The Future of Work: Paid to Play?

January 26th, 2010 by

Essay by CoyoteJack on Flickr

Boredom at work is a big problem. In fact it’s one of the main reasons people complain about their jobs. Imagine if work could be as entertaining as your favourite game and what this could mean for work satisfaction and productivity.

The Problem with Work
Many people believe that work is a boring but necessary requirement for enjoying ‘real life’ outside work. This belief is negative for both employees and employers. A worker who is bored wastes their time at work waiting for their “real life” to start. Meanwhile an employer with bored employees loses out on productivity. Let’s face it – an uninspired worker is more likely to check their Facebook a hundred times in between coffee breaks than someone who is stimulated by their work.

How Games Could Improve the Situation
If you’re even slightly into games you may have noticed the potential to develop them for purposes other than gaming in its traditional sense. For example, with a bit of creativity, games requiring players to perform actions or small tasks (such as MMORPGs or puzzle games) could be translated into products that could make a real impact.

Game designers use context, art direction and consistent design to develop compelling games. It is these aspects which make them far more appealing than your average Excel spreadsheet. Of course that’s why millions of people choose to spend their “real life” playing them. So how can we use the fundamentals of game design in the workplace?

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks
A game released over a decade ago provides a good example of how this shift could occur. Here’s a bit of background on the game for those a little less nerdish. Back in 1998 SEGA published House of the Dead 2. The game first appeared on the dying arcade market as a light gun shooter and later ported on Dreamcast and PC. The game was a success. It used top notch graphics and transported players on a horror ride through a mansion swarming with zombies. Blasting them was not particularly scary but it required fast reflexes and was a lot of fun.

A year later a different version of the game was released in a surprising move from SEGA (a company not known for their wise business strategies). The second version was called Typing of the Dead and was similar to the original but instead of using plastic guns to ward off zombies, players were required to type words on a keyboard as fast and as accurately as they could. If the typing was accurate the player killed a walking corpse and if there were errors the zombies moved closer. As players progressed words and sentences became more complex and typing sentences such as “I’m dating the head cheerleader” while a zombie was trying to eat your brain added amusement.

Now, imagine a slightly tweaked version of this game using a real-time crowdsourcing system. Let’s say for example that instead of silly sentences the player is required to type reCAPTCHAs, or input sentences scanned from ancient manuscripts thus creating digital versions piece by piece. Wouldn’t that be a terrific way to have people wanting to work for you?

We will probably never be able to change a broken water pipe with a customized version of Super Mario, but there is definitely a recreational potential to work that is just waiting to meet a good game designer.