How Games Deliver Happiness & Learning

In a previous post on gaming, happiness and learning, I laid it out for you. Here I go again!

When I talk about a game, I mean Jane McGonigal’s definition. This simple definition does not include competition, or any zero-sum “your win is my loss” dynamics. (That is just ONE KIND of game.) So, please STOP and use this definition,  to refer to the rest of the blog post:

Any good game has the following characteristics:

  • A clear goal
  • Clear, uniformly applied rules
  • A way to receive feedback on play
  • Opt-in participation

That last one is key. If the goal, rules and feedback setup are unacceptable to me, I need to be able to OPT OUT. Got that? Please do not try to MAKE me play.

Every good game is opt-in and that means I can OPT OUT.

NOTE: This game definition comes from Jane McGonigals book, REALITY IS BROKEN. Thank you Jane !

Next: You know that people want the good feelings that associate with happiness. The essential feelings that support happiness in a social setting include:

  • A sense of control
  • A sense of progress
  • A sense of membership and community
  • A sense of higher purpose and meaning

NOTE: This framework  comes from Tony Hsieh’s book, DELIVERING HAPPINESS. Thank you Tony Hsieh!

OK, now let me spell it out for you: games that have the 4 properties described by McGonigal definitely deliver happiness as described by Hsieh.

Repeat! Games that have the 4 properties described by McGonigal definitely deliver happiness as described by Hsieh.

How? Here is how:

Happiness Property: How a GAME delivers this Happiness property:
Sense of Control A clear goal delivers a sense of control by making the goal explicit. There is no guessing.Clear rules deliver a sense of control by making the rules explicit. There is no guessing.Opt-in participation puts me in the driver’s seat. I DECIDE if I play.
Sense of Progress A clear way to get feedback (the “score”) delivers a sense of progress by showing exactly how effort translates to results.
Sense of Membership & Belonging Opt-in participation means the person chooses to engage. When everyone playing is opting-in, a large increase in group engagement is the result.
Sense of Higher Purpose If the goal of the game is a higher cause that leads to a chance at changing the world, that game can deliver a sense of higher purpose. For example, web sites like definitely deliver this sense of higher purpose.


Applications of this Knowledge

OK, now let’s look at meetings.

Meetings are usually soul-sucking death marches from hell.

Why? Because they are poorly structured games, that’s why.

The typical meeting:

  • Has a vague goal !!
  • Has unclear rules (if it has any rules at all!). Further, some rules do not apply to certain people attending the meeting, mostly authority figures !!
  • Has no clear way to track progress during the meeting. No visible checklist, progress bar, or task board, etc. Most meetings do not provide any feedback on progress !!
  • Is MANDATORY for you to attend !!

My point: ALL meetings are games. And they are POORLY STRUCTURED games that are NOT FUN to play because of their bad structure !

Still with me? OK, all classes are meetings !

Repeat, all classes are meetings!

Once again, the meeting is poorly structured– UNLESS the teacher is a good one. Good teachers pay attention intuitively to good-game mechanics, whether they understand that term or not !! Good teachers always provide the minimal structure that makes any game FUN:

  • A clear goal
  • Clear, uniformly applied rules
  • A way to receive feedback on play
  • Opt-in participation

Why? Because they UNDERSTAND that they must create a space that is safe for thinking and learning. All learning is experimentation. Experimentation (“learning”) is RISKY unless the space is made and kept OPEN for thinking, learning, and BEING WRONG. No way I am going to feel safe if I am made a fool for guessing wrong ! Every good teacher knows this, and creates a safe space for thinking and learning– for experimenting.

So, when you think about “games in education”, please note:

  • All meetings are games, and all meetings need good-game structure to be enjoyable
  • Good-game structure creates feelings of control, progress, membership and purpose
  • All classes are meetings, and can benefit almost immediately by tuning up the game mechanics

I do not know how to be any more clear about this. Meetings are broken, and classroom learning is broken, because they are GAMES: games that are NOT FUN to play.

Meetings are games. Therefore, anyone who thinks that they are adding game mechanics to meeting and games is missing the point.

Meetings and classes are ALREADY games.

They simply need a tune-up !!

My book THE CULTURE GAME explains how to do this and provides actionable guidance on how to tune up your meetings!!

Remember: every classroom is a meeting, and every meeting is a game. Game your meetings!

See also:

Gaming Happiness At Work