Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

“The opposite of play isn’t work…”

RANJ created a game that makes work in flower farming greenhouses more fun. The game plugs into the data being gathered there already, allowing workers to train their skills at spotting sick plants. In addition, they attempted to increase social interaction between Dutch and Polish workers by asking them to collectively answer a quiz or giving them a karaoke challenge. In a TEDxRotterdam talk, Marcus Vlaar of RANJ points out dull work shouldn’t be dressed up with a game. When attempting to make work more fun, the game should change the actual work itself.

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between work and play and boredom a lot lately.

Partly this is because Maguro, the project that has taken up much of our time at the studio the past months, is an game that runs within a government organization. Similar to RANJ’s greenhouse game, it is aimed at developing employee skills. But we weren’t asked to make their day-to-day tasks more fun. We did however decide early on to mix gameplay with work, and in so doing we were looking to create some kind of friction between the experience of work in daily life, and the work they were asked to do in the game. Our hope was that this might inspire them to change things about their work environment, so they would have as much fun in their play-work as in their real-work.

Children playing at working in a Coca-Cola factory in KidZania

Children playing at working in a Coca-Cola factory in KidZania

When people are bored at work, should designers feel good when they can come in and make that same task more fun through the addition of game-like feedback loops etc. Or should we feel responsible to help them make their work truly more fulfilling, by changing the very nature of it? Is there a difference? In the most extreme case, should such a game inspire them to switch jobs?

In a fascinating book on work – which I intend to read soon – there is the following Bertrand Russell quote: “the dullest work is… less painful than idleness.” The goal, I think, might not be to make work more fun. But in stead, to give workers the capacity to transform whatever work they’re doing in such a way that it becomes more fulfilling to them.

And the quote in this post’s title? That’s from Brian Sutton-Smith. In full, it reads: “The opposite of play isn’t work, it’s depression.”

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