The occasional musing about design, games, music, etc.

8 Things Game Design Can Fix In Our Jobs

I play a lot of Starcraft. I play at least 10 hours a week, sometimes more if I’m doing well. What is it about our favorite games that make them occupy so much of our brains for noticeable chunks of the day? Jane McGonigal’s new book, Reality is Broken, points to real tangible (and scientifically proven) reasons why for the past twenty-plus years, people have been gravitating into virtual worlds to get their satisfaction fix. I won’t summarize the book here, as it’s well worth your time to read it.

Given my gaming proclivity, this tweet from my friend Diego (@workforfood) caught my eye:

Something is definitely wrong when your Starcraft 2 career demands more thoughts than your job..

Now, I understand that games are designed by game designers, and so their addictive ness and fun factor will usually be off the charts. So that got me thinking: What are some things that we can all take from Game Design to help us get more of that game-like satisfaction out of our jobs? So here’s a quick list of eight common work issues (at least for me & my friends) that can be improved by thinking like a game designer:

1. Find more satisfaction in your job by finding your flow.

Finding your flow means finding the balance between boredom that comes from your job being too easy for your skills, versus the anxiety that comes from doing a task that is too difficult for you. If you’re not in the sweet spot, you won’t find work satisfying. If you’re not being challenged, speak up! You can probably take on more responsibility, or a different responsibility that can keep you more engaged. If you’re overwhelmed, communicate that as well, as you’re bound to drop the ball sooner or later, and no one wants that. Satisfying work always starts with a clear goal and actionable next steps. What are you working towards career wise? Is your day to day working towards that? Do you know the next steps you need to progress?

2. I can’t think about doing X anymore. I’ve hit a mental wall.

In games, when you bang your head into a wall over and over, there are two options to get out of it. Reduce the difficulty some (maybe ask for a co-worker to help out). Or save, and take a break. Getting away from the task can help let your mind open up new approaches that may finish the task easily tomorrow!

3. I wish my job was more fun (like Starcraft).

The biggest thing that game design can help us remember about making your job fun is that it is voluntary. Never forget that you don’t have to do your job, you are choosing to do your job because you enjoy it. Our careers are built up from job after job where we choose what we do, get better at it, and progress to a higher level. Measuring your own progress and success over the years is what can help turn a handful of jobs into a career.

4. I like what I do, but doing it every day is getting boring.

You can help make the day to day part of a job less boring by making it more like play. Identifying the reward that you actually get from those tasks can help. If you’re a designer, and cranking out designs every day is getting boring, tally up your high score by putting all the designs into a portfolio! Give yourself a way to measure the value that is adding up day after day. It’s also important to remember that no task or job can give us happiness. Happiness is a reaction we have to doing hard work that gives us rewards. No one can expect a job to make them happy, but a job can be rewarding, and make us feel the work was worthwhile and valuable. That help you make your own happiness.

5. My team is my issue, I need to get more done in a team.

Games teach us a ton about social dynamic and teamwork. The first rule is be sure you’re teaming up with people that have the same goals! It’s easy to take for granted that other teammates may be doing their job for a different reason than you. Secondly, be sure there is a leader. Even if that leader isn’t the best at the task at hand, having the team agree to one person calling the shots will save you from poor productivity while no one takes charge. Thirdly, for any of us in the creative field: creativity comes from having rules. Rules give us constraints, and constraints make everyone more creative. Asking someone to “design me something” doesn’t help get it done. Asking “make me the coolest looking airplane you can out of five pieces of paper” will inspire people to be creative.

6. I’m fine with my tasks and my team, but I’m just too stressed out!!

Ok, first things first, try not to take it so seriously. Chances are, you’re feeling like you’re obliged to do the things you have to do. When you feel like doing these things is mandatory, it loses any chance of being fun to do. This also will start to make you resent those tasks, or the people who “made” you do them. All bad news.

7. All this sounds nice and all, but none of this sounds efficient!

In many cases, efficiency is not a good thing. Efficiency in your job can make things feel cold, clinical and uninspiring. Creative people often need a process to be amorphous to help inspire them and shake things up. Letting things be a bit unclear (process wise) can help inspire people. People working with leading teams need can help this along by letting team members make their own decisions based on hunches. Let them go with their gut and trust them. Remember that making things feel more like a game with a reward for them, will make them more engaged and satisfied with the work they’re doing for you.

8. Ok, my career is on the right track, I’m working well, and it’s fun. My big problem is that I’m just too exhausted when I get home.

There’s a good possibility that you’re getting plenty of satisfaction in work, but not enough at home! My number one rule is to minimize watching TV. Television rests your body, but also numbs the mind. The constant act of not getting any mental or emotional reward at home is depressing. Be sure you have counter-balances to the things you do at work. Exercise, reading, hobbies, and other activities that give you more voluntary challenges will recharge you for work, and make your sleep more effective. The easiest thing to remember is to never “kill time”. You should always try to “use time” to do something challenging! That’s the main reason I play video games in most of my free time. What challenges you outside of work? Do some more of that, and you’ll be happier at home and at work.

So there you have it, a few things I’ve noted to keep in mind when pondering your work situation. All of them are informed by Game Design, and meant to help maximize that deeply satisfying kick you get whenever you win a level, beat a boss (no pun intended), or master a skill; but for your job.

aaronwork, jobs, career, game design, games