05 August 2011


Hey you square. I know you're the type who's far too busy to car-jack an old lady, stave off a gang of marauding undead or collect stickers bouncing across a patchwork landscape, but take five minutes to read this and you'll soon see how play is absolutely everywhere in your day and completely, unashamedly unavoidable. Even YOU, the most buttoned-down of all people, the one with the least time for childish fripperies but the most time for hard work, at some point during your day, will get involved in play (and I'm not talking about an illicit bit of Farmville at lunch).

The recent launch of Google+ awoke my halcyon era (#sarcasm) memories of 2007 when everyone clambered aboard the Facebook steam roller as it headed out of town, crushing MySpace, Bebo and any other chubby social network not nimble enough to adapt or step aside. In its infancy, before all the extra features evolved - the apps and widgets we associate with modern Facebook - adding friends was a massive factor of what made Facebook addictive. Who can I get next? How high can I get my numbers? Can I get more friends than my mate Ian? It was the acceptable face of collecting football stickers in the playground, except the rules of engagement meant you had to actually be OUT of the playground to legally take part - 16 years or over. For those who outgrew such childish pursuits the moment things morphed, dropped and broke in the night, it was a welcome invite to play. A common gaming trope emerged: Collecting.

As I started adding Friends, Acquaintances and Stalkers to Google+ I soon figured out, with absolutely nothing happening on Streams, adding to my Friends, Acquaintances and Stalkers is, like Facebook before, the most addictive thing about the new social platform. Google+ may be an empty aircraft hangar for most people right now, but the collecting - the gaming element - will drive it forward until it does everything Facebook does, but without the obtuse interface.

In our everyday lives when carrying out work or performing the most mundane of tasks, we engage in micro-games often without realising, either competing against others or oneself. For example, at work I'm writing this piece. I have other things to do. In fact, I have three things on my plate which need immediate attention. But for now I continue to write knowing full well I need to get on with the other jobs. I'm in the throes of time management. My immediate world shows a countdown clock in the corner and I'm halfway through my allotted segment of time before it runs out. My task is to complete this piece or I risk failure to move on to the next task. A common gaming trope emerges: Trial.

You can see where I'm going with this already.

It's like we're hardwired from birth to get the most out of life from play, even when there's work involved; the classic 'see how quick you can pack your toys away' never rang so true. So why stop when we reach adulthood if play can be conducive to a both a productive and positive head state when going about our business? I'm not just talking about tacking a metaphor of games onto our lives, but rather to understand and accept that play is an inherent part of a day-to-day existence. Ever stuck the kettle on in the kitchen and raced it against toasting some bread? (Challenge). Or guesstimated the amount of footsteps to WHSmith? (Puzzle). It's okay. We all have. In fact, I've categorised a shortlist (Collecting) of the 'mungames' which I often play. See if they match any of yours (Challenge).

  • Holding the petrol pump on full and stopping EXACTLY on the amount you want to spend. (Skill)
  • Hoarding £2 coins in a jam jar (Collecting)
  • Blowing fifty £2 coins on treats (Reward)
  • Catching a spider under a glass (Skill)
  • Carrying more than three drinks at once in a pub (Trial)
  • Peeling off sticky labels without tearing or leaving residue (Skill)
  • Boarding a bus/train moments before it leaves (Achievement)
  • Stacking washing up on the draining board (Puzzle)
  • Parallel parking (Trial)
  • Searching for the damn keys (Discovery)

As the human race goes, we didn't get to where we are without competition. It's the catalyst which moves things forward and is at the heart of gaming. So you see, play is unavoidable. Next time you're up against it at work, and you're worried about facing the end-of-level boss with a spreadsheet which looks authored by Duke Nukem, don't worry. There'll be a brilliant cheat you can Google, download and submit as your own before holing up in the kitchen for a coffee (Powerup). If your boss accuses you of playing games, say yes. Yes I have. It's only human (Level up).