Hofstra Law Review
In the science fiction novel Ender's Game, a young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, believes that he is at military school, learning how to play a computer war simulation game. In reality, Ender has been genetically engineered to excel in military tactics and is the final hope of humanity, which is under attack by the Formics, an alien insect species. For his final examination, Ender must defend the Earth from a series of attacks. He passes the exam by attempting a desperate aggressive maneuver, which utterly wipes out the attacker's home world but which also destroys part of his own fleet. After completing the battle simulation, the young Ender-along with the reader-learns that the simulated "final exam" was actually a real life battle and that, in fact, many of the warships that Ender ordered to be sacrificed were manned by his own friends from the military academy. Although Earth won the war, Ender sank into a deep depression and only recovered when, in a later sequel, he was able to understand and heal the rift with the surviving Formic, who had attacked the Earth in error.
Ender's Game and its element of attack by a hostile alien species are, thankfully, wholly within the realm of science fiction. However, the idea that people could be working while they play a video game-in some instances without even knowing that they are working-is becoming part of our reality. In the language of cyberspace, introducing elements of play and gaming into non-game situations is known as the process of "gamification." Gamification is an important element of what in previous writing I have termed "virtual work," that is, work taking place at the intersection of the Internet, crowdsourcing arrangements, and virtual worlds. Virtual work is part of a broader transformation of work from assembly lines to knowledge and information. Indeed, in her book From Widgets to Digits, Katherine Van Wezel Stone documents how the manufacturing economy is increasingly giving way to work based on knowledge work. Professor Stone insightfully catalogues these systemic changes. Gamification, like some other forms of virtual work, blurs the line between "work" and "leisure." The gamification of work is a growing trend with important implications for employment law. Analyzing this topic will help us make sensible choices about regulation (or the lack thereof) of these new forms of work.