let’s play a game

jane mcgonigal writes that the four defining traits of a game are:

a goal
rules
a feedback system
voluntary participation

the premise of her book reality is broken is that games provide us with something we’re missing from our everyday lives, but that if approached correctly (this is the game designer angle) we can implement the lessons of games to whatever end we like. i am on board so far. (note: i have a bad habit of taking something and spreading it around too generally; it’s the same tendency that lets us fixate on some floating, context-free aphorism and apply it to every part of our lives. is there a word for taking a good idea and trying to make it apply to more things than it actually does?)
she opens with this beautiful definition: playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. it is easy to see how this can be useful. early in her book mcgonigal hit me with the first real perspective-shift that games teach us: we don’t want to succeed so much as we want to work our asses off in the service of something we choose, not that was chosen for us. games mean designating obstacles that have little to do with necessity (a big reason no one has fun going to their jobs). and we don’t even want to win or arrive or master or whatever; we just want a challenge that is doable.
think about it: when you beat the game, the game is over. tetris is a nice example of an enduring game because, strictly speaking, it can’t be beaten. you can only do as well as you can before you are inevitably overrun and die (this, again, is a metaphor i like a little too much). but i digress.
i have yet to get to the part of the book where she speaks to the hows of applying game-logic and design to real-world issues, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to begin getting there on your own. so, taking the above four as a framework, i’m trying to create a game construct to feed into accomplishing the things that make me feel, er, accomplished, writing and drawing and such. first, a goal: to make x amount of output on any given day. next, the rules. here is where it can get fun, and while normally i scoff at the idea of formal rules, it’s different when you impose simple, strict limitations on yourself. the more you know yourself, the better game you can devise. the wisdom goes that you want to make it hard based on your current abilities, so you are neither bored nor so frustrated that you quit (think of how many times you have resisted the idea of doing something not because you thought you couldn’t do it, but because you knew that you could it without effort, and how dull is that?), and as you – yes i will say this – level up, the goals become harder. hooray.
a feedback system is trickier in the real world to establish, especially alone; just like playing games alone is less fun than playing with others. so you enlist other people to hold you to task, or compete, or whatever. and voluntary participation: you are here because you choose to be. because it’s fun.
it this goes well i may extend the game construct to other things in life; right now i’m just excited to see how it changes my approach to making things. updates to come.

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