How can life be made more like games?
April 1, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

How can life be made more like games?

As we all know games are absorbing, fun, and very good at motivating people to put in time, creativity and effort. I'm looking for insights on how the factors that create that experience with games could be applied to other aspects of life, such as work, education, health, citizenship or whatever.

Some of the kinds of things that would interest me:

- Examples where ideas from gaming have been applied to make something more fun and motivating than it otherwise would be, such as Habit Judo from MeFi Projects.

- Interesting resources that discuss what makes games enjoyable, and speculations about how those insights could be used to make other aspects of life more enjoyable. (I prefer brief material like articles or talks, rather than entire books, courses etc. I'm not looking to spend a lot of time on this!)

- Applications (or possible applications) of game design principles in varying aspects of life and on varying scales, i.e. things that could be done by individuals, small groups, organizations or even societies.

- Your own personal experiences or ideas with anything like this.

Any connections with behavioral economics or organizational psychology would be especially interesting to me.
posted by philipy to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 129 users marked this as a favorite
There's a new book out on this, "Reality is Broken" by Jane McGonigal. No representation as to whether it is useful or good.
posted by grobstein at 11:35 AM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might be interested in Homo Ludens.
posted by vacapinta at 11:42 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Search for "gamification", you'll find lots. The Wikpiedia page links to a bunch of relevant articles.
posted by Perplexity at 11:43 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

I so wanted to post in the blue before, but then I saw that it was posted before. So now is my chance to do something with this.

Check thisout at The Fun Theory The found ways change society's behavior in regards to recycling, throwing trash away, even climbing stairs. Easily available info as youtube videos
posted by Wolfster at 11:43 AM on April 1, 2011

Best answer: and like an idiot my link did not show up, the fun theory
posted by Wolfster at 11:44 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Like EpicWin? A to-do list app with levels? A video discussion of why farmville is so successful discussed on the blue.
posted by idb at 11:44 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I handle this by muttering "Achievement Unlocked" whenever I cross something off my todo list.
posted by mhoye at 11:47 AM on April 1, 2011 [23 favorites]

The book Getting Things Done by David Allen can be thought of as a game. The book Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha turns a particular type of meditation into a game. Any time you can divide up something into tiny wins nested inside of larger wins, you've got a game.
posted by zeek321 at 11:49 AM on April 1, 2011

I handle this by muttering "Achievement Unlocked" whenever I cross something off my todo list.

I recently made a Cheevo Jar for storing all my unlocked achievements, such as "cleaning the bathroom." When I accumulate enough, I will cash them in for fabulous prizes.

Then I forgot all about it. My only cheevo so far is "made a cheevo jar."
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2011 [11 favorites]

The book (sorry, that's what I've got) Other People's Habits contends that games (video games in particular) are fun because they are rapidfire positive reinforcement dispensers. Over and over and over again, the game responds to you. You move the controller and the thingie on the screen moves the way you wanted it to, and that's positive reinforcement. Points accumulate, and that's positive reinforcement. Monsters die horrible deaths, and that's positive reinforcement. The book also contends that boring tasks are boring because they provide little to no positive reinforcement for long periods of time.

Apply that as you see fit.
posted by jon1270 at 12:04 PM on April 1, 2011 [10 favorites]

some iphone apps might help this. they're kind of like flashier versions of a checked to do list (achievement unlocked). note:

I don't have an iphone or touch so I don't know how true it is, it's just what I hope to be true.
posted by raccoon409 at 12:05 PM on April 1, 2011

Best answer: Jon1270 is right - games work because they are based on operant conditioning and positive reinforcement. You want to read about learning theory and particularly the uses of variable schedule positive reinforcement. The classic for this is Don't Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor. This book sounds like it's just about dog training or self-help, but really it's about how games work and how to turn onerous tasks into fun games. Reading this book will completely change the way you think about motivation, training, behavior, and relationships (especially abusive relationships), among other things.
posted by medusa at 12:22 PM on April 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

Health Month
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:35 PM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Here's a TED talk about SCVNGR, an iOS app that got some media attention and investment a couple months back:
The game layer on top of the world
posted by hot soup at 1:14 PM on April 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

As a scientist I view my work as playing a game (assuming it's repeatable - ha!). The reason it's like a game for me is because of the thrilling aspect of discovery, and never knowing how shit is going to turn out in the end.

I realize that this general mindset can be broadly applied to life.
posted by sickinthehead at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2011

grobstein: "There's a new book out on this, "Reality is Broken" by Jane McGonigal. No representation as to whether it is useful or good."

I've read it and it's great. She writes about how real life can be improved by gaming, and she gives some examples. In fact, I just signed up at Chore Wars today, because she made it sound amazing.

She did the keynote at PAX East and in addition to being totally inspirational, I think it also serves as a good introduction to Reality Is Broken. I think you'll enjoy it, philipy.
posted by giraffe at 1:40 PM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

There was a great TED talk by Jesse Schell that addresses this idea, although it is more of "how things could be" than "how things should be".
posted by Joh at 1:43 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

nth-ing McGonigal's book. The husband and I both read it. He is a gamer, and it was a huge breakthru for him to understand how life can be made to be more like a game. I really enjoyed the examples.
posted by hworth at 1:51 PM on April 1, 2011

Best answer: Jane McGonigal is definitely the leading proponent of gamification, so check out her work for sure. Here's a link to her TED talk. A lot of her game experiments are about gathering people together to make positive changes in the world, using game methods.

A couple of examples that will come up a lot are this XKCD comic about exercise (related: Hacker's Diet) and Chore Wars. You may also find this list of game mechanics useful in developing gaming strategies.

I think it boils down to the fact that life is scary and random, and it's hard to do anything without at least some type of guideline or constraint (see: the tyranny of the blank page). Societal norms, families and lawmakers provide a lot of that, of course. But you can "gamify" basically anything that can be broken down into stats.
posted by lhall at 1:55 PM on April 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

wolfster, i LOVE the piano steps video from the fun theory. that is so awesome.
posted by foxhat10 at 2:15 PM on April 1, 2011

mhoye, I think of life skills I attain using RPG terminology. Like, I'm leveling up my arm strength by lifting weights, and I plan to add at least +1 to my technical skills this year. I've never told anybody this before. Now you guys know my nerdy secret.

I also think Reality is Broken has some very interesting ideas, and might be worth checking out.
posted by zoetrope at 2:21 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might find pervasive games interesting. These are social-oriented games played in the real world. Think of it like grown-up tag (though, mind you, tag is badass as a grown-up)
posted by phrakture at 2:31 PM on April 1, 2011

There are lots of little things you can do to make life gamelike. I found using a pedometer brought out my competitive side and I definitely walked more because of it. If I got to 9950 steps at the end of the day, you better believe I did laps around the bedroom to hit 10K.

And get Waze for your smartphone. I don't know if it's something drivers can really use, but as a perpetual passenger it makes long rides into a big video game. (and, hey, crowdsourcing!)
posted by bink at 2:39 PM on April 1, 2011

Response by poster: Plenty of interesting answers so far.

Most of them have been about concepts from videogames and role playing games, so at this point it's probably worth mentioning I'm just as interested in insights regarding any kinds of games whatever.

For instance one of the links above led me this great discussion of the role of chance, particularly in board and card games. That's an interesting example of a kind of thrill that you don't normally get in a lot of real life activities.
posted by philipy at 5:05 PM on April 1, 2011

There's a section in Rejuvenile that discusses how corporations make the work environment more fun. The book is actually a pretty good read on how adults incorporate aspects of games/fun into their everyday lives. It's not a GREAT book, but it's good.
posted by joyeuxamelie at 6:17 PM on April 1, 2011

Best answer: I think Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's positive psychology concept of flow is pretty similar to what you're asking about. (See also his first book on the subject.)
posted by parudox at 8:20 PM on April 2, 2011

Also, now that I think of it, muttering ""Dawn of the third day. 24 Hours Remain" to myself when I'm on deadline is an excellent motivator. The sky is actually falling.
posted by mhoye at 11:45 AM on April 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you play a game frequently (like Go, for instance), you start to think of things in terms of correlations between that game and the world in general.
posted by aniola at 3:41 PM on April 3, 2011

Best answer: Late to the thread, but I wanted to write this down for anyone looking for practical examples:
Motivation RPG
Health Month
I Move You (used to be
Epic Win
Chore Wars

I tried some of these, but I like Habit Judo better. :)
posted by gakiko at 10:55 PM on April 5, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: gakiko (or anyone else!) - can you tell me a bit about your experiences with these?

I'm interested in things like whether the novelty quickly wears off or the motivation lasts long term. Or whatever else you learned from trying this kind of thing.
posted by philipy at 9:53 AM on April 7, 2011

Best answer: Well, I usually find a new system of rewards every 6 months or so. I think you only need the motivation system to "work" (ie. actually motivate you) until the desired behaviour becomes a habit. So I unconsciously gradually stop using any system whenever the habit becomes strong enough that the system feels pointless.

I used to have a reward system for staying away from processed sugary stuff, but now I stay away from it as a rule and don't even think about it most of the time. And that's my goal - to have ingrained healthy/useful habits so I don't have to consciously go through a decision-making process every time I'm faced with a choice.

I think applications/systems which are more "social" might work longer and better, especially if you like a competing atmosphere and that motivates you. There's been a good discussion about Farmville and similar games on MeFi recently, how and why they work. It might be worth reading for your purposes.
posted by gakiko at 11:15 PM on April 7, 2011

I am a little late to the game, but the answer to your question is in the book:

Finite and Infinite Games
by James P. Carse

It is laid out in short chapters (lending it to resemble the Tao Te Ching) and tries to define the difference between games which end and games which are played in order to continue playing...

I cannot recommend this book enough. One Christmas I bought thirty copies and it was my gift to all my friends that year. (In that linked wiki entry I just learned he is a religious scholar. That is a surprise because the book does not involve religion.)
posted by iurodivii at 2:05 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that the way to find fun in something is to expect to have fun or expect to make fun when doing something.
posted by karan at 6:35 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have another nugget to add for anyone who happens to wander by this post... A presentation on where "gamification" failed.
posted by gakiko at 2:45 AM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

« Older Writing on android   |   bob vila and the like, please advise! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.