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Bernard L. De Koven

Making a Game Out Of It

Gamification works best when you make up your own.

Source: Wikipedia

I like to make a game out of things. Especially out of boring things.

I remember when I would be walking home from school (that’s what we did in those days, walk), I would sometimes pretend that there was a big, mean dog following me, and the closer I got to home, the closer he got to me, and by the time I reached the door, I could smell his stinky breath, and if I had trouble opening the door, o, I got just about almost eaten up entirely.

Or I would pretend that I was flying, no, transporting myself, floating free, and that every step was another launching, higher and higher.

Or count things: my breath, my steps, cars, trees.

And all along I was learning how to make hard things a little softer.

And it was almost fun.

Not that I’d ever do it for fun. I have much more fun things I can do if fun is what I’m after. But doing it so I could endure, so I could get myself through, well, let’s just say it worked.

Sometimes I reward myself – usually silly rewards. Sometimes I even buy myself a present because I did something hard, because I got something done or I’m just proud of myself or just because.

And the thing that makes it work for me is that I do it to myself. If you tried to do it to me, tried to make a game out of it for me, or give me points or stars or put my name on a scoreboard, I don’t think it would work. Or I would. In fact, I wouldn’t want it to. It’s a private thing, this making a game out of things. Between me and myself and I.

Which is what I wanted to say today about gamification in general as a whole. That it works when we do it to ourselves. But if our manager does it, or somebody in the HR department or some consultant, then it feels like a violation of something, like somebody’s trying to get us to do something, like the thing they’re trying to get us to do is probably something we don’t want to do. Like it’s not us doing it for ourselves. And it takes whatever trace of fun there might still be away from us.


About the Author

Bernard De Koven is the author of The Well-Played Game. He writes on theories of fun and playfulness and how they affect personal, interpersonal, community and institutional health.