Friday, 2 September 2011

The General Theory of Gaming

If you think about things in gaming terms, you can see that so much of what we do in life itself could be classified as a game of one sort or another.

Consider that a game is a bit of thinking that we do for fun, that we gain rewards from playing them, and that there are some rules.

Well, on this basis, take TV watching. TV watching is a great game; easy to learn, tremendously rewarding and highly addictive. Here are the rules: Find something to watch that you believe you would enjoy; watch it; while you are watching find things; be it in the dialogue of a drama or the visual imagery of a documentary and enjoy them.

Here is another one Gardening. Another great game that most people don’t think of as being a game but when you think about it, is. Rules: Try and grow stuff; Reward – a wonderful garden to look at, Gardening is probably one of the most addictive games that is out there for those over 50.

And another – Photography. This is probably one of my own personal favourite games. Rules: Try and take a nice picture! 

The best games are the ones with the most self defining reward mechanics. i.e. I decide on whether or not I am rewarded by what I have done.


On this level one of the most genuinely greatest games that I have personal experience of is DJ-ing, - having done this a lot when I was younger. The reason I put this one forward as a great game is because the reward mechanic is so instant and apparent and fulfilling.  Rules: Get people to dance by playing tunes; Reward – seeing everyone dancing.

In terms of experiencing absolute human enjoyment, being a DJ at a large party full of your friends dancing as a result of the music you chose to play is something I can honestly say has hardly ever been topped.

OK well, having said that, this probably leads to thinking about sex, which is another example of an obviously incredibly popular game.

I think my other favourite game is skiing – very simple rules: get down this hill as elegantly and as swiftly as you can. The reward is a huge amount of instant pleasure when you get it right. (The “swiftly” and “elegantly” rules are both optional!)

So what I have learnt from this thinking process is that the most successful games are those with the simplest rules that deliver quick and instant rewards.

I suppose the zenith of this thinking is taking crack cocaine. The rules are largely based around acquiring the drug. I don’t need to explain the instant rewards at this point…

However, this is a perfect example of where the reward mechanic is so powerful that the game flips into the domain of an addiction. Some of the other games mentioned, such as watching TV and gardening are also extremely addictive - it is easy to get locked into the process and not escape as testimony to the 3 hours a day the average person spends watching TV.

How to gamify your life!

If you start thinking about it, it is a bit freaky just how many games you play in an average day that you don’t even realize you are playing.

Cooking, shopping, driving, all often involve little games like seeing if you can reach the traffic lights just before they go green or trying to pick the shortest queue in the shop or simply working out what would be the best thing to eat for dinner.

I recognise that I have successfully turned pretty much most of my job into an elaborate multi-tier game. The game is action-and-reward mechanic-driven with a simple monopoly style role of doing well enough to accumulate salary points!
Some people, I realize, play the work game with different rules. For example, the marvelous book on working on the ford production line, Rivethead by Ben Hamper – his rules were to work out how to do the minimum amount of work.

But that is the beauty of gamifying your life! You can make up your own rules!

I am lucky enough that in my job to have lots of other game-based reward mechanics built into it, especially surrounding the research I do - writing articles, papers, pitching for presentation slots at conferences - they are all in effect little games with unique rules and all give you nice reward mechanics if you get it right.

Within this there are lots of mini games such as the writing an email game where the rule is to write an email to solicit the response you want. And then there is the presentation game where you try and write a presentation with the aim of making it as enjoyable an experience as possible for the people you will be delivering it to.

There is the writing the blog post game which is what I am playing right now! The simple rule is writing something that other people will find interesting and react to.

Twitter is a great game especially once you get going with it as I have explained in an earlier post to this blog.

Gamifying your life is really about setting and defining outcomes and then seeing if you can make it happen, about identifying opportunities for achievement.

This may be where a client has written an awkward and difficult email. The challenge of writing the type of email back that diffuses and resolves the situation – the reward being: do you get a positive response from their reply?

Or seeing if you can get into work before anyone else, or saying to yourself I am going to eat something for lunch that I have never eaten before.

