Gamification. Shifting Boundaries between the Ludic and the Non-Ludic

Project: Research

Project participants

  • Fuchs, Mathias (Project manager, academic)
  • Pias, Claus (Project manager, academic)
  • Raessens, Joost (Partner)
  • Bogost, Ian (Partner)


The permeation of today's society with metaphors, methods, and components stemming from the world of computer games has recently been labeled "gamification." This project intends to revise the understanding of this phenomenon critically on the basis of cultural-historical and media-studies research. We will for the first time conduct comprehensive research on predigital precursors of gamification and will work out how far cultural determinants about the distinction of ludic vs. non-ludic serve as a reference for what can be gamified and how this happens. In what respects do digital media make a qualitative difference? If gamification is a sign of the times and a signature of digital cultures, what are its genealogical roots?To answer these questions we focus on three key periods. 1) In the 18th century, lotteries were legalized, ludic composition methods and a ludification of everyday practices emerged.2) Victorian Dandyism showcased a new type of self-presentation and techniques of the self as a form of predigital gamification, at least for a privileged social group.3) The conceptual phase of the personal computer and home computing will be systematically analyzed in regard to the dynamics of demarcation lines between the ludic and non-ludic domains. Our research is guided by the question of whether the main conceptual designers of the PC considered it a "playful apparatus" and a "mediatic a priori" for future digital cultures. Based on this we extend the current state of research that is mainly concerned with issues of marketing, productivity, and health beyond the limits of optimization potential and frame gamification theoretically within cultural history and media studies. The main goals of the project are therefore:i) To frame theories of play and games in a historical context and to develop a genealogy of contemporary gamification from its precursors. ii) To reconsider systematic boundary shifts between ludic and non-ludic domains in light of the birth of the personal computer and its technological and media-theoretical foundations. This includes the conceptualization of a methodological procedure for the comparison of the boundary shifts that happened in the 1970s and those that happened in the 18th and 19th century. The method will be put to the test by analyzing phenomena such as the project of "aesthetic education," "paidia"-based versus adult-world acquisition, the spoilsport as a social figure, and further types of interaction.iii) To outline precisely how the gamification phenomenon, which is incorrectly said to be new, is in fact part of the theory formation and a development of practices that resulted from interaction with methods, materials, and apparatuses in the long run. We intend to offer a new understanding of gamification at the intersection of the materiality of digital games, the emergence of theories of games and play, and ramifications in regard to historic boundary shifts that facilitate gamification.

Research outputs