Programming Note: Darts and Letters is off and retooling to relaunch in a new format early 2024.

EP44: Gamify Everything (ft. Sebastian Deterding, Paris Martineau & Mostafa Henaway)

Setting goals for the new year? Learning a language? Going for a run? Delivering food? Picking packages off a warehouse shelf for delivery? There’s a game for that. Or, at least, a gamified system designed to nudge you in a series of pre-programmed directions in the service of the state, techno-capitalist overlords, or any number of other groups and entities that chart the course of our hyper-connected, cutting-edge, dystopian 21st century lives. This week on Darts and Letters, guest host Jay Cockburn and our guests take us through gamification of…everything.

Also, on a quick programming note: host Gordon Katic is off this week and we are all off next week for the holidays. Happy holidays! We’re back ahead of the new year on our regular programming schedule.

  • First (@5:01), we met Dave from Knoxville, Tennessee, on a subreddit for Lyft drivers, though he also drives for Uber. He tells us how the rideshare companies use quests to keep their “independent contractors” on the roads.
  • Then, (@9:03) is gamification inherently dystopian? Not necessarily. Sebastian Deterding is Professor of Digital Creativity at the University of York and a translational designer. He knows gamification. Deterding tells us the long history of gamification (from Plato, to war games, to today’s app economy, and more), and explores the contrasting philosophies of gamification.
  • Next (@23:48), gamified workplaces sound like hellscapes. Paris Martineau is a journalist with the Information, where she covers Amazon. She dives into the gamified warehouse workplace, including PvP (that is, worker versus worker) showdowns, and the tracking and surveillance that comes with the territory.
  • Finally, (@28:26) it’s one thing to study or write about Amazon warehouses, but what is it like to work in one? Mostafa Henaway is a community organiser at the Immigrant Workers Centre and a PhD candidate at Concordia University who studies Amazon. He took his work one step further when he took a job in one of its Canadian warehouses. He brings us inside the bizarre system, from the automated application to the alienating, monotonous, minutely-surveilled-and-tracked warehouse floor.


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Darts and Letters was hosted and produced this week by Jay Cockburn, with editing from Gordon Katic. Our managing producer is Marc Apollonio. David Moscrop is our research assistant and wrote the show notes. Our theme song and music was created by Mike Barber, our graphic design was created by Dakota Koop, and our marketing was done by Ian Sowden.

This is a production of Cited Media. And we are backed by academic grants that support mobilizing research and democratizing the concept of public intellectualism. The founding academic advisor of the program is Professor Allen Sens at the University of British Columbia. This episode was also a part of a wider series looking at the politics of video games housed at the University of British Columbia and Waterloo University. It was given support by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Darts and Letters is produced in Toronto, which is on the traditional land of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat Peoples.

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