Ethics and Sustainability in Gaming and Persuasive Systems

Submissions open 31st October 2023


Challenges, competition, self-actualization, being there (presence), engaging with others (characters), environments, narratives, gadgets and the array of experiences arising via emerging generations of Internet advancements are thrilling. All domains of interactive and multimedia are evolving through these Internet advancements, none the least, gaming and areas of gamification. Gamification alone is a broad and complex field that is intertwined with other integral fields across society, such as commercialism (marketing and advertising), health, learning, training, and management. Gamification is often embedded within persuasive technology that is pervasively entering every area of our lives. The higher the fidelity, the more rapidly we become engrossed in the system, stories, messages, interactions, and transactions. As the systems become more sophisticated via artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), computer vision (CV), metaverse (augmented reality - AR, virtual reality - VR, mixed reality - MR, and extended reality - XR), multisensory modalities, and other autonomous capabilities, they also create more discomfort, challenges, and unsustainable consequences.

Given the diversity of games and gameful systems, research exists both in terms of their detrimental effects on human lives and systems, as well as their benefits. In particular, the effectiveness of gameful technological systems is mainly discussed within a certain time frame (often here and now, or in the future), staying at the level of motivational and behavioral change. There still lacks evidence regarding the long-term effects of gamification, especially from the perspectives of humane, social, economic and environmental sustainability. Moreover, the domain of ethics and human-centric considerations in persuasive gaming and gamified approaches still need extensive attention. From the privacy perspective alone, there is a provocative relationship between the defensiveness of personal data protection and trade-offs in terms of the quality of experience, service, and convenience (Acquisti et al., 2016; Shklovski et al., 2014). Other ethical issues that emerge relate to facets such as transparency, explainability, and understandability (Jobin et al., 2019). Data-driven systems lacking understandability and traceability for instance are often described as possessing ‘black box algorithms’, whereby bystanders are unsure of details pertaining to data collection, processing, use, and ownership. Data-driven systems that omit ethical consideration in their design logic pose risks to human integrity (the role, control, and choice of individuals in relation to these systems), and bias (e.g., favoring some populations while disadvantaging others, dividing audiences based on stereotypical assumptions of preferences, etc.) (Rudin, 2019). 

In this special issue, we aim to attract multidisciplinary contributions that deal with ethics and sustainability, along with sub-fields such as privacy, intercultural digital ethics, fair accountable transparent (FAT). Contributions exhibiting expertise in the application of traditional ethics sub-fields (i.e., applied, normative, utilitarian, virtue etc.) in relation to games, gamification, and other persuasive and motivational systems are also warmly welcome. We also welcome contributions that frame more traditional and utilitarian technologies in light of new hedonic and ludic interpretations (i.e., gamification of surveillance and security).

List of topic areas

Individual well-being, health, and happiness

Taking a look at the historical developments of gamification, the debate over games and gaming systems has been continuously ongoing. From inducing players to make irrational and indulgent decisions (Fuchs et al., 2014) to feeding highly addictive behaviors (Andrade et al., 2016), games seem to be easily tied to ethical and moral questions. Undoubtedly, when using games, game elements, and motivational affordances in non-game contexts such as education, business, management, and healthcare, individuals usually experience high flow, immersion, enjoyment, and self-determination, which has higher work, learning, and decision-making performance (Krath et al., 2021; Tyack and Mekler, 2020). On the other hand, individuals occasionally take on significant psychological and physical burdens regarding concerns for, e.g., information leakage, over-competitiveness, high social pressure, and experiencing manipulation and control (Ifinedo, 2014; Hsu et al., 2015). Therefore, it is important for researchers to understand how to employ gamification to facilitate individual well-being, health, and happiness. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Attitude and adoption-related challenges in employing gamification and gaming systems
  • Psychological stress, concerns, and risks
  • Effect of gamification on individuals’ mental and physical health (negative aspects)
  • Emotional regulation and emotional valence led by gaming systems
  • The role of personality traits, individual preferences, and tendencies in understanding the ethics of gamification
  • New concepts, dimensions, and theories of ethics in the gamification field

Environment, resources, and nature

Today we are facing the harsh reality that the ecological environment is deteriorating, and natural resources are decreasing. There are global challenges to solve, such as climate change, scarcity of energy, and carbon emissions. Motivational and gaming information systems play important roles in enhancing green and pro-environmental behaviors, harmonious relationships between humans and nature, as well as resource management (Morganti et al., 2017). However, it can be seen that gamification can lead to overconsumption and overuse (Hammedi et al., 2021), as well as impulsive and wasteful behavior (Morganti et al., 2017). Therefore, regarding environmental ethics, topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • The role of gamification in green and environmentally sustainable decision-making
  • Environmental protection, pollution, and environmentally friendly behaviors
  • The relationships between gaming systems, humans, and nature
  • The role of gamification in addressing or leading to recourse waste, overuse, overconsumption, and recycling
  • Development and examination of gamified sharing platforms and game-based approaches for facilitating circular economy

