What’s There to Complain About?
The idea for this blog partially arose out of discussions between game creators complaining about the state of their industry; about bad leadership and long hours; about the belittling of our art form -by themselves and others- as “just fun and games”.
During long, wine induced nights of discussions those topics were extended into other areas of life and their underlying dynamics. Together with some friends – among them political scientists, educators, business coaches, sociologists, architects and city planners -, we have discussed issues like dirt tracks in public parks and how that highlights current design flaws and a disregard of users’ needs; but also how public contracts often fail to include prototyping, iterative design and user testing in their planning. Widening the discussion from such “petty things”, similar criticism was applied to policy making, the educational system and international development aid.
We also discussed digitalization, new work, diversity, systematic discrimination and endemic sexism, exploitation and toxic work-atmospheres (especially in regard to perpetual fixed-term contracts) and about an old generation afraid of changes, versus a young generation aspiring to build their own way.
How to Flip It?
A level designer explained how playing Cities: Skylines made him more humble regarding city planning issues. Apparently the game helped him realize the complexity behind city-planning and to understand, that even the best planner’s intentions will often have to surrender to the organic growth of a city. Other good examples for how playing can contribute to learning complex things intuitively, are Lego and Minecraft. Both help develop highly valued skills like creativity, planning and strategic thinking, aspects that are unfortunately seldomly considered though, because playing and having fun are regarded as opposed to learning and working.
Having fun is regarded as a distraction, both while learning and working. The school system often manages to beat very natural traits, like curiosity and creativity, out of kids. Kids brains are rewired from having fun learning to regarding learning as dull, boring and tiresome, and as adults carry that mentality into their workplaces, reproducing it and keeping it alive.
As adults, we tend to disregard, that the terms “game” and “play” apply to far more than mere “child play/games”. From screenplay to mind games, playing music or with words, playing a role in society, etc., there is much more to these words.
Because playing is considered to be “just-for-fun” its value often is underestimated. Instead, and because it usually is regarded as potentially deviant, our society discards it, and bans it to off-hours. We mark play as “for recreational use only” and by doing so, we create a mental separation where there should be none, because:
Politics, Learning, Work and Play – everything is connected
But even to us, this connection only became blatantly obvious two years after the initial idea for this blog. And it was this revelation, that got this project off the ground. The blog post Work is Already a Game provided the missing spark, that helped us tie the stray thoughts together and unraveled, how important it is to embrace playfulness in all areas and stages of our lives.
We can hear you thinking: “You want playfulness everywhere?- Grow up!” To which we can only reply: “Exactly our point!” We either need to rethink what we consider to be playful, or what it means to be a “grown-up”. Because… look at where our current “grown-up” thinking has taken us. Sure, we’ve managed somehow. But is that enough? And haven’t we been burying enormous amounts of potential all these centuries?
Instead, we’re still in constant warfare. We still have an ever increasing disparity between those who work for their wealth, and those whose wealth works for them. We’re still trapped in a constant cycle of market collapses, that not only furthers this gap, but also makes it harder to break out of it. As a result, we can’t even manage to provide food or learning opportunities for all of us, let alone do something of real weight to protect our environment.
And if that’s too much of a leftist view, too much “blue eyed idealism” for you, consider this the neoliberal version:
The markets are capped; industrialization way past its peak. The old rules don’t work anymore. Rigid, dumb mass production is out. Instead, smart, flexible and dynamic operations (e.g. “Start-ups”) are the only way to find niches, in ever more oversaturated global markets.
No single manager, nor board of directors can write five-, three-, or even one-year plans, that won’t be outdated before the ink is dry. Nor can those former heavy weights of the industrial age, with their hierarchy-based decision making processes, pivot as fast as they would need to, to keep ahead of the curve. All it takes to upset the carefully balanced and profit maximized supply chain of a globalized industry giant nowadays, are burning factories in Bangladesh, floods in Thailand, political unrest in Africa or the Middle East, gambling bankers in the US, unstable political systems in the Americas, cheating car-manufacturers, etc. Because shareholder value keeps trumping long-term vision, fair trade, social- and environmentally responsible politics and trade. The positive sides to a globalized world are lost due to the greedy yet powerful few making decisions on behalf of all of us.
Therefore we say: we need to pause and reflect. We need to reconnect with our inner nature. We need to play this through in our heads, before it’s Game Over. We need to stop silently consenting and approving the rules of a faulty system and start rethinking and redesigning the rules of the game we all abate to: Life!
So please, join us and maybe we can show you, that your “inner child” still knows how to play and how setting it free might help each and every one of us unravel a yet unknown kind of power.