Breaking the game

breaking game (3)A lot of people spend time more absorbed in games more their work.  Aaron Dignan (owner of his own digital strategy company) proposes a solution for this decreasing productivity – “Make work more like play.” Restructure work so learning and producing are like playing a computer game. He has even examined why electronic games are addictive and suggests that businesses can harness this knowledge to get people to work more efficiently.  He purports that people are capable of so much more because they spend most of their time bored. If they revamp existence to be a game-like world, somehow the result would be greater fulfillment. [1]

Actually, for me this conjures up uncomfortable visions of a Skinnerian world in which we eagerly work for a place on the leader board or a steady dole of rewards. I enjoy the occasional distraction of games as a social activity, but vastly prefer playing with other live people. Electronic games provide a far less than adequate substitute for reality for me. In fact, I find it boring to play these by myself and would much rather be reading a novel if I had to kill time.

Weave a logistical problems into a legend that requires computation of battle plans to save a princess. The story-telling aspect would intrigue some and bore others. Then, there are ever competing people who would speedily memorize the most tedious facts for the sake of a place on the leader board. But the most challenging people to instruct through gaming are the ones that want to experiment with the games, because games are typically structured in a manner that lends itself to discovering how to win through convergent thinking, not creating one’s own world. I recalled every time  I use  an educational game in high school there are a few students that play with game trying to find its flaws rather than achieving any goals – like the one freshman who only tried to get the vocabulary app to recognize “inappropriate” words.

This was not the first case that I had seen of someone attempting to “break the game.”  My own children had turned the amusement park in Roller Coaster Tycoon into a kind of roller coaster death trap. Ironically the delayed popularity stats for “thrilling ride” would still go up momentarily after the first patron died if they built an roller coaster that went too beyond the safety limits. When games are no longer entertaining (and eventually they become that way for everyone) students amuse themselves by breaking the very thing that has engaged them for hours. I wonder what exactly they learn from doing that?

[1] Aaron Dignan: How to Use Games to Excel at Life and Work (accessed December 19, 2012)

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