Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

What makes work fun? Or making work a fun game

I have long pondered this question.  One approach I've taken is to ask what the difference is between WORK and PLAY (or GAMES).

Some thoughts:

1.  Clear objectives, and significant freedom to achieve those objectives.
This is what makes a game a game: clear rules. You know when you've "won", and what you can and cannot do.

Boss tells you what he wants in clear, objective, measurable terms.  It's clear when you've reached the goal.
I.e.,  "change the install program so that the user has to answer no more than 3 questions if they are taking all the standard defaults"

Put another way (more general, less objective, but at least clear ) : I once told an employee "Imagine you'll need to explain to 1,000 grandmothers how to run this program. Now, how would you design it")

2.  Clear rules and options
This has to be finished by XYZ date.  You need to implement at least features 1-5 and any 3 of #6 - #10.
The rest need to be implmented by XYZ+2 months.

3.  Freedom to do whatever it takes, within the constraints of the rules (#2).

Any other thoughts?

Clay N.
Monday, June 23, 2003

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi sums it up for me pretty nicely. I think a lot of the book is fluff, but the core philsophy is pretty cool.

Basically, anything that's engaging to you, anything that you can work on the subtle nuances of, that you care about.

My guess is this explains a lot of what people's interests are. If you're doing something and early on you can experience a flow state with it, you're more likely to ocntinue with it. Otherwise it's an unrewarding uphill battle.
Monday, June 23, 2003

Now as you people probably know by now, I don't have any experience or anything, but I still think it's fair for me to say that the idea of trying to make work "fun" is asking for disaster. Work, by definition, is not fun. It is work. Fun is what you engage in when you are not working.

Now trying to make work a challenge, something employees can cut their teeth on, something they care about, that's a noble goal.

Things that accomplish these:
- Competent workers and managers
- Honesty, no toleration of passive-aggressive behavior in the workplace
- Little stuff, like well-lit offices, decent furniture, donuts & coffee, etc etc etc.
- I'm sure you can think of more.

I think there should be clear differentiation between work and play. That way you'll work more productively and get more enjoyment out of play.

This seems pretty obvious to me. Am I misunderstanding the original poster's question?

Warren Henning
Monday, June 23, 2003

So I should stop enjoying my work?

I wonder if Camel will hire me back. I certainly didn't enjoy working there...


Monday, June 23, 2003

Well in the Zen of work its most satisfying when it is indistinguishable from play.  How it becomes play and remains work I think may depend upon confidence and experience.

Simon Lucy
Monday, June 23, 2003

"What makes work fun? Or making work a fun game?"

Cheat codes.  It's kinda funny to play when you're in God mode.

Monday, June 23, 2003

As far as clear rules and objectives: this could apply to games as well as work (at least the kind of work in your "boss tells you what to do" example).
But I feel that the real difference between work and play is CONSEQUENCES. What truly makes a game a game is that when you "get killed", you just start the level over / hit the reset button. But think of how un-fun a game would be if you only had one chance to play it, and if (when) you messed up, that was it!

Jordan Lev
Monday, June 23, 2003

>>> Work, by definition, is not fun. It is work. Fun is what you engage in when you are not working

No. Usually, I enjoy my work and have fun with it. I agree that there are jobs, that aren't fun, however.

char* full_name()
Monday, June 23, 2003

Everything you do can be fun or enjoyable. Life can be a continual state of flow. The question really should be what stops work, or anything else, from being fun.

As for work and games being entirely different things, that is nonsense.

The Real PC
Monday, June 23, 2003

"But I feel that the real difference between work and play is CONSEQUENCES. What truly makes a game a game is that when you "get killed", you just start the level over / hit the reset button. But think of how un-fun a game would be if you only had one chance to play it, and if (when) you messed up, that was it!"

So if you play, you don't get hit when you fall? I agree.

I am trying to set up goals in my work that I can reach without falling. Which doesn't mean I don't hit myself sometime.

You can stop playing a game, but you can not stop working, that's the difference. And when you are not good at game you choose another one, but if you are not good at work (work for a living) you are in trouble.

Tamas K.
Monday, June 23, 2003

Work should be fun. As far as I am concerned, the only difference between work and any other game is that someone pays you for your output in work. Some folk write code only for money. Others only for fun. Others only do it on pain of death. There is no difference in their output. One is called work, and the other fun because in the former case, someone has paid for this output. The output doesn't even have to be tangible...

