Could using games in the digital workspace be Machiavellian?


The “gamification” of work has been something of a hot topic lately. I’ve previously reported research out of USC claiming that good web workers and good gamers share a love of collaboration, innovation and bottom-line achievement. Meanwhile, my WWD colleague Aliza Sherman has written on how Rypple is using the gamification concept.

But not everyone is completely enamored of the notion of incorporating game-like elements in work and collaboration tools. The Intranet Benchmarking Forum blog, for example, recently ran a post by Steve Bynghall, of consultancy Two Hives, which suggests that the usefulness of the gamification idea has its limits. While he concedes that some companies are using the concept with great success, he believes it doesn’t work for everyone, noting:

Even if gaming techniques are now more subtly embedded within intranet design via social tools there is a sense that the extent to which they are used, and the subsequent noise you make about them, has to be appropriate for an organisation’s culture.

“Karma points” may not go down well in more conservative environments. Gamification is more likely to work in more relaxed cultures – for example in IT and media companies where traditionally there is a younger workforce – or in sales divisions where there is more formalised competition.

But, besides possible clashes with company culture, there are other more fundamental issues with gamification that Bynghall also highlights, including a sense that the whole idea may be, at bottom, a bit manipulative:

I can’t help thinking that “gamification” makes some intranet managers nervous. We may be some way away from the situation where you have to have a 74 percent rating on the “collaboration leader board” for you to unlock the functionality to be able to order sandwiches in advance from the staff restaurant.

To me the whole concept still sounds a little Machiavellian. It hints at a unique understanding of the psychology of user behaviour by those imposing it, but I wonder if anyone has actually asked the users for their thoughts?

Games, after all, are meant to be fun, so should team members start seeing game elements at work not as tools to help them be happier and more productive, but rather disguised directives from the higher-ups, they might lose some of their charm or even seem a bit sinister (a nasty mix of cheer and repression, like a creepy, aggressive clown).

For those with reservations about the “Machiavellian” aspect of using gamification for collaboration tools, another approach to putting games to use to get teams working better together might be a better fit. Author Dave Gray has a whole book out called Gamestorming, which offering ways to use play and games to help your team communicate better and unleash their innovation potential. Check out a podcast with Gray here if you’re intrigued.

How do you feel about efforts to incorporate elements of gaming at work – inspired, manipulated, creeped out?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Rad Jose, CC 2.0.



Machiavellian would be a compliment for gamification. It’s not subtle enough to be Machiavellain. Now in the US this might be considered motivatioanl. In Europe this would get you laughed out the door. Or people would consider it an insult. As if they are too infantile to learn how to do something.


Stimulating peoples activity and motivation is Machiavellian??? If so I guess the next step will be calling tasks and goals immoral and coaching illegal.


Great topic. I think it’s inspiring and could actually help change cultures in some aspects. But not if we only try gaming in the “right” culture. And as far as employees seeing gaming as disguised directives from the higher ups…that happens anyway. At least with this approach, the disguised directives could be fun and intriguing. Lastly, we make a living as communicators by understanding what appeals to different audiences. So I don’t by that “taking advantage” argument for a second.

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