The Idea Dude

CONNECTING THE DOTS ONE AT A TIME

Friday, October 01, 2010

Shall we play a game?

10 years ago, I had this weird and wacky idea of making games on the Gameboy so that kids would play in class as part of the act of learning, or is it learn as part of the act of playing. Several years later, I thought Serious Play, a Lego initiative was just as important, introducing play into the workplace as a serious tool to problem-solving. So much so, I made it a practice to buy small Lego kits for all my team members. The whole premise was that if they learnt to 'play' at work, they would come up with some pretty unique solutions and have fun doing it.

Fast forward to 2010 and gamification as a concept is the latest buzzword on the Internet. The wikipedia describes gamification as the integration of game mechanics or game dynamics into a website, service, community, campaign, or application in order to drive participation and engagement. There's a whole bunch of folks in the gaming world who have realized that there is a lot of learning we can glean from the gaming world. We have created games that make people spend inordinate amount of time without coercion or incentives to play games. Games that involve problem-solving, coordination and collaboration. The argument goes as follows... If we have successfully created environments that are so immersive and engaging, why can't we do the same in the real-world.

With every new technology, there is undoubtedly a tremendous amount of hype, think artificial intelligence, push technology, yes even blogging. But that doesn't necessary mean it's the Emperor's new clothes scenario. I kept thinking how often we create gaming type scenarios because it took the drudgery of daily chores. Recently, my daughter and I were left for a number of weeks to fend for ourselves. Cooking would be the number one dread and concern. I decided that fast food was not the answer and my daughter and I set off on a quest. My daughter was my recruit. There is no epic event other than survival but each day was a mission, define a goal (what we are going to cook), forage for food (finding the best price and freshest produce), locate a recipe (look up the rules), cook (complete the mission). In short, 6 days out of 7, we complete our mission. It was fun not to mention healthy. Looking back it was a game. And that is probably the difference, we didn't set out to cook and find the fun in cooking, we set out to have fun together, cooking happened to be activity and delicious food the by-product.

I call it fun with a purpose. Think of those who do spinning (cyclists who ride in a group in a health club). The leader most often has a narrative, e.g. we're climbing up the mountain - tightening the tension, or we're coasting on the shoreline - relax. If cycling was a list of mechanical rules, i.e. ride hard for 2 minutes then relax for 1 minute etc, I would propose it would have never garnered the same kind of following it has today. Basically, there is a moderator, there is a theme or a narrative, a group of people with a common purpose, this is actually a game.

BTW: The government has already found a way to gamify taxes, it's called the state lottery.

So why do I think gamification is not just the next fad? Because we already do it subconsciously or in an unstructured manner. e.g. there are 21 traffic lights from home to work, to cut the tedium of the daily commute, I often try to make it home without stopping at any light. If I succeed, it gives me an incentive to repeat that success. It is a game. Whenever, there is a task I don't particularly enjoy, I create a story around it, add a goal at the end, break up the task into mini tasks. I'm creating a game to play in my mind to move my psyche from a context of resistance to one of participation.

Like any tech geek, I would love to write the next Call of Duty or World of Warcraft. I never do. I always feel whatever I do should be useful, productive and make a difference. Ergo, I always wanted to change the world, not just entertain it. Perhaps gamification may be journey that will allow me to do both.

Is this the next big thing? My friend Sharleen has convinced me it is. She covers this in tremendous detail and insight on her blog. It is becoming the de facto source on gamification on the web.

My passion has always been to inspire people, encourage them to imagine and explore the possibilities, to initiate and be the cause rather than be the result, to exceed their own expectations. If I can get them to do all that and have fun doing it and become better and more productive employees, it would count as my part of changing the world.

One man can only change so much. How much more can he change if he is able to inspire others to the change the world too?

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