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Playing pregnancy: the ludification and gamification of expectant motherhood in Smartphone apps

Thomas, Gareth Martin ORCID: and Lupton, Deborah 2015. Playing pregnancy: the ludification and gamification of expectant motherhood in Smartphone apps. M/C Journal 18 (5)

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Like other forms of embodiment, pregnancy has increasingly become subject to representation and interpretation via digital technologies. Pregnancy and the unborn entity were largely private, and few people beyond the pregnant women herself had access to the foetus growing within her (Duden). Now pregnant and foetal bodies have become open to public portrayal and display (Lupton The Social Worlds of the Unborn). A plethora of online materials – websites depicting the unborn entity from the moment of conception, amateur YouTube videos of births, social media postings of ultrasounds and self-taken photos (‘selfies’) showing changes in pregnant bellies, and so on – now ensure the documentation of pregnant and unborn bodies in extensive detail, rendering them open to other people’s scrutiny. Other recent digital technologies directed at pregnancy include mobile software applications, or ‘apps’. In this article, we draw on our study involving a critical discourse analysis of a corpus of pregnancy-related apps offered in the two major app stores. In so doing, we discuss the ways in which pregnancy-related apps portray pregnant and unborn bodies. We place a particular focus on the ludification and gamification strategies employed to position pregnancy as a playful, creative and fulfilling experience that is frequently focused on consumption. As we will demonstrate, these strategies have wider implications for concepts of pregnant and foetal embodiment and subjectivity. It is important here to make a distinction between ludification and gamification. Ludification is a broader term than gamification. It is used in the academic literature on gaming (sometimes referred to as ‘ludology’) to refer to elements of games reaching into other aspects of life beyond leisure pursuits (Frissen et al. Playful Identities: The Ludification of Digital Media Cultures; Raessens). Frissen et al. (Frissen et al. "Homo Ludens 2.0: Play, Media and Identity") for example, claim that even serious pursuits such as work, politics, education and warfare have been subjected to ludification. They note that digital technologies in general tend to incorporate ludic dimensions. Gamification has been described as ‘the use of game design elements in non-game contexts’ (Deterding et al. 9). The term originated in the digital media industry to describe the incorporation of features into digital technologies that not explicitly designed as games, such as competition, badges, rewards and fun that engaged and motivated users to make them more enjoyable to use. Gamification is now often used in literatures on marketing strategies, persuasive computing or behaviour modification. It is an important element of ‘nudge’, an approach to behaviour change that involves persuasion over coercion (Jones, Pykett and Whitehead). Gamification thus differs from ludification in that the former involves applying ludic principles for reasons other than the pleasures of enjoying the game for their own sake, often to achieve objectives set by actors and agencies other than the gamer. Indeed, this is why gamification software has been described by Bogost (Bogost) as ‘exploitationware’.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
ISSN: 1441-2616
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 22 March 2019
Date of Acceptance: 2 October 2015
Last Modified: 05 May 2023 00:38

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