Work or Play

The design of the work flow is key here: the game constantly challenging you to try something just a little bit more difficult than what you’ve just accomplished. These microincreases in challenge are just big enough to keep sparking your interest and motivation – but never big enough to create anxiety or an ability gap. (McGonigal 57)

The fundamental issue here, I believe, lies in the fact that McGonigal is proposing to use game mechanics as a means of improving work life. While on the one hand, this approach has a lot of potential, it also ignores one significant component of (at least some) work: that there may not be any of the incremental steps to which McGonigal here refers. In some industries, these steps might well exist, but in some fields and occupations, the work being done does not have steps – the employee is either making things up as s/he goes along (for any one of a number of reasons) or is endlessly repeating the same task.

Certainly, there are ways of implementing this incrementalism in many workplaces, and perhaps that is the key behind “sales competitions,” but such competitions themselves often garner dissatisfaction among the employees. There are other cases in which such increments must be self-imposed, and self-imposed goals are never quite as satisfying to check off as those given to us (especially if we are willing to accept them). We can deliberately manipulate our own checklists to make them easier to accomplish, the result of which is usually a latent dissatisfaction with our progress because we know we could have (and probably should have) done more or better.

However, incremental difficulty progression is often hard to enact when one’s tasks do not get more difficult, just more onerous. Certainly, there is a sense of accomplishment to the aggregation of accomplished tasks, but that sort of accomplishment is not the same as McGonigal’s “satisfying work.”

It seems to me that this model would serve education better than it would the workplace (for many). After all, the purpose of the educational system is to increase student aptitude, and therefore the incremental increase in difficulty not only makes sense, but is already what education is designed to do (although admittedly often fails to accomplish). This is not to say that education should be conducted solely through games (although I do think games have a place in the educational system), but, rather, that game systems can be made to work for the process of education.