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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