Ethical Gamification for a Sustainable Planet

If you struggled with this then check out my introduction to gamification. Most Fortune 500 companies now use gamification in attempts to engage audiences. However, experts claim eighty percent of businesses will get it wrong because they fail to consider their audience’s motivations and instead act out of coercive self-interest (cited in Burke, 2014 p….

If you with this then check out my introduction to gamification.

Most Fortune 500 companies now use gamification in attempts to engage audiences. However, experts claim eighty percent of businesses will get it wrong because they fail to consider their audience’s motivations and instead act out of coercive self-interest (cited in Burke, 2014 p. 9).

However, what gamification shows us is that it is possible for business goals to align with community goals and the deceptive tricks that have characterised public relations are not needed in order to achieve business success. By harmonizing the user’s intrinsic motivation with organisational goals, great outcomes are possible for all stakeholders. This video can elaborate:

Unfortunately, the main purpose of gamification in the era of surveillance capitalism seems simply to increase shareholder profits. Finding novel ways to colonize our attention and build user engagement does not have to come down to using coercive dirty tricks tied up in hidden terms and conditions. This scorched earth attitude has contributed to anthropogenic capitalism and does not make for effective communication and relationship-building between parties. Brian Burke in ‘Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things’ thinks ‘gamification is about motivating people to achieve their own goals, not the organization’s goals’ (cited in Burke, 2014 p. 9). Similarly, Jane McGonigal uses gamification to gather, collective intelligence and solve epic real-world problems by aligning group goals with individual users’ intrinsic motivations. This is the ethical approach that builds social harmony and sustainable capitalism.


Ethics have been described as ‘a set of standards of behaviour that help us decide the appropriate way to act in a variety of situations’ (Luttrell and Ward 2018 p.9).  Every profession has a moral purpose and for gamification communications practitioners this moral purpose involves addressing the crisis of engagement and building social harmony by identifying where organisational goals align with those of all stakeholders and presenting emancipatory futures. Taking ethical practices into gamification makes business sense and in a recent study, it was reported that 90 per cent of paying customers would move their business towards CSR practices and 89 per cent would consider boycotting unethical companies (Luttrell and Ward 2018 p. 18).

If you would like to explore some of the approaches to normative I wrote about in another article:

Critically Reflective Gamification

While it’s great to have a theoretical grounding, in ethics it’s not a one-way street. What’s really required is an integration of theory and reflective practice which builds expertise in consultation with others over time. Thompson and Thompson (2008) propose open reflective communication.

Dimensions of Open Reflective Knowledge

Tip: Click rights of use for image credits (or in the references page bottom)

Chinese Social Credit System as Closed Communication

One example of the misuse of gamification is how China’s coercive Social Credit System seeks to assign citizens scores, to socially engineer behaviour, and work against their own intrinsic motivations and interests. People are already routinely having their freedoms and ‘privileges’ to basic necessities taken away for having low social credit scores.  

Propaganda Games: Sesame Credit – The True Danger of Gamification by Extra Credits (CC 3.0 by YouTube)

Legacy of Unethical Communication Practice

Unethical communication is not a uniquely Chinese problem. The company responsible for the Chinese Social Credit Score is also one of the largest shareholders in Snapchat. And, we only need to look back to the beginning of public relations to see the ethical dilemmas which arise when organisations close off communication avenues. PR was ‘a practice built on propaganda, manipulation and outright lies’ and gamification risks falling into similar traps (Luttrell and Ward 2018 p.9). Edward Bernays is often regarded as the father of public relations and through ‘the engineering of consent’ (because people are too silly to decide for themselves). Bernays was responsible for smoke and mirrors campaigns like the one where women were convinced to take up cigarette smoking (Stauber & Rampton 1995). Counter to prevailing myths the real masters of business are not experts in separating people from their money but those who communicate shared goals openly.

Gamified Capitalism for a Sustainable Planet

Open reflective public communication includes all the stakeholders in making ethical decisions and works with corporate social responsibility (CSR) organisations to gamify capitalism towards emancipatory outcomes. When business identifies ethical goals, they share with their gamification audiences and then provide motivation to meet those goals, better business and human outcomes are possible. This is the gamification of capitalism for a sustainable planet.


My Reflections on Gamification

I have been continuing to develop my own ideas on my gamification hub page and blog posts. For the purposes of SEO and community building, I want a 1400-word hub-page of highly engaging content with links from external sources like Twitter, Pinterest, and my YouTube account forging connections. Similarly, I use both local (unit) and universal gamification hashtags to connect with this community through information exchange. I also use exclusively Creative Commons content or my own content an all pages.

Over the course of this unit, I have looked to build my competence and understanding of gamified media by engaging with course materials and collaborating with other students. Through praxis and critically reflective practices and the sharing of resources, I have participated in a lively process of capacity building on the topic of Gamification. On Twitter and found out about resources like the h5p gamification program and through interacting with others have passed these tips on. I have continued to develop my ideas as part of a learning community across many platforms and the learn by doing experience has been rewarding.

I chose ethics and gamification for this blog post because I wanted to create a resource which would continue to provide value for my readers and inform their practices over time, not as an expert but by encouraging in ways that can resonate universally by drawing on ethical theory. While expert theory is great what really matters is learning by doing and then mindfully reflecting on what you have done – both in action and on action. Expert knowledge often implies the old needle and syringe models of knowledge acquisition whereas critically reflective practice is grounded in progressive capacity building and I have tried to practice what I preach.
All my readers are on different learning journeys and this post was chosen as a place where all these journeys intersect with my own interests as well. I have currently installed some gamification WordPress extensions into my blog and am looking to provide readers with badges and other means to gamify the experience for them. Stay tuned.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Burke, B. 2014, Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things, Bibliomotion, New York

Chang, Chi-Cheng, Liang, Chaoyun, Chou, Pao-Nan & Lin, Guan-You 2017, ‘Is game-based learning better in flow experience and various types of cognitive load than non-game-based learning? Perspective from multimedia and media richness’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 71, June 2017, pp. 218-227.

Hamari, Juho & Koivisto, Jonna 2014, ‘Measuring flow in gamification: Dispositional Flow Scale-2’, Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 40, November 2014, pp. 133-143.

Luttrell, R. & Ward, J. 2018, Ethics in Public Relations, Rowman and Littlefieild, Maryland

Rushkoff, D. 2019, Team Human, Norton, New York

Stauber, JC & Rampton, S 1995, ‘Smokers’ hacks’, Toxic sludge is good for you: lies, damn lies, and the public relations industry, Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, pp. 25–32

Thompson, S. & Thompson, N. 2008, The critically reflective practitioner, Palgrave Macmillan, New York

My gamification components have been created using the Attribution 4.0 International licence (CC BY 4.0). Please contact by email if you would like to use them.

Page Images:

Page lead and graphic image: Business (CC0)

Gamified Drop Box Images: (There is only one space for referencing

Hands by Geralt (CC0 Public Domain)

Trump by heblo (CC0 Public Domain)

Video Credits:

Children winning by StartupStockPhotos

Computer Game by Pexels (CC0 Public Domain)

Children River by sasint (CC0 Public Domain)

Music in Video:

Technotica by Geoff Abraham (NCH Video Editor License)

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