The Gamification of Life

When I first heard the word “Gamification” it is highly likely I rolled my eyes. Back then it seemed people wanted to turn everything into a game (collect 2 points for checking your bank balance woohoo!), much to the agony of actual game developers and anyone forced to collect stamps on their journey to learning their company’s new intranet.

I’ve been thinking lately about how I can use “gamification” in my life to break past some mental barriers that have been holding me back. In reality, it’s less about turning everything into a game, and more about releasing the pressure of achievement. Sounds a little backwards, doesn’t it?

It’s not just that I’m a perfectionist and overachiever, it’s that every new hobby I pick up, every new project I start, instantly becomes my ticket to fame/a new career/The Next Great American Novel. I get through half of the first drawing I’ve done in 10 years and I’m wondering how I can make a career in the arts. I dust off my flute to play a few tunes and wonder when I should look up the audition times for local symphonies. I consider doing national novel writing month again and begin planning my magnum opus.

No wonder I never do anything creative or get very far when I do. Who could possibly allow themselves to be curious, to practice, to frankly be terrible, when there’s that kind of pressure on their shoulders?

I recently listened to an interview with musician Ali Handal, and her advice: You will suck, but you have to play through it. I spent years and years practicing the oboe and being terrible at it, with no qualms whatsoever. I’ve drawn hundreds of terrible portraits, and written thousands of incoherent or poorly formed sentences (I’m sure there’s a few in here). But it has become paralyzing to be terrible at anything creative or work-related. Because all roads must lead to success.

Hence this concept of play. It was a popular topic on Ted for a while, but how I can use it is only really hitting me now. These creative things I mention—music and drawing and writing—they originally were play for me, and like many people, I ruined them through college degrees and competition. I actually began programming as a career because the pressure of the arts was too much. This also sounds a bit backwards, doesn’t it? Goes to show you can drive yourself crazy with just about anything.

If I want to get back to the arts and the act of creation, I have to let go and just play. Be curious. Have fun. Make it a game. It’s less about collecting points or unlocking levels, but more about stepping out of the achievement mindset—that every step I take is working toward some specific goal on the horizon. No. Maybe I take side steps. Or walk down a dead end path—the point is that it doesn’t really matter. Play isn’t about success, it’s about discovery.