Smithsonian National Zoo: Apps for Apes (from flickr)

Fun and Games,… but, There Is No App for a Better Life

Games are fun.

Smithsonian National Zoo: Apps for Apes (from flickr)The rise of computer and online gaming to the level of new cultural productions seemingly rivaling earlier great works of art, the rise of the quantified self movement and its playful attitude towards self-improvement, the plethora of apps for productivity and life-hacking – they all have made for a changing view of the “game” of life.

One popular conclusion – all the more so as it makes for “life-changing” smartphone apps and gadgets – was to make life, make the things you don’t really want to do, a game, so that it will all be fun.

Weight loss? Fun.
Exercising? Fun.
Language learning? Fun.

Maybe you can even have some fun while you are sloughing away in your dead-end job (remember, “maybe you can’t change the world, but you can change your attitude”) – and if not, you’ll at least know why you need fun all around (and, preferably, to make your money in a “four hour workweek” or as “passive income”).

Even fun has its “ecology,” though, and if we don’t understand that, we’ll never get to really better lives.

Playful Cues to Better

Children playing in snowTrying to make some things a game, make things that are better also be fun, can work well: add an element of competition to something like active lifestyles, counting how much different members of a group move, and they’ll probably all move more (if they are people who are so inclined).

Make seeing stairs a cue for you, to run up them (rather than take the escalator), tackling them with playfulness.
Then it’s not “I know I really ought to be taking the stairs, it would be healthier for me, but I just can’t be bothered, I’m so exhausted anyways” but rather a more child-like – and more sensible – “I’ll be quicker than you dumbasses on the escalator; let’s see how fast I can be now” or something of the like, then.

Playfulness is something that, all too often, does get forgotten. And something that we could profit from rediscovering.

Head Down, Straight Ahead

The problem, however, is that there are only too many things in a life that simply need doing, and trying to make it all fun can – rather like positive thinking’s attempts at banishing all negative thoughts – get rather exhausting.
So exhausting, in fact, that it would be easier to forget about the fun and work and get back to something that is so normal, it has become radical in this day and age: to simply accept that life has its boring bits that need doing anyways, to remember that any sort of success takes time and effort (and still comes without guarantee), to think less about what you want to do and how it could be made fun or avoided, and simply put your head down and get it done.

“Fun” (but no games) about that: in thinking less about everything, but rather setting cues to get going and do what’s necessary, the effort becomes more normal, more obviously the price to be paid for leading a reasonably mature and sensible life, the impulse that pushes life forward to better.

Fun, No Fun – Better!

There is yet another twist to the issue, though: Whether using gamification to make ordinary progress more exciting or using habit-building to make better practices more normal, it is quite easy to get into new habits that may be better than earlier ones, but still not as good as they may be.

Life tends to get back to moving in its earlier bed – and so, to find out if another path would be good, we also may need to meander or break out of the bed in which we are letting our life get carried along.

Life tracking, a twin of gamification sometimes using the same tools e.g. to count how many steps a person takes during his/her daily life (and therefore, how active rather than sedentary they are), can be helpful in that. It provides quantitative input to issues which often aren’t remembered correctly or aren’t even available to our memory (things such as what and how much we ate, walked, went onto Facebook rather than out with friends).

Tracking can provide insights as gamification can provide an impetus, but again, it is a question of personality (and partly, technology), how much it will be used, and how well it will contribute to knowledge and/or change.

The final linchpin, however, is simply getting into the game, or habit, of picking a part of life in which to experiment, to explore suggestions. All too often, we become too comfortable in certain habits, learn to put up with certain problems we feel powerless to change, refrain from trying new things, out of fear (or simply laziness), come to be so involved in the way of life we slipped into that we feel there is no way we can change anything even as it is not making our lives any better anymore…

So, explore playfully – and also accept the maintenance work of life gracefully, finding where, what, leads to better.

Question, though: Where do you see the balance? Do you need fun and games to get you going or would you prefer a more “grown-up” approach?

Gerald

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