Gamification – the early years

It was my daughter’s birthday at the weekend. Two things happened which made me reflect on the nature of playing games.

The first was that Kate Griffiths-Lambeth gave my daughter a game, it was actually a Christmas present, but I wanted my daughter to open it early. The game was one that I’ve never seen before and is designed, at its core, to increase collaboration. It says that on the box. Kate said it was one of her favourites as a child.

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I’ve worked alongside Kate for the past few months and had a chance to observe Kate in action. Collaboration, help, support, team – I smiled when I saw the game – as it was exactly the kind of thing you would have expected to see Kate play as a child.

I wonder how much impact what we play as children has on how we behave when we are older. We are now starting to appreciate the power of the systems of games as tools in the workplace.

How much of a difference does what we play in our formative years make?

Did the individuals behind the banking crisis play Monopoly with their pals and delight in everyone else going bankrupt? Maybe rig the card deck so that they always got out of jail free?

Are the top surgeons in the country the individuals who just kept on playing Operation long after everyone else had finished? When the batteries died they wouldn’t rest until they could test their steady hands again?

Are our best structural engineers the best Jenga players?

I was addicted to Trivial Pursuit as a child. All I wanted to do was test myself against the adults. If somebody wanted me on their team on Trivial Pursuit then I got to stay up late . My freakish capability at Trivial Pursuit at a young age became something for my family to show off when people came over. That stimulated me to read more and get even better. In the end we used to play all of my family against me to make it fair. If you keep doing things you keep good at them. There was nothing special about me, it wasn’t about me being smart or making claims about my ability. It was about what Matthew Syed describes as ‘purposeful practice’.

Believe you can get better, approach learning in a controlled way and test yourself. Trivial Pursuit allowed me/encouraged me to do this. I was a product of that environment.

So, what lessons is my daughter learning? Well, at the weekend she had  a birthday party. We had a game of pass the parcel and my wife and I fouled up. A real parenting low point. My daughter waited for all of the other children to receive presents and then there was nothing left for her. Her bottom lip quivered but she kept it together.

I can imagine the moment being played back as part of an interview on a chat show when she is older.

‘I’m sure my parents did love me, but one of my first memories is being the only child not to receive a present in pass the parcel – at my own party’.

Plenty of other parents came up to us to say that their child would have thrown a tantrum. We are lucky we don’t have one of those children.

Doug Shaw suggested that it was a genuine life lesson for her. He may be right, but it isn’t one that I had planned. Maybe I should have. The Marshmallow Test is a fantastic example of understanding the importance of self control and more and more work on the importance of ‘grit’ to success is being produced.

Maybe I should be planning more life lessons through games for her. Or maybe if I really want her to help others I should just dust off Operation?

Final thought.

People play games every day. We tend to view people in the office who ‘play games’ as a bad thing. It suggests engineering a result for them, using other people as pawns. It is worth remembering there are more positive results available if you play nicely with others. Same is true for Social Media, same is true for life.

(written on the train, may have multiple errors, all apologies)

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2 thoughts on “Gamification – the early years

  1. A belated happy birthday to your daughter, David. What is the name of the game that Kate gave to your daughter please?

    Your tweet about being one short in the pass the parcel present department reminded me of my own efforts to try and ensure everyone gets something. And I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case when I was a kid. Most of the fun was the ripping of the paper, only rarely did a gift emerge other than right at the end.

    You say you fouled up. I’m not so sure 😉

  2. So….what was the game? Want to buy! Want to buy!!

    I think our generation are so much more conscious of the lessons our children are learning.

    And really don’t worry about the pass the parcel thing. I took a stand on the ‘sweets in every layer’ situation this year and instead put in a charades game card. No tears from anyone and much happier dentists 🙂 – well except that they’ll have earned less…..hmm maybe it was dentists who started this craze!

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