10279 xp, Promoted to Level: Software Samurai and How a Successful Career is Child’s Play

User “NipplesandToes43“(err… name changed for privacy reasons) has been on Steam, the gaming platform, since 2012. Till now, the user has clocked 22438.1 hours of playtime. That’s 2.5 years of constantly playing, or in other words, 13.4 hours of gaming a day, every single day till now!

Staggering? Not really. One look at the steam worldwide leader board reveals that this is but an average, if not less than average number. Now, if so many people are spending so much time playing computer games, then there ought to be something we can learn from these games; something fundamental about our human nature.

Well, to understand this, we need to understand who we are as a species and how we’ve evolved or rather not evolved over the centuries. You see, we humans had been hunter gatherers for several thousands of years. Back then, survival was the only thing that mattered and that meant living to see another day was imperative. Over those several thousand years, our bodies evolved a nice chemical, <BIOLOGY AERT> Dopamine — the answer to life, universe and everything </BIOLOGY ALERT> that, upon its release, gave an immense feeling of satisfaction to us. When did our brains release this liquid gold? When we achieved something, like successfully hunting an animal or managing to pluck a ripe fruit from the top of a tree, of course. Our brain’s very own reward mechanism, to keep us motivated to stay alive and live to see another day. We survived day in and day out, in anticipation of that awesome shot of dopamine that was coming our way tomorrow.

So coming back to our present day, we no longer need to wield a spear or climb that tall tree for our food. Today, we think in terms of life goals, Quarter targets, Olympic medals, PhDs and Jennifer Aniston (Whoops, let’s not get there for now). What does our good old body say? “No Dopamine for you!!”. But why? Surely, a PhD is better than climbing a tree or killing a goose. Too bad our primitive bodies don’t understand that; meaning we lose our motivation (no Dopamine = no fun) in a few days and let Jennifer Aniston… err no, that PhD become a distant dream that never gets fulfilled.

That being said, how was NipplesandToes43 able to stay motivated, slogging without a holiday in front of the computer, joystick in hand for 5 long years? Allora (Italian for Well…), the answer lies in the game design! Games, at their very core are designed in such a way, that they break a huge task/mission into small levels, objectives, etc. and suitably reward each and every small achievement with points, bonuses and level ups! In addition, most games also incorporate an element of survival, by giving the character lives, hearts and so on. All of this is perfectly in sync with our body’s idea of achievement and living to see another day. What does it do? It gives you shot after shot of dopamine for all those small little achievements and level ups. The mere anticipation of more dopamine, keeps the person eager to log in and start killing those monsters, waging wars against evil empires and shooting down terrorists for days, months and years on end.

Now, what is it that we can learn from NipplesandToes43’s behavior? For starters, playing games is far more rewarding than pursuing that PhD. But hold on, that doesn’t mean we have to bin all our dreams and ambitions. It just means, we need to make games out of anything we want to achieve. Yes folks, this is the era of Gamification! That PhD we were talking about; break it down into small activities each day, upon completion of which, you earn a sleek green tick in your calendar and a +1 on your streak number. All you have to do is finish your daily activity, earn that green tick, improve your streak number and get your nice shot of dopamine. What happens when you miss a day? An ugly-looking red/black cross on your calendar and streak number back to a big ZERO. Alternatively, you may lose a heart or lose a few points or level down. You set the rules. However, make sure you let someone else (ruthless and evil friend you’re thinking about now) do the scoring for you. They’d be the ones who’ll give you the ugliest cross with a sly smirk on their face. Trust me, once the streak number starts going into double digits, the fall back to zero will be painful. So you’d just sit up and do the task to just keep the streak going.

Michael Phelps says he didn’t train with the 6 or 7 gold medals in mind. That was years away and didn’t seem relevant at all. All he wanted was to train for the day and keep his streak going. He was so into his streak that he didn’t miss a single training day for 5 years!! The result? Oh you know the result of course!

That’s fine on a personal level, but what about the workplace? What about the quarter targets, mentoring and motivating your team to perform, etc., when your body shrugs off without giving you any dopamine? This is where it gets even more fun. Multiplayer gaming, of course! Develop KPIs, incorporate them into a nice scoring system and start playing. You can have team score, Player of the week, weekly rolling trophy, a Champions league, a Hall of Fame, Yellow jersey, Orange cap, Champagne celebrations… the list is endless. The dopamine just keeps flowing like water and your business will soon be the best! Oh and you can get rid of the treacherous performance review and all such stuff. Just look at a man’s score to see how he’s doing.

That just about brings me ever so close to my green tick for the day. I do have another article on ‘Simple Gamification strategies for the Workplace’, in my to-publish plan for next week. So until then, Ciao and happy gaming.

PS: Google NipplesandToes43(err, 23 works fine as well) and do watch the show where it comes. You can thank me for the recommendation when you finish binge watching the series and end up with a huge grin on your face.