“Fifteen Million Merits”: Gamification, Spectacle, and Neoliberal Aspiration

  • Mark R. Johnson


In the Black Mirror (2011–) episode “Fifteen Million Merits”, we see a reality where life’s commodities (and pleasures) are purchased through “merits”. This is a digital currency earned through drudgery made palatable via trivial interactive games that reframe, in pleasant and light-hearted ways, the monotonous labour. This makes the episode a valuable site for exploring two phenomena: “gamification” (the application of game systems to non-game contexts) and live streaming (the live online broadcast of video content). In the first case, the episode explores an extreme potential future of gamification, where all of life’s activities have been subsumed into “fun” systems, each of which tethers an increasingly fatuous or childish veneer to increasingly crushing drudgery. In the second case, the episode examines the digital celebrity which can be accrued by doing extreme things live on air—as in real-world live streaming—and how such seemingly rebellious acts can be captured and transformed into normalised labour activities for those who perform them. This chapter thereby brings together scholarship on gamification and live video game streaming to examine a striking episode of the series, and what it can show us about the ongoing blurring of labour, play, and celebrity, in a world of increasing media convergence.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark R. Johnson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada

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