My life, a game

Gamification is huge. Corporations have found that people respond well to (i.e. can be somewhat controlled through) games. Is this good or bad?

A generation of gamers

Right now there is a conjunction of two factors in our society unique in the history of humanity.

Raised on video games

The majority of the population in the United States was raised in a post-video game era. Pong was released in 1972. The Atari 2600 home game system was released in 1977. I propose that anyone born in the USA on or after the year 1970 is likely to consider video games to have influenced their development. According to US census data, that is well over 50% of the populous.

Availability of games

The abundance of games available today is staggering. The Android Play store is full of thousands upon thousands of games, and a huge percent of them are even free! We could debate how many of those games are actually worth playing, but I assert that even the worst games (for the most part) would have been considered great fun when I was a child. Handheld electronic football anyone?

Ignoring video games for a minute, there’s also been a huge explosion in my own hobby of choice: board games. According to Board Game Geek, there were more than 700 board games released in the year 1985. Jump to the year 2000 and that number increases to just shy of 1,200 games released that year. But last year, in 2014, there were apparently more than 2,800 board games released.

Conditioned to play

The verdict is still out on specifically what impact games have on our society, though there are plenty of opinions ranging from more scientific studies to pure speculation. I, backed by the full authority of my superior speculative abilities, assert that games have conditioned our society to seek play. I recognize and freely admit that I am personally more motivated to do something when there is a game involved.

You know, there’s a game for that

In my third article on losing weight, I talked about the phone app, Noom, which takes a weight loss program and turns it into a game, complete with points and levels. There are countless apps available to transform just about any task into a game, including household chores such as sweeping the floor and doing your laundry!

Not only are there apps designed to make your life more fun, but there are games built into many applications that are ostensibly for a completely different purpose. When my company, Windstream, recently rolled out a new social media site for their employees, based on the Jive platform,  I could earn points, badges and levels for doing things such as telling my coworkers how I’m feeling right now.

Another example is the Audible app on my phone. In a recent update, it added statistics and achievements. If I listen for another 121 hours, I will level-up from Scholar to Master! I have earned 9 out of 15 badges (4 at the gold level), the most recent being Mount Everest, which I earned for listening to a book that is longer than 20 hours. Yay! Go me!

The reputation game

A situation where I have found gamification to be quite helpful is when it is used to build a reputation. A good example of this is the website Stack Exchange.

Stack Exchange is a vehicle for answering questions. You can ask for “expert” advice on various topics including computer programming, cooking, politics, and Japanese anime. Most questions that I have asked receive an answer within a couple of hours. But how trustworthy is that answer?

The solution comes from gamification, in the form of points and badges awarded to Stack Exchange members who have answered questions correctly in the past. If a user is active on the site, and people find their contributions useful, then they will have a high score.

Am I playing, or am I being played?

If a company can get you to use their product more by making a game out of it, then who benefits? The company or the consumer?

It doesn’t really need to be an either/or question. As long as you are aware of the tactic, and its effects on you, then you are in control. Keep some guiding principles in mind:

  • Is the game motivating me to do more of something that I want to do anyway, or am I letting it dictate how I spend my time?
  • Is the game tempting me to spend money that I would not otherwise spend?
  • If the only benefit from the game is entertainment value, would my time and / or money be better spent on another option that better fulfills that role?

Gamification success stories

I’m not going to start listening to more audio books just to earn badges in my Audible app, but I can relate some instances where I have greatly appreciated the practice. As mentioned before, I lost over 80 lbs using Noom, and I attribute much of my success to the gamification provided by the app.

Another example of beneficial gamification is the website CodinGame. I have been spending a good amount of time on CodinGame recently, trying to solve computer programming puzzles to improve my rank.

As of this writing, I have 1890 points, have earned 72 out of 156 achievements, am classified as a “Guru”, and am ranked number 718 out of 66,285 members on the site. While the accomplishments and accolades are fun, the time spent at CodinGame is more than just entertainment. It’s also good practice for my job at Windstream.

Care to share?

Do you think that gamification is beneficial, just an annoyance, or outright manipulative? Have you had any good experiences with gamification? Any bad experiences? Feel free to share in the comments below this article.


– danBhentschel

Parenting my powerful child

In a previous article, A popsicle stick for your thoughts, I wrote about parenting strategies for my (most) powerful child, Jacob. One of the comments that I received was a recommendation for a book by Kevin Leman: Have a New Kid by Friday (thanks, Ron.)

