We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing! – Benjamin Franklin
Somewhere along the way I stopped playing games – they were things I engaged in when other people wanted to – not something I thought of doing myself.
Or is that not really true?
I played games when I had time – before small people came into the house.
And small people love games but you can’t really always figure out what game they’re playing.
I spent an hour yesterday playing a game that was a graft of a video game interface onto a set of plastic toys – really being there as a presence that the small person involved was going to beat.
Today, I was pulled into yet another home made game – and I have to confess I was not looking forward to it.
But that’s not the kind of thing you say to eager young things that are desperate to spend time with you.
So, I decided I might as well pay attention and take notes – start writing a match report of this game I was going to play.
And something interesting happened.
As I took notes and started paying attention to what the small people were saying, I started to see what they were on about.
They had put in a huge amount of time into what they had created – they knew everything about their characters and setting.
This wasn’t some hastily put together rubbish – but a product of deep knowledge about a topic that I, as a grown-up, was completely ignorant about.
And, as I wrote, I started to get into it – to discuss finer points and debate the rules and structure.
By the end of the day, after five rounds and a special extra round, we had a game that we could sit and play for half an hour – and it was actually really quite interesting.
At which point the other half was drafted in to play.
At this point, I was fully into it – reading off the rules like an expert – while my other half listened politely and pretended to be interested – probably much like I was at the start of the day.
Now, the game itself doesn’t matter – mainly because we still have some work to do to get everything set up – it’s a project to do with the kids – one that I am quite keen to carry on with.
But it did get me thinking about what a game is – what makes it fun – and I am not sure there are very many good analyses out there.
So, here are the factors that seemed to make our game work.
First the basics.
You have to have assets, points, things you collect, powers you have.
These are the things you play with.
You have to have rules that govern how you play – constraints on what you can and cannot do.
And you eventually have to be able to get to a point where you win, lose or draw.
Then the bits from the first paper.
Playing the game has to engage your imagination – get you to create a fantasy world that you like to visit.
And it has to have elements of surprise – if you can predict everything then it’s no longer a game – unpredictability has to be a core part of the game.
And it has to have a flow, a rhythm.
Now, when you set out the components of a game like this, without an example, it becomes really quite dry.
But, you can probably imagine a game you like and see if it has these qualities.
Because I don’t think the point I have to make has anything to do with games at all.
It has to do with assumptions and routine and what is normal.
We live in a world where our concepts of ourselves, what we do, how we live, what we contribute, are probably being questioned – and we’re wondering what it’s going to do to us.
If you know the game you’re playing, if you’re comfortable where you are – if you’ve grown old and stopped playing – this is the time to start afresh.
You may not want to do so – you may be reluctant, resistant, hoping to do what you have always done.
But when you’re faced with change the knowledge you need is not inside you.
If it were, you would have changed.
The knowledge you need is with others – as it was with the small people who invited me to play.
I should have been grateful, happy to join – but I wasn’t.
I’m glad I made myself, though, I’m glad I took the time to listen and take notes – because I learned what mattered to them.
And when I learned that, I also learned how I could contribute – how I could add value.
Value that mattered to them.
If you want to stay relevant – this is the only thing you need to remember.
Add value to someone else.
Not work – don’t think of what you do as work.
There are two kinds of things you do that could be called work.
One of these is what Professor John Seddon called “Failure demand”.
Failure demand is the work you do because something has gone wrong somewhere else.
It’s the bug fixing, the query chasing, the cleaning and sorting – the sort of stuff that says something is going wrong somewhere upstream and causing this problem here.
Value demand, on the other hand, is the stuff your customers want and need.
If you can provide that, then you will create a customer.
And isn’t that the point of you being in business?