 Some Life game you can play

The breakfast challenge: How efficiently can you make breakfast with the minimum number of fridge door and cupboards openings and step around the kitchen

The doing something different challenge: Identifying some routine in your life that you can break and do differently is a great daily or weekly game to play. Many of us play it once a year with new years resolutions, but it seems that the rules of that game are too hard to adhere to for any length of time and therefore the “New Years resolution” game is a bit crap. It sets you up for failure before you have even begun.

This game, though, changing a routine for a day, is a bit easier as it comes with no binding “change for life” contracts.

You can change anything, for instance it could be just to re-set your alarm clock 5 minutes later than your usual routine time of waking up. It’s a game you can play differently every day and the reward mechanic is the sense that you are exploring the time and space around you. You can even play it with other people.

Enacting a thought challenge:  I think this is a game that most successful entrepreneurs play. It is the process of enacting on ideas as they are formed in your head. Ideas can quickly go stale once they have been born if you don’t actually do anything about them. I like to play this game if I have an idea - no matter how stupid might seem. I follow it to see where it goes.

Buy a book game:  Most of us have a bit of a funny attitude towards learning, in that we feel it is something that has been imposed upon us at school or we must go on a course or perhaps forced on us by TV. rather than having actively gone out and sought it.

However, saying that, within the work/business environment there are so many fantastic books to read. So here is a great game with a simple rule and a great reward mechanic: Think about your job What you could learn to do better yourself within it? Go to Amazon, find a book on the topic you have decided you could benefit from and buy it.

You may not learn what you had set out to learn on reading it but, the very fact that you are reading this article suggests you are in the information seeker mindset already so it’s a game I guarantee you will enjoy playing

Teach someone something game: This is another very simple game. Indentify something someone is not doing properly and teach them how to do it. What do you know that someone else in your organization would benefit from knowing? The rules are a little bit difficult, the challenge being that you have to try to find the ways to identify their shortcomings without pissing them off!

The email writing challenge: Identify the outcome you want to solicit with your email, send it off and see if you have been skillful enough in making your outcome requirement become a reality!

Cold calling clients game: This is a great game, all it is, is that you have a competitive phone call session to make appointments.
The song lyric game: One that the whole family can enjoy. Put on a full musical for one of the members of your family when they get home. It is an amazing game! Really stupid and loads of fun.

The re-tweet re-writing game:  I have noticed a bit of a game that has emerged on Twitter called the re-tweet game. You spot a good tweet you like and you try and re-write it to make it better or to add a personal twist to it. It is a pretty good multi player game.

Where it can go wrong?

Warning! A good game can very easily slip from being a fun activity that you do to make your life more interesting and enjoyable into an obsessive compulsive activity that you simple cannot stop doing - and I am afraid that I have one or two of these in my life…

Checking my email is one….

I would say checking my emails has turned from the game play stage to a full scale obsessive compulsive addiction. Waiting for the hit of the next exciting email to come through I find myself - even at weekend – giving in to the compulsion to check my emails every hour or so.


Worse, I find myself worrying about going on holiday without an internet connection..


So what the hell has all this got to do with online surveys?

Well admittedly its a bit nebulous, obviously you can take things away from this that are un-connected but I am writing this as a follow up to the interesting post by Andrew Jeavons on the Leonard Murphy's Greebook blog  http://www.greenbookblog.org/2011/08/31/the-power-of-play/

Andrew pointed out that there is a lot of talk about “gamification” at the moment in Market Research circles. As well as the proponents there are quite a few detractors. They seem to see research as a “serious” subject, not to be trivialized or polluted by “gamification”. So, I thought I would write this to demonstrate how integral games are in all our lives and that we all play one sort or another of them nearly every day. And of course, they can be hugely motivational.

How you integrate gaming techniques into surveys is an art form that by no means needs to trivialize the subject matter or objective of your research if you apply these techniques with first-rate creative thought.

Its my view that surveys in the main are poorly designed completely un-addictive games that could do with pepping up a bit.

We will be presenting some of the techniques with which you can gamify you surveys at the forthcoming ESOMAR congress in Amsterdam.  If you are going see you there!

If not I am also presenting at the ASC conference a couple of days later on the same topic.

2 comments:

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