Eds.), The gameful world: Approaches, issues, and applications. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Brenkert, G. G. (1983). Marx’s ethics of freedom. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  10. Brousell, L. (2015). How DirectTV used gamification to overcome the fear of failure. Retrieved from CIO:
  11. Buss, S. (2013). Personal autonomy. Retrieved from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  12. Carse, J. (1986). Finite and infinite games: A vision of life as play and possibility. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, G. A. (1979). The labor theory of value and the concept of exploitation. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 8, 338–360.Google Scholar
  14. Cohen, G. A. (2008). More on exploitation and the labour theory of value. Inquiry, 26, 309–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 59, 661–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Deardorff, N. (2015). Future of EdTech 101: Automation, curation and gamification. Retrieved from Forbes:
  17. Deloitte. (2012). Deloitte review. Deloitte.Google Scholar
  18. Deloitte. (2013). Tech trends 2013: Elements of postdigital. Deloitte.Google Scholar
  19. Deterding, S. (2014). The ambiguity of games: Histories and discourses of a gameful world. In S. P. Walz & S. Deterding (Eds.), The gameful world: Approaches, issues and applications. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Deterding, S. (2015). The lens of intrinsic skill stoms: A method for gameful design. Human-Computer Interaction, 30, 294–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. E. (2011a). From game design elements to gamefulness: Defining “gamification.” In MindTrek ‘11 Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments. New York: ACM.Google Scholar
  22. Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. E. (2011b). Gamification: Toward a definition. In Proceedings of the ACM SIGCHI. Vancouver: ACM.Google Scholar
  23. Donaldson, T. (1994). When integration fails: The logic of prescription and description in business ethics. Business Ethics Quarterly, 4, 157–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Duggan, K., & Shoup, K. (2013). Business gamification for dummies. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons Inc.Google Scholar
  25. Edery, D., & Mollick, E. R. (2009). Changing the game: How video games are transforming the future of business. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  26. Elster, J. (1986). Karl Marx: A reader. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ferguson, C. J. (2007). The good, the bad, and the ugly: A meta-analytic review of positive and negative effects of violent video games. Psychiatry, 78, 309–316.Google Scholar
  28. Ferguson, B. (2013). The paradox of exploitation: A new solution. London: London School of Economics PhD Dissertation.Google Scholar
  29. Fleming, N. (2012). Gamification: Is it game over? Retrieved from BBC Future. Google Scholar
  30. Goodin, R. (1986). Protecting the vulnerable: A re-analysis of our social responsiblities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  31. Goodin, R. (1988). Reasons for welfare: Economic, sociological, and political-but ultimately moral. In J. Moon (Ed.), Responsibility, rights & welfare: The theory of welfare state. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  32. Grant, R. W. (2002). The ethics of incentives: Historical origins and contemporary understandings. Economics & Philosophy, 18, 111–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Grant, R. W. (2012). Strings attached: Untangling the ethics of incentives. Peinceton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Greenwald, M. (2014). Gamification in everything: The range and when and why it’s so effective. Retrieved from Forbes:
  35. Greenwood, M. R. (2002). Ethics and HRM: A review and conceptual analysis. Journal of Business Ethics, 36, 261–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Greenwood, M. R. (2013). Ethical analysis of HRM: A review and research agenda. Journal of Business Ethics, 114, 355–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Guyer, P. (2006). Kant. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hamari, J., Koivisto, J. & Sarsa, H. (2014). Does gamification work? A literature review of empirical studies on gamification. In Proceddings of the 46th Hawaii International Conference on System Science. Google Scholar
  39. Herger, M. (2014). Enterprise gamification: Engaging people by letting them have fun. EGC Media.Google Scholar
  40. Hill, T. E., Jr. (1973). Servility and self-respect. Monist, 57, 87–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hill, T. E., Jr. (2000). Respect, pluralism and justice. New York: Oxford University.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kant, I. (1990). Foundations of the metaphysics of morals. (L. W. Beck, Trans.). New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  43. Kim, T. W. (2015). Gamification ethics: Exploitation and manipulation. In Proceedings of ACM SIGCHI Gamifying Research Workshop. Google Scholar
  44. Kim, T. W., & Werbach, K. (2016). More than just a game: Ethical issues in gamification. Ethics and Information Technology, 18(2), 157–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Knowledge@Wharton. (2011a). Can gamification advance to the next level? Retrieved from Knowledge@Wharton:
  46. Knowledge@Wharton. (2011b). The dangerous side of online gaming. Retrieved from Knowledge@Wharton:
  47. Korsgaard, C. M. (1996). The sources of normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Korsgaard, C. M. (2009). Self-constitution: Agency, identity, and integrity. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Kramer, M., Simmonds, N. E., & Steiner, H. (2000). A debate over rights: Philosophical enquiries. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Kücklich, J. (2005). Precarious playbour: Modders and the digital games industry. The Fibreculture Journal, 5.Google Scholar
  51. Latham, G. P. (2005). Work motivation theory and research at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 485–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Latham, G. P. (2012). Work motivation: History, theory, research and practice (2th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.Google Scholar
  53. Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1990). Work motivation and satisfaction: Light at the end of the tunnel. Psychological Science, 1, 240–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lopez, S. (2011). Disneyland workers answer to ‘electronic whip.’ Retrieved from Los Angeles Times:
  55. Marx, K. (1867/1976). Capital (Vol. 1). (B. Fowkes, Trans.). New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  56. Megget, K. (2014). SMARTECH: Gamification is no longer child’s play Retrieved from PharmaTimes:
  57. Merrett, R. (2014). Macquarie university takes gamification to new level. Retrieved from CIO:
  58. Mollick, E. R., & Rothbard, N. (2014). Mandatory fun: Consent, gamification and the impact of games at work. The Wharton School Research Paper Series.Google Scholar
  59. Mollick, E., & Werbach, K. (2014a). Gamification and the enterprise. In S. P. Walz & S. Deterding (Eds.), The gameful world: Approaches, issues and applications. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  60. Mollick, E., & Werbach, K. (2014b). Gamification and the enterprise. In S. P. Walz & S. Deterding (Eds.), The gameful world: Approaches, issues and applications. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  61. O’Neil, O. (2002). Autonomy and trust in bioethics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Plummer, D. C., Bona, A., Steenstrup, K., Marriott, I., Casonato, R., Lapkin, A., et al. (2013). Gartner’s top predictions for IT organizations and users, 2013 and beyond: Balancing economics, risk, opportunity and innovation. Gartner.Google Scholar
  63. Powell, B., & Zwolinski, M. (2012). The ethical and economic case against sweatshop labor: A critical assessment. Journal of Business Ethics, 107, 449–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Putnam, H. (2004). The Collapse of the fact/value dichotomy and other essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  65. PWC. (2012). Technologyforecast. PWC.Google Scholar
  66. Rawls, J. (1971). A theory of justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Raz, J. (1986). The morality of freedom. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  68. Rey, P. J. (2012). Gamification, playbor & exploitation. Retrieved from The Society Pages:
  69. Rey, P. J. (2014). Gamification and post-fordist capitalism. In S. P. Walz & S. Deterding (Eds.), The gameful world: Approaches, issues, and applications. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  70. Robertson, M. (2010). Can’t play, won’t play. Retrived from Hide&Seek:
  71. Roemer, J. E. (1985). Should marxists be interested in exploitaton? Philosophy & Public Affairs, 14, 30–65.Google Scholar
  72. Sample, R. (2003). Exploitation: What it is and why it’s wrong. Lanham, ML: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  73. Selinger, E., Sadowski, J., & Seager, T. (2014). Gamification and morality. In S. P. Walz & S. Deterding (Eds.), The gameful world: Approaches, issues, and applications. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  74. Sicart, M. (2013). The ethics of computer games. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  75. Sicart, M. (2014). Playing the good life: Gamification and ethics. In S. P. Walz & S. Deterding (Eds.), The gameful world: Approaches, issues, and applications. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  76. Snyder, J. (2009a). Efficiency, equity, and price gouging. Business Ethics Quarterly, 19, 303–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Snyder, J. (2009b). What’s the matter with price gouging? Business Ethics Quarterly, 19, 275–293.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Snyder, J. (2010). Exploitation and sweatshop: Perspectives and issues. Business Ethics Quarterly, 20, 187–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Snyder, J. (2013). Exploitation and Demeaning Choices. Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 12, 345–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Steers, R. M., & Shapiro, D. A. (2004). The future of work motivation theory. The Academy of Management Review, 29, 379–387.Google Scholar
  81. Steiner, H. (1984). A liberal theory of exploitation. Ethics, 94, 225–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Valdman, M. (2009). A theory of wrongful exploitation. Philosopher's Imprint, 9(6), 1–14.Google Scholar
  83. Walz, S. P., & Deterding, S. (2014). The gameful world: Approaches, issues, and applications. Cambridge: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  84. Werbach, K. (2014a). Gamification. Retrieved from Coursera:
  85. Werbach, K. (2014b). ( Re)defining gamification: A process approach. Persuasive Technology: Lecure Notes in Computer Science (Vol. 8462, pp. 266–272).Google Scholar
  86. Werbach, K., & Hunter, D. (2012). For the win: How game thinking can revolutionize your business. Philadelphia: Wharton Digital Press.Google Scholar
  87. Wertheimer, A. (1992). Unconscionability and contracts. Business Ethics Quarerly, 2, 479–496.Google Scholar
  88. Wertheimer, A. (1996). Exploitation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  89. Wertheimer, A. (2011). Rethinking the ethics of clinical research: Widening the lens. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  90. Wertheimer, A., & Zwolinski, M. (2012). Exploitation. In: E. N. Zalta, (Eds.), Retrieved from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
  91. Wolff, J. (1999). Marx and exploitation. The Journal of Ethics, 3, 105–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wood, A. (1999). Kant’s ethical thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wood, A. (2004). Karl Marx (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  94. Wood, A. (2011). Humanity as end in itself. In D. Parfit & S. Scheffler (Eds.), On what matters (Vol. Two). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  95. Zicherman, G., & Linder, J. (2013). The gamification revolution: How leaders ieverage game mechanics to crush the competition. Rockefeller: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  96. Zichermann, G. (2012). The coe of gamification ethics. Retrieved from GCO: Gamification corp.
  97. Zwolinski, M. (2007). Sweatshops, choice, and exploitation. Business Ethics Quarterly, 17, 689–727.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Zwolinski, M. (2008). What’s the matter with price gouging? Business Ethics Quarterly, 18, 347–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Zwolinski, M. (2009). Price gouging, non-worseness, and distributive justice. Business Ethics Quarterly, 19, 295–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Zwolinski, M. (2012). Structural exploitation. Social Philosophy and Policy, 29, 154–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tepper School of BusinessCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations