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Plaything to Game


In an earlier post I wonder “What is a game?‘  It looked at the characteristics you can use to define a game.

This week for a project I’m working on, I’ve been thinking about how you turn a normal activity into a game, the process of gamification.  Jane McGonical is one of the most passionate advocates of turning life into a game to solve some of its otherwise intractable problems.  My particular challenges aren’t so grand but I still want to see if and how I can use game mechanics to make an activity more engaging. When I’m talking about gamification I often use this very simple analogy:

A ball on it’s own is just an object.  Bounce it around and it becomes a toy.  Start trying to do something with it and it becomes a challenge. Add some rules and you have a game that delights and excites hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

Chris Crawford describes how objects progress to be games more elegantly in his 2003 book on game design.  His process is:

  • Entertainment creative expression made for money such as a book (as opposed to art, which is for its own beautiful sake)
  • Plaything – an interactive piece of entertainment such as skipping rope or Ze Frank’s Meditation Flowers
  • Toy – a plaything such as a ball, with no associated goals or Ian Bogost’s Cow Clicker
  • Game element – a toy where the player makes up rules around it, such as marbles or the Sims
  • Challenge – a plaything with goals like archery or Paper Toss
  • Puzzle – a challenge with no ‘active agent against whom you compete’ such as crossword or the Geocaching game
  • Conflict – a challenge with an ‘active agent against whom you compete’ such as fencing or Civilization
  • Competition – a conflict where a player can outperform an opponent, but not attack them to interfere with their performance such as athletics or Cut the Rope
  • Competitive game – a competition where opponent attacks are allowed such as football or Halo: Reach

There’s a clear sense of progression in this process but one of the critical elements is fun.  How easy do you think it is to turn a mundane activity into game?

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