Hmm. I'm just a new player here, so have yet to absorb the ethics of the community, so take the following for what that's worth.
I would consider "gamey" something that exploits game mechanics in a way that simply beyond the realm of physics in real life. But not one that uses tactics, strategies, approaches, etc. that, while may not have been tried IRL, would not be physically impossible if a person with sufficient clout decided it should be done.
So, by that criterion, the specific example that you list is not gamey, because it is within the possibility of this universe. Sure, a civilian ship out as bait to absorb hits would be politically/humanitarianly/socially difficult to accept in the real world in WW2, especially on the USN side, but it would not be unthinkable. And, for e.g., in the IJ forces, maybe even more politically realistic/possible then, e.g., free transfer of air units from an IJA to IJN HQ, or even IJA air support IJN missions and vice versa which everyone accepts without question?
Similar tactics of deception --- a couple of barge TF's, used to distract air raids while the actual unloading is going on nearby.
Another one: a bunch of barges or empty ships used as bait to bring in the air strikes to be attacked, so that the enemy carriers give away their position?
Or maybe as part of trap to chew up the enemy bombers?
None of this seems gamey to me. An appalling waste of relatively big capital resources (ships/barges), but that is down to the judgement of the player whether the payoff is worth it or not.
I am reminded of Operation Pointblank, where bombers where sent out again and again and again, often deliberately avoiding safer routes or routed near or over enemy airfields, just so the Luftwaffe could be drawn up to fight and attrited away. True, these were military resources rather than civilian ones, and a bomber is cheaper than an AK, but the principle is the same.