I purchased the book from Audible along with another Leman book: Parenting Your Powerful Child. I have now listened to both, and am ready to share some of my impressions.

A quick disclaimer

I listened to the audio version of these books… at about double speed… while driving. So I wasn’t always giving the text 100% of my attention, and I certainly wasn’t taking notes or highlighting sections for future reference.

This article is what I have internalized after listening to the books: impressions and interpretations. It’s even possible that the information here might not be found in any of the books that I mention, but may be a fabrication of my own mind, inspired by the material.

If you are interested, I recommend that you read the books yourself. Kevin Leman is a professional psychologist. I am not.

A new kid by Friday???

I was a bit skeptical, but I decided to go ahead and give Have a New Kid by Friday a shot. It’s good, but not the solution to my dilemma.

“Friday” is a broad-spectrum, parenting tutorial. It covers multiple child personalities, various age groups, and a large host of situations. After listening to it, I added several new parenting strategies to my toolkit. Dr. Leman’s advice is largely in harmony with my own parenting philosophy.

I would summarize “Friday” as helpful and encouraging, but not revolutionary. I gained insight and motivation, but I didn’t have an epiphany about Jacob.

My powerful child

Parenting Your Powerful Child is more applicable to my current situation. The book is focused on children with a personality similar to my 7-year-old. Here are some things that I learned.

  • The four goals of misbehavior: attention, power, revenge, and feelings of inadequacy. I have heard this before, but had forgotten. There are plenty of discussions on the topic available on the web, so I won’t go into it here.
  • It requires two powerful people to maintain a power struggle. If one person refuses to engage, then the conflict dissolves.
  • If I want my son to learn to interact with others in a mature fashion, then I need to model to him what mature interactions look like.
  • Powerful children get a charge out of exerting power over others. Jacob only has as much power over me as I grant him.

Deny him power

I see this somewhat as a game of smoke and mirrors. He gets a rise out of exerting power? Then don’t let him think that he’s having any effect. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t get angry. Don’t let him know that he’s messed up my plans for the evening, even if he has.

This can be a challenge to implement. My boy is frequently very frustrating to deal with. I can’t let him get to me, though. If I do, then I’m possibly just fueling the fire.

The best way to accomplish this is to actually not allow his antics to affect me. Find creative ways to work around frustrations and don’t let my emotions get out of hand.

Emotional detachment

As much as I love my children, I have come to realize that in some situations I can do a better job of parenting when I am emotionally detached. Lying in bed with my girls, reading a book to them and singing bedtime songs is a great time to be fully emotionally engaged. When I am dealing with a defiant child, though, I need to learn to set aside the emotions.

I found a valuable tool to aid in emotional detachment in another book that I read recently: Outlaw by Ted Dekker. One of the many paradigm shifts I gained from this gem of a book is the concept of “costumes”.

In a nut shell, the concept is that the various roles that I play in life can be considered costumes that I put on and take off in a dramatic production. If my emotions are overwhelming my ability to think analytically about a situation, parenting or otherwise, then I can ask myself, “What role am I playing now? What can I do to better fulfill this role?”

I believe that I have been able to improve my parenting ability by imagining that I am a performer in a play, acting in the role of a father. I may not be the best father ever, but I can portray a pretty good dad when it’s required of me.

Be the adult

I want Jacob to grow in maturity, but how can I expect him to do that if the only model that I’m giving him is an adult who explodes at his antics, bristles at his disrespectful remarks, and always has to get the last word in?

I’ll conclude with a story. Recently I explained to Jacob that his behavior implies that he considers his own desires to be more important than those of others. He confirmed to me, “Yes, Dad, my own happiness is more important than other peoples’ happiness.”

So I proposed that I should live my own life to please myself, and never do anything that Jacob wanted. He readily agreed. “I think that’s a great idea, Dad.” How could I respond to that? I was tempted to give him exactly what he asked for.

Instead, I told him that I wouldn’t go through with the plan for two reasons: 1) It would be a lie. I do care about Jacob’s happiness. 2) I want him to learn unselfish behavior, and I can’t expect him to learn if I’m behaving selfishly towards him.

Jacob seemed to get the message. Only time will tell if it actually sinks in. I don’t know yet how successful my new strategies will be. I’ve only been practicing for a few weeks, and I haven’t seen any marked changes in his behavior.

I have noticed changes in myself, though. I am less cranky and sullen. I am more optimistic. I am more satisfied in my performance as a father and as a husband. I feel that I am in a good place now, and I am grateful.

– danBhentschel