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Goal. Action. Feedback. The Perversity of Play
I am
• Mikkel Lodahl

• Assistant professor teaching
game design and marketing

• Twitter: @thelodahl

• Mail: milo@eadania.dk

• Someone who used to dress up
as Darkwing Duck and go on
patrol on his bike...when he was
twelve...
My employer is
• Dania Games in Grenaa, the
Danish Video Game Capital

• An applied science education in
programming and design

• Heavy focus on game
development and
entrepreneurship
My argument is
• There is a general definition of
play that works on a structural
level

• This structure can be used to
organise work

• The Unboss Movement in
management theory uses a
play-like structure

• This is - probably - a very bad
thing
Nota bene!
Most definitions of play think of
it as an activity for children!
A useful definition
must
• Be applicable to most of what
we instinctively recognise as
the defined phenomenon

• Be specific enough to delineate
discussion from things we do
not believe to be the defined
phenomenon, but that only
remind us of them

• Be able to help us to say
something meaningful and
productive about instances of
the defined phenomenon
So we need the
concept of play to be
• Able to talk about skipping
ropes and building corporations
in Eve Online

• Able to avoid talking about all
human or human-computer
interaction

• Able to deliver value to
discussions about everything
from hide and seek to Europa
Universalis
Play is
• Accepting a system that
• Limits your possible goals
• Limits the actions you can
undertake to reach your goals
• Dictates what feedback you
receive for your actions
• Setting goals, performing
actions and accepting and
reacting to feedback within this
system
How to play at work
• Instead of designing work
instructions, you should design
frameworks of instruction

• You should make spaces that
encourage a productive
process, not spaces that need a
specific approach to even work

• Work is a loggia, not a hallway

• But the placement of the
statues is what encourages
creativity
Management or
game design?
• In management, you give instructions for
doing the work and you check up to see
that employees follow the right
procedures to maximise efficiency

• In game design, you provide instructions
for the purpose of the game and a
framework that ensures the player does
not stray too far from the goal

• It is a question of the range and
specificness of the limits rather than their
existence

• In management you want to limit
possibilities to one - the best one

• In game design you want to let the
players invent the best way - so you
define as wide a framework as possible
No tutorials
• Never tell your employees what to
do

• Do not even tell them what they
can do

• Show them what they can't do

• You cannot be a babysitter in
Grand Theft Auto - this is shown in
both rules and story

• You cannot be a claims adjuster at
an architecture firm - this is shown
in your work instruction, but should
be shown by your actions as a
manager, which should reflect the
process of your employees' work
Example The beginning of Super Mario Bros 3
Good work process
design rules of thumb
• Indicate paths of least
resistance to goals

• Introduce tools through
practical but not difficult tasks

• Have basic input be simple and
advanced input be a discovery

• Lead the play by example - and
be prepared to be beaten by
your employees; just like game
designers have their game
beaten by their players
The Unboss
Movement
• A loosely organised movement in
management theory initiated by
Lars Kolind and Jacob Bøtter in
2012

• Based around the idea of doing
away with the traditional boss as a
manager - that is a person who
closely dictates work practices and
observes that they live up to very
detailed quality assurance plan

• "More teammate than conductor"

• Unbossing means doing away with
detailed hierarchies and instead
focusing on frames and
infrastructure for interaction
Unbossing a union - from Unboss (Kolind, Bøtter, 2012)
• "If you were to found an unbossed union today, your first port of call would be to set up a
social network. [...] make members responsible for their own profiles, and create a system
capable of connecting members with each other and forging new value-creating
relationships."

• "[you only need to] get every tenth member to contribute in a more meaningful way"

• This is to say: you must design a system that has the goal of forging relationships that
create value for the union, actions that members can take to forge these relationships, and a
feedback system that encourages meaningful contributions. 

• You must design play.

