In many of the reactions to Gamification is Bullshit, both in the comments on this site and in responses elsewhere, a common objection is raised. It goes something like, “you’re just afraid of unfamiliar uses of games.” Here’s a particularly odious version of that argument, by Libe Goad on ZDNet today:

I often wonder if Bogost’s and other game makers’ real beef with gamification is that it’s taking their art form and using it for something other than making video games, specifically those designed for adolescent males.

It’s hard to imagine someone for whom this accusation applies less than me. It’s a sloppy mischaracterization. I’ve spent years advocating for and making games for so many purposes. Persuasive Games is about rhetoric, politics, education, and yes, even marketing. Newsgames is about how to use games in newsmaking. My new book How to Do Things with Videogames is about the varied and multitudinous uses of videogames, and how those varied uses make them a mass medium.

This accusation of anxiety of appropriation—nothing could apply to me less. And there’s no hypocrisy in holding the positions I do simultaneously. Just because games can be used for many purposes doesn’t mean any one individual, myself included, has to embrace all of those purposes. In fact, it would be rather strange if it turned out that way.

Among the dangers of exploitationware (I’m going to take my own advice and stop using the g-word) is its potential to overtake all other approaches to using games outside entertainment, rhetorically speaking. As with most verbal framing successes, this happens without its speakers even noticing. Here’s Goad lumping together social games on Facebook, “serious games” like Spent, and incentive programs all under the same moniker:

We’ve seen people use gamification to get and stay healthy, as a way to understand what it’s like for poor families to survive month-to-month and, in the case of social games, as a way to interact with friends and family who may not be available to casually meet up and grab a cup of coffee.

This is precisely the rhetorical trap I predicted. We do not want just two categories of games. Instead, we want a large variety…and then we want to consider each of them on their own merit, not as some winner-takes-all lottery. To combat exploitationware, we must refuse to allow it to set the terms of all discussions about games. Instead, we must find and culture specific examples and domains, and to discuss them their merits—or their faults. This process will necessarily involve many disagreements, and such disagreements are a sign of health rather than illness.

published August 15, 2011


  1. Nick LaLone

    I have been thinking about the disconnect between those who play and love video games (gamers) and those who hate games (psychologists – I jest). It seems to me that this rhetorical gap begins there.

    It’s such a strong opposition that I have encountered near physical violence when I tried to bring it up to either side of the pole.

    Exploitationware has seemed like a unique compromise but I feel like it is quickly getting shuffled to the people who hate games side and it’ll just end up strengthening the opposition rather than getting the two sides to talk.

    I wonder what it would take to stop that.

  2. buhrmi

    Brainexploitification! Uh. “Gamification” and “Art Form” used in the same sentence. Sad world to live in.

  3. Glenn

    I would say there are sensible ways to apply gameplay to internal and external business practices; ways that could dramatically change the workflow and culture of any company for the better. But exploitationware is not the way to go about it.

    The popular definition of exploitationware, even among its detractors is: the use of gameplay elements for non-game applications.

    So now that the rhetorical trap has been sprung (as evidenced by all the misinterpretations of Bogost’s opinion), I think a more narrowed definition for exploitationware is required. Any suggestions?

  4. Olivier

    How timely: I was searching for the right word to describe those games. Exploitationware is an excellent term! Thanks!