gamification vs playification

May 27, 2021

the corporate world has tested gamification experiments but hasn’t quite made a dent in industry standard processes of project management. even in the personal development world of getting things done, it hasn’t quite taken off.

it’s not that we haven’t yet found that sweet spot. i think we’re just barking up the same tree. games are as much work, because work after all is a game.

(work) life is a game

the game of landing a job, staying in the game lest someone else take your job, overtaking others to stay ahead of the game, and gaming the game to catapult yourself into the position of a game maker. only to realise that you still got gamed.

the career game is about rising up the ranks from a position of slavery to being able to rule over the entire kingdom.

Worker bees can leave. Even drones can fly away. The Queen is their slave.
Chuck Palahniuk

but this isn’t a philosophical post on personal liberation or freedom from the system. this is an effort to answer why gamification rituals aren’t enough to invoke the spirit of play into your workspace.

games are stressful

while games are fun to play, they can also induce the same stress that work does. and that isn’t a bug. it’s designed to excite and challenge you.

which is generally a good thing, but if you’re substituting the macro game of work for the micro game of your gamified project or task, you’re not making a radical difference.

you may not feel the stress of competing to override your colleagues and land that promotion. but you’re still stressing over the leaderboard where the competition is less intense but more obvious.

and since it’s a finite game with tangible outcomes, you’re still going to feel the peaks and troughs of victory and defeat. is this really worth then to shift focus from the macro game to the micro game?

play is the way

play on the other hand can be surreally successful without dependence on competition to stoke passion or victory to elicit excitement.

let’s call this play-ification. it’s not that i’m feeling uninspired, i just want to stick it to gamification. ok fine, couldn’t think of anything better.

let’s not depend on the benefits of playing the game en route to victory. instead think of how you can inject joy into the moment. right here. right now. regardless of your task at hand. regardless of the (un)expected outcome.

let joy lead you by the hand on this path of play. and i mean the kind of joy that would excite your 5-year old self. that’s your parameter for finding delight in every task/action you do at work.

  • maybe you code in an easter egg into your otherwise staid banking application
  • maybe you carry an inflatable tub to work so you can soak while reading the quarterly reports
  • maybe you can play a game of tag with the parking attendant before you get into the elevator, every morning (even if you drive a Porsche)

the constraint of satisfying your 5-year old self means it involves silly, irreverent, physical and non digital play. limit the play to 2 minute bursts of activity interspersed across your day. if you’re feeling lonely, here’s a cheat code to draw others into your game without prep or plan - play a prank! (lemme know how that goes 😉)

if you can’t find any apparent reason to do any of this, you’re well on your way, my friend! go forth and play 🕹

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