The Politics of Gamification: An Analysis of the Five Star Movement’s Online Platform Rousseau
Gamification is defined as the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. According to its advocates, through the use of tools characteristic of videogames such as points, badges and leaderboards, it could provide positive and engaging experiences, thus motivating individuals to behave in a particular way. But, despite the fact that is has been treated, like most contemporary technological innovations, as an unproblematically progressive force, gamification is not a politically neutral practice, but a product of particular cultural and political circumstances. In particular, while advocates praise the salvific force of gamification, it has been argued that it is inextricably linked with consumerization, surveillance and, above all, neoliberalism.
In the last years, gamification practices and tools have been employed the fields of marketing, work, education, and also – increasingly – politics. The paper aims to focus on the latter through the analysis of a case study: the Five Star Movement’s (FSM) online participatory platform Rousseau. Although the FSM began to make use of digital forms of decision-making in 2012, the platform Rousseau was officially created in 2015 and over time it grew, undergoing some transformations, also in the spirit of gamification.
In the paper, we will analyze the design of the platform, its uses, and the gamification elements that are present within it. Our aim is to unmask the gap between what gamification promises, that is empowerment, and what it delivers, that is a discipline constructed not through negative feedbacks, such as punishment, but through positive ones. Indeed, despite the fact that gamification enhances the freedom of the user, this freedom is in reality constructed, and the agency of the subject narrowed by external constraints (e.g. rules decided from above) and asymmetric relations of power. This has significant implications, especially when gamification tools are employed in a platform used by a political party to take important decisions such as candidate and policy selection.