Society, culture, and value

Ethics and morals relate to “right” and “wrong” conduct. However, the standards for what are morally wrong and right and ethical norms (e.g., beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy, and justice) are highly relevant to societal and cultural contexts (Gillon, 1994). The acceptance, adoption, perception, and experience of gaming systems are heavily influenced by shared values, common beliefs, and cultural traditions. For example, for users from a collectivist cultural background, game elements such as teams, groups, collaboration, networking, and social reputation are considered ‘altruistic’ (Sheth and Babiak, 2010); while immersion-related mechanisms such as personalization, role-playing, avatar, and storytelling are often associated with being ‘self-centric’ and ‘exceptional’ (Murnane et al., 2018). Therefore, from the perspectives of social and cultural ethics, topics of interest include, but are not limited to the following: 

  • Gaming systems, empathy, and pro-social behavior 
  • Gamification-based techniques for ethics and moral literacy 
  • Dilemmas and conflicts between ethics, laws, and policy in gamification 
  • Gamification, business ethics, and corporate social responsibility 
  • Cultural factors, religions, values, social norms, regulations, and ethics in gamification theory and practice

Governance, organizational management, and resilience

Among the classic ethical theories, utilitarianism holds that the most ethical choice is the one that will produce the greatest good for the greatest number (Kahane et al., 2015); while libertarianism maximizes autonomy and freedom (Oshana, 2006). These two contradictory ethical-philosophical views indicate the dilemma between individual and organizational interests, as well as the difficulty of ethical judgment between altruism and egoism. However, as a decision-maker in an organization or community, the ultimate goal of using gamification techniques and motivational systems is normally to maximize the collective benefits (Morschheuser et al., 2016). Therefore, from the perspectives of organizational ethics, topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Ethical dilemmas between individual interests and organizational interests 
  • Gamification-based approaches for ethical training in organizations 
  • Gamification and employee well-being and resilience 
  • The role of gamification on ethical leadership, human-centric organizations, and performance 
  • Ethical issues in partnerships across organizations 
  • Gamification, citizenship behavior and compliance

Technology, systems, and design

With the increasing popularity and prevalence of gaming technologies and systems, developers, and designers have the responsibility to consider the potential impact. Ethical design involves ensuring that gaming systems are not designed to exploit or harm their users and that they promote positive values such as inclusivity, fairness, and respect (Hromek and Roffey, 2009; King et al., 2019). This includes considerations such as age-appropriate content, fair monetization models, and the prevention of addiction and other negative effects. In addition, Kim and Werbach (2016) stated that one of the ethical issues of the provided gameful experience lies in the overlay of virtual and real-world norms. We should consider the applicability of real-world ethical norms in the virtual world. Regarding ethical design, topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Ethical principles for metaverse (AR, VR, MR, and XR) technology, platforms, and market 
  • AI-driven technologies, ethics, and privacy experience 
  • Ethics in grassroots software development 
  • Ethical design and employment of gaming wearables 
  • Ethical issues related to FinTech, social robotics, virtual agents, esports and streaming technologies, tracking and geospatial location technologies

Research Design and Methodological Requirements

This special issue encourages a variety of research designs and methodological approaches including (but not limited to): 

  • Conceptual studies for theory building and development 
  • Quantitative approaches including surveys, experiments, and studies employing physiological measurements 
  • Qualitative approaches including case studies, focus groups, and workshops 
  • Literature review studies (e.g., meta-analytic, systematic, narrative, scoping) 
  • Direct observations and ethnography / netnography studies 
  • Design principles and system development

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Author guidelines must be strictly followed.

Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to “Please select the issue you are submitting to”.

Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.

Submit your paper!

Author Guidelines

Key deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 31/10/2023

Closing date for manuscripts submission: 15/07/2024

Email for questions about submissions: [email protected]

Editorial Review Board 

Ana Carolina Tomé Klock, Tampere University, Finland 
Benedikt Morschheuser, University of Erlangen–Nuremberg, Germany 
Diandian Xiang, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, China 
Doug Reid, Holland College, Canada
Fiona Nah, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 
Jani Holopainen, University of Eastern Finland, Finland 
Juan Chen, Anhui University of Finance and Economics, China 
Juhani Merilehto, University of Vaasa, Finland 
Juho-Pekka Mäkipää, University of Vaasa, Finland 
Lewen Wei, University of New South Wales, Australia 
Marc Riar, Technical University of Berlin, Germany, and IÉSEG School of Management, France 
Marigo Raftopoulos, Tampere University, Finland 
Mila Bujić, Tampere University, Finland 
Rahul Mohanani, University of Jyväskylä, Finland 
Samuli Laato, Tampere University, Finland 
Tae Wan Kim, Carnegie Mellon University, USA
Wanyu Xi, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, China 
Will Baber, Kyoto University, Japan 
Xiaodong Li, Anhui Polytechnic University, China 
Xuebing Dong, Shanghai University, China 
Yaxuan Ran, Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, China 
Yuanyue Feng, Shenzhen University, China


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