Look at professional athletes. Race car drivers. They all get paid for doing extraordinarily well what is clearly a whole lot of fun. When they are slogging away in the gymn, I bet you there is pain, but it is all part of the game. I remember when I was really into body building. I derived a lot of pleasure from the pain I got from pushing my body to the limits.

When I am really into something, especially something involvig mental effort, I can almost do 20 hours straight (I know the merits/demerits of this have already been discussed in an old thread). I remember when I got my first computer games, GP, California Games, and SimCity, I would spend close to that everyday playing. I can also remember working on some very interesting projects at work, and spending close to that amount of time on them, daily.

The best games are the ones with the fewest rules though. Look at all the truly classical games out there. Chess, checkers, most card games, monopoly, tetris, soccer. They all have very few rules governing their play. The level of play though, varies. We can all play chess, but how many of us can really PLAY? We can all kick a football around, but how many of us are pros? Plus, there can be variations.... speed chess, five aside soccer etc etc.

One thing that must exist is an end goal. There is no point otherwise. How we get there is dependent on our playing style, our backgrounds, hell even our cultural background.

The best managers are the ones that realise this, and let their best people work, and not impose silly rules and regulations which do not add value to the team. Imagine Sir Alex telling his team how to play the game kick by kick. It would be a disaster. Why then do some managers try to run their businesses like that? On the other hand, if he just put them on the pitch with no prep, there would be an even bigger disaster. 

The best staff on the other hand are those that understand the rules and use them to their advantage. This sounds like kissing ass, but if a company rewards early risers, and you want to be rewarded, you need to be an early riser. How many sports team managers have kept great players on the bench because the player did not fit the managers style, or did not tow the 'corporate' line?

The competitive nature of most activities that we do for fun means that there are consequences in fun activities as much as there is in the work environment.

If a football team loses too many games, they might not survive the division. If you get knocked out early in a monopoly game, you get to spend the rest of the game playing banker, and serving the beer. Like any gamer will tell you, you learn from your past mistakes. Every now and then you try something totally different. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes not. The trick in any game, and in work, is to not bet the farm at every turn...

Would you buy a £49.99 game where anytime you lose three lives you have to repurchase the game? Would you in turn work for a company that sacked you if your code failed to compile three times??

Monday, June 23, 2003

Fun is something you want to do. Work is something you have to do.
Most fun involves a bit of work. Hopefully your work includes a bit of fun.

Just me (Sir to you)
Monday, June 23, 2003

Well put, Just Me.

Work *should* be fun.  I know people who enjoy their work, and I'm one of them.

Granted, work sometimes isn't fun, but there should be fun there.

Warren writes that "trying to make work 'fun' is a recipe for disaster."  Okay, describe to us how this will inevitably lead to disaster.  Simply stating this opinion does not convince me.  I, for one, don't believe it.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, June 23, 2003

not every minute of work will be fun, but if there are no happy fun times at work, then maybe its time to look for different work, see the thread on burnout.....

Monday, June 23, 2003

Someone mentioned that you can quit a game.  I think that is an important point.

The father of a friend of mine works at IBM.  He could've retired years ago but says that now that he does NOT NEED to be there, it's lots of fun. 

I think that both work and play have consequences, sometimes painful. But we always KNOW that play is just play. We'll SURVIVE even if we fail. But WORK can *seem* like life.  Work failure can *seem* catastrophic.  It can SEEM that if we fail at work (get fired, have a business go bankrupt) that we have failed in life.

This is a Zen sort of principle: to not get too deeply attached (co-dependent in pop pscyhology parlance) to something. Nothing wrong with being really "into" your job, but you must remember that it's JUST A JOB.  Or just a game ;-)

BTW, I think that the MATRIX movie is a wonderful analogy for this.  The idea that people are "living quite lives of desperation" simply because they don't realize that THEY are in control of thier lives.

Clay N.
Monday, June 23, 2003

I meant "*quiet* lives of desperation".

Also, to summerize the above:

A game is more fun than work because work can SEEM to have catastrophic consequences.  We always remember that a game is just a game.  We sometimes think work is our life and hang on to tightly.

Clay N.
Monday, June 23, 2003

...lives of quiet desperation... to be Thoreauly semantic.

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

"There are at least two kind of games. One could be called finite, the other, infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game  for the purpose of continuing play."

If you're interested in this concept, it's a slim book and worth a read. It was a mindblowing read in college. The first few chapters lay the groundwork for a different way of viewing the game of life.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Hey Mark, is this revenge of the Amazon Wishlist??

I am on 127, and counting......

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Mwa ha ha!

me: Total Items: 443 ( available used: 383 items)  Page 1 of 18
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home