• "This would enhance loyalty and understanding of what the organisation stands for - and
even reduce the need for paid staff"

• "What applies to the union also applies to any other organisation, except that, instead of
members, they have different kinds of stakeholders - for example customers, users,
suppliers, government agencies, partners and civil society."
So why not call this talk... The Pervasity of Play?
So why not call this talk... The Pervasiveness of Play?
Unbossing a union - from Unboss (Kolind, Bøtter, 2012)
• "If you were to found an unbossed union today, your first port of call would be to set up a
social network. [...] make members responsible for their own profiles, and create a system
capable of connecting members with each other and forging new value-creating
relationships."

• "[you only need to] get every tenth member to contribute in a more meaningful way"

• This is to say: you must design a system that has the goal of forging relationships that
create value for the union, actions that members can take to forge these relationships, and a
feedback system that encourages meaningful contributions. 

• You must design play.

• "This would enhance loyalty and understanding of what the organisation stands for - and
even reduce the need for paid staff"

• "What applies to the union also applies to any other organisation, except that, instead of
members, they have different kinds of stakeholders - for example customers, users,
suppliers, government agencies, partners and civil society."
A couple more quotes in case we were in doubt...
• "The employee [who has not been unbossed] wouldn't
dream of working harder than his pay packet justifies."
• "You're not going to work because you have to, but
because you feel like it."
• "Would you work for a couple of months for nothing to
save it [the company you work for] from bankruptcy if it
was in dire straits? [...] If not, you and your colleagues
probably need to unboss your organisation."
Play focuses on the
process
• Be motivated by how fun it is to
create value!

• How great it feels to do things
that you are passionate about
doing!

• How awesome it is to work
towards a common goal with
inspiring people!
...but we need the
product
• We do need to eat.

• And have a place to live.

• And if we get fired we need
some money for being between
jobs.

• And maybe a pension.

• And our children might like
clothes.
If we like the process
enough, we will
accept an inferior
product
The value of our input
is obfuscated in the
feedback-loop of
play
Employees will be children...
...and employers will be adults who
trick the children to work with play
[here was a copyrighted picture of Mary
Poppins which is actually quite good to know]
Play is
• Accepting a system that
• Limits your possible goals
• Limits the actions you can
undertake to reach your goals
• Dictates what feedback you
receive for your actions
• Setting goals, performing
actions and accepting and
reacting to feedback within this
system
The Employee As
Game Designer
• Instead of thinking of the
employee as the player of
management's game, he/she
should have a hand in designing
it

• The employee is dependent on
the usefulness of the feedback
in the game to live - part of it
must be wages

• This means that while
management designs the goals
of play, the employee must
contribute not just with actions,
but with feedback design
Making perversion
pleasurable
• Well...

• ...perversion IS pleasurable!

• But as Aristotle says: 

• "All animals are sad after sex."

• What we need is a hangover
cure

• A measure of influence on and
control over the feedback of
play is this hangover cure
For play to work in the
interest of employees...
...they must influence the
system they are accepting
[here was a copyrighted picture of Immanuel
Kant which is actually quite good to know]
Thanks for indulging me!
Twitter: @thelodahl

Mail: milo@eadania.dk
[here was a copyrighted picture of a kitten
which is actually quite nice to know]

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Goal.Action.Feedback.

