Gaming the Quantified Self

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Jennifer R. Whitson


By their nature, digital games facilitate surveillance. They allow for the compilation of statistics, internal states, and rules to be recorded, thus hiding many of the internal workings from the players and making the games much more complex. This digitization makes it much easier to collect player data and metrics, and then, as a process of function creep, to use this data in new and innovative ways, such as improving the user experience, or subtly shaping users' in-game desires and behaviours. Increasingly, these practices have moved from non-game spaces into social networking sites and spaces of play.

The "gamification" movement is benefiting from the increasing sophistication of such metrics. Gamification combines the playful design and feedback mechanisms from games with users' social profiles (e.g. Facebook, twitter, and LinkedIn) in non-game applications explicitly geared to drive behavioural change (e.g. weight loss, workplace productivity, educational tools, and consumer loyalty). As critics point out, gamified applications rely on the points, leaderboards, and badges often seen in games, but are not games in themselves (Deterding 2010; Bogost 2011). Advocates of the gamification movement - including Al Gore in a recent Games for Change keynote - argue that this monitoring and feedback makes difficult tasks more playful and enjoyable (McGonigal 2011; Gore 2011). However, the marketing and political discourse of using games to change behaviour in positive ways is quite different from messy actualities rooted in advertising, consumption, and intrusive user monitoring. The current potentials to ‘gamify’ life have incited debate on whether the spread of these points based systems heralds playful utopias or dystopic surveillant societies run by corporations and advertisers.

This paper highlights the rise of gamification and the implications for surveillance studies. In particular, it focuses on describing the increasingly intrusive monitoring practices are propagated under the banner of fun and play.

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How to Cite
WHITSON, Jennifer R.. Gaming the Quantified Self. Surveillance & Society, [S.l.], v. 11, n. 1/2, p. 163-176, may 2013. ISSN 1477-7487. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 july 2017.
Surveillance; Gamification; Games; Governance