Amazon’s warehouses are notorious for the company’s exploitative labor practices, which include technological interventions designed to push workers harder. On Monday, The Information reported that Amazon is in the midst of a massive expansion to its FC Games program, which attempts to gamify repetitive tasks and spur competition for digital rewards.
Warehouses in at least 20 states have begun offering the optional games, according to The Information, which workers can “play” by completing work tasks. Completing tasks gives out digital rewards that allows them to “buy virtual narwhals, dinosaurs, and other electronic pets,” the outlet reported.
Six of these games are currently available, The Information reported. They have names “like MissionRacer, PicksInSpace, Dragon Duel and CastleCrafter,” the Washington Post previously reported, and mimic real work tasks with a veneer of simple computer graphics.
Amazon goes to extraordinary lengths to increase productivity—a great deal of why it is such a logistics juggernaut comes down to how far it pushes workers. The company has forced workers into “megacycle shifts” where you are expected to do a 10-hour graveyard shift or lose your job, for example.
Amazon’s demanding productivity quotas have also created safety crises by pushing delivery drivers and warehouse workers to the brink. It has also preserved its unsafe working conditions during the pandemic and often forced workers across its sprawling empire to work without adequate protections. Thanks to its monopoly and monopsony powers, however, the company has largely avoided any consequences for this.
One Amazon worker told The Information that the FC Games program reminded them of an episode in Black Mirror—”Fifteen Million Merits”—where daily life is gamified in a futuristic hell hole: -people live their lives in rooms where every surface is an interactive screen displaying advertisements and entertainment. To go about life each day, they must earn “merits” or digital rewards that let them pay for their needs.
“Employees have told us they enjoy having the option to join in these workstation games, and we’re excited to be taking their feedback and expanding the program to even more buildings throughout our network,” Kent Hollenbeck, an Amazon spokesperson, told The Information. “Even with this expansion, the program remains completely optional for employees; they can switch in or out of different games depending on their preference, can play anonymously, or not play at all—the choice is theirs.”
It's important to note that these games don't actually offer anything material to workers—they just give Amazon more information about worker productivity and are designed to push workers to move faster. Amazon has other gamification programs, such as their “swag bucks” currencies that, as The Information’s report lays out, are rewarded for "time served at a warehouse and good job performance" as well as hitting productivity metrics.
All these different company credits can be redeemed for digital rewards or goods at the company store, a lovely callback to the days of company towns when mini-monopolies dominated workers’ lives.