Monday, July 14, 2014

Portrait: a still life with games

Q:  If something is hard, why make it harder?
A: Because that might make it more fun.
I've been reading (and skim/re-reading) Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonical recently.  McGonical is  a game-maker, consultant, and TED-Talkster who thinks that we ought to fix the boring and difficult parts of our world by game-ifying them.

Here's how she defines a game: "Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles."   Her example is golf: if all you really wanted to do was to get that little white ball into the little hole, you'd pick the ball up with your hands, walk it over to the hole, and put it in.  You wouldn't decide to stand far away and hit the ball with a fussy, expensive little stick.

Unnecessary obstacles:  it's like the FlyLady suggesting setting a timer for cleaning.  Or telling your kids to clean their room, but to use only one hand.  Or promising myself, "If I grade 5 more papers this hour, I can have a bowl of ice cream."

If you want to make a game out of a chore, this book doesn't quite tell you how to do it, but it has some general principles.

" . . . all games share four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation."

There's a great chapter on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation -- this is more of a pop psychology book than a game-design book.   McGonical is probably more interested in turning everything about her into a game than I would be, but I still found myself mulling over ways to add rules and feedback loops into my own routines; I can see how that would make all sort of .  As she notes in one of her TED talks,
When we play a game (and this is in the scientific literature), we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we're more likely to reach out to others for help.

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