To game or not to game...

Staying on schedule by doing some work now, or admit to your game addiction?

Not everyone find them self capable of following their schedule properly, and prefer to "slack" off doing something else. Under normal circumstances people do not get into immediate trouble when they shift work forward once in a while, but there is a group of people who tend to take slacking too far. They cause trouble for themselves and people who depend on them, causing stress on their colleagues and bringing deadlines in danger. It sounds a bit exaggerated but it happens more than occasionally.

An often heard reason for failing deadlines is "not enough time". What those people probably mean with that is: there was not enough time to be able to bring up motivation. An entertaining approach for reducing slacking from work might be a good way to increase motivation. Some playful way of completing work well on time to keep one on schedule and prevent stress.

I have some experience in shifting work forward, so I took myself as an optional target to start with. I would create a means of motivating myself for doing boring tasks that I would likely shift forward. As a fan of games I got interested in some sort of motivational game that would keep me on track of my schedules. and as a fan of programming I got to work and started prototyping that game.
My final target audience will be: game-addicted people failing to complete their tasks on time. A target-audience specific enough to draw a small relevant group of people to share and test some theories with. I could even use myself as a test subject!

There are some interesting similarities in the world of gaming. One that interested me most is the phenomenon of "grinding" in games. If a player is grinding, it means he is doing a repetitive task for a lengthy time to achieve a certain goal.

For example: the player's hero is killing monsters to gain experience until he reaches the next level. In the gaming world, people do this for days, if not weeks, on end. A lot of time is put into this repetitive task to finally accomplish something to be proud on. So, what is the difference between real-life work and grinding in gaming? What is it that our audience does grind, but not work?

Some potential reasons:

    • The task requires less skill to start in game than the task in real-life does
      The task has a larger motivating factor while executing in game than the task in real-life has
      The task gives a more appealing reward at completion in game than the task in real-life does.
  • If one has the choice between two unfavourite tasks, but one is easier than the other, or the reward is better, the choice is obvious. Sometimes the reason is not even justified in the long run; the joy of gaining a level lasts for a short time, gratitude from colleagues by finishing work well on time can last much longer with better carreer perspective. Yet levelling up is more appealing. For the person taking a choice between task A or B at that moment, the short-term benefits weigh more. Changing that perception of someone is not feasible by any game or technique, it is behaviour that the person need to change himself. One thing we can do with our game is compete on motivation- and reward systems with the game that distracts the user, so the player plays our game instead. If we gain the player's attention, then we can help complete his schedule.

    Below are some gamedesign approaches for stimulating a player to complete his real-life schedule. The examples are superficial to make the basic idea clear.

    progress of the game is directly linked to task completion.
    Example: player inserts list of tasks. When marked as completed player gets play time.
    Advantages: player is motivated to complete tasks before "having dessert", obtaining good habits.
    Disadvantages: user chooses a wrong granularity of tasks (e.g. tasks are split to too much detail), causing unbalanced rewarding.

    The game uses multitasking abilities of the player just enough to prevent distraction but still able to do the task.
    Example: player needs to hold a finger on screen to increase future play time while vacuum cleaning.
    Advantages: player has to vacuum clean in order to play later.
    Disadvantages: requires a versatile set of game-tasks to cover all sorts of real-life tasks. Requires multitasking abilities of the player.

    the game monitors the applications that users are using, rewarding the user with the amount of time spent on applications that belong to tasks.
    Example: player applies applications for work and entertainment. Game monitors time spent on each and calculates future play time.
    Advantages: player has to have his work related applications open, inviting the player more to perform the task.
    Disadvantages: computer-tasks only, leaving applications on without working gives unfair reward.

    To get started with a prototype we need to choose between concepts. Concept 3 cuts the target audience we have somewhat, as not all tasks a user must do are computer related. Household tasks should also be possible. It might be a very effective way for a more specific audience, we keep it in mind as a feature or sequel.
    The second concept is quite some work to implement different actions a player must do for covering all kinds of task operations. Gestures, voice based, memorizing or visual interaction can be used while performing repetitive job tasks.
    The first concept requires the player to have scheduling skills. It is the easiest concept to implement as the balance of reward control is given to the player. For this reason I have chosen that approach to create a first prototype.

    The basic interface layout for adding schedules and tasks is there for Android, and currrently working on the game itself. There are also plans for iPhone and windows mobile, but due to the trouble interface creation gives me for different devices, I went with the easiest way first (as far as my experience goes). Next up: the actual game!