  • 1. Goal. Action. Feedback. The Perversity of Play
  • 2. I am • Mikkel Lodahl • Assistant professor teaching game design and marketing • Twitter: @thelodahl • Mail: milo@eadania.dk • Someone who used to dress up as Darkwing Duck and go on patrol on his bike...when he was twelve...
  • 3. My employer is • Dania Games in Grenaa, the Danish Video Game Capital • An applied science education in programming and design • Heavy focus on game development and entrepreneurship
  • 4. My argument is • There is a general definition of play that works on a structural level • This structure can be used to organise work • The Unboss Movement in management theory uses a play-like structure • This is - probably - a very bad thing
  • 5. Nota bene! Most definitions of play think of it as an activity for children!
  • 6. A useful definition must • Be applicable to most of what we instinctively recognise as the defined phenomenon • Be specific enough to delineate discussion from things we do not believe to be the defined phenomenon, but that only remind us of them • Be able to help us to say something meaningful and productive about instances of the defined phenomenon
  • 7. So we need the concept of play to be • Able to talk about skipping ropes and building corporations in Eve Online • Able to avoid talking about all human or human-computer interaction • Able to deliver value to discussions about everything from hide and seek to Europa Universalis
  • 8. Play is • Accepting a system that • Limits your possible goals • Limits the actions you can undertake to reach your goals • Dictates what feedback you receive for your actions • Setting goals, performing actions and accepting and reacting to feedback within this system
  • 9. How to play at work • Instead of designing work instructions, you should design frameworks of instruction • You should make spaces that encourage a productive process, not spaces that need a specific approach to even work • Work is a loggia, not a hallway • But the placement of the statues is what encourages creativity
  • 10. Management or game design? • In management, you give instructions for doing the work and you check up to see that employees follow the right procedures to maximise efficiency • In game design, you provide instructions for the purpose of the game and a framework that ensures the player does not stray too far from the goal • It is a question of the range and specificness of the limits rather than their existence • In management you want to limit possibilities to one - the best one • In game design you want to let the players invent the best way - so you define as wide a framework as possible
  • 11. No tutorials • Never tell your employees what to do • Do not even tell them what they can do • Show them what they can't do • You cannot be a babysitter in Grand Theft Auto - this is shown in both rules and story • You cannot be a claims adjuster at an architecture firm - this is shown in your work instruction, but should be shown by your actions as a manager, which should reflect the process of your employees' work
  • 12. Example The beginning of Super Mario Bros 3
  • 13. Good work process design rules of thumb • Indicate paths of least resistance to goals • Introduce tools through practical but not difficult tasks • Have basic input be simple and advanced input be a discovery • Lead the play by example - and be prepared to be beaten by your employees; just like game designers have their game beaten by their players
  • 14. The Unboss Movement • A loosely organised movement in management theory initiated by Lars Kolind and Jacob Bøtter in 2012 • Based around the idea of doing away with the traditional boss as a manager - that is a person who closely dictates work practices and observes that they live up to very detailed quality assurance plan • "More teammate than conductor" • Unbossing means doing away with detailed hierarchies and instead focusing on frames and infrastructure for interaction
  • 15. Unbossing a union - from Unboss (Kolind, Bøtter, 2012) • "If you were to found an unbossed union today, your first port of call would be to set up a social network. [...] make members responsible for their own profiles, and create a system capable of connecting members with each other and forging new value-creating relationships." • "[you only need to] get every tenth member to contribute in a more meaningful way" • This is to say: you must design a system that has the goal of forging relationships that create value for the union, actions that members can take to forge these relationships, and a feedback system that encourages meaningful contributions. • You must design play. • "This would enhance loyalty and understanding of what the organisation stands for - and even reduce the need for paid staff" • "What applies to the union also applies to any other organisation, except that, instead of members, they have different kinds of stakeholders - for example customers, users, suppliers, government agencies, partners and civil society."
  • 16. So why not call this talk... The Pervasity of Play?
  • 17. So why not call this talk... The Pervasiveness of Play?
  • 18. Unbossing a union - from Unboss (Kolind, Bøtter, 2012) • "If you were to found an unbossed union today, your first port of call would be to set up a social network. [...] make members responsible for their own profiles, and create a system capable of connecting members with each other and forging new value-creating relationships." • "[you only need to] get every tenth member to contribute in a more meaningful way" • This is to say: you must design a system that has the goal of forging relationships that create value for the union, actions that members can take to forge these relationships, and a feedback system that encourages meaningful contributions. • You must design play. • "This would enhance loyalty and understanding of what the organisation stands for - and even reduce the need for paid staff" • "What applies to the union also applies to any other organisation, except that, instead of members, they have different kinds of stakeholders - for example customers, users, suppliers, government agencies, partners and civil society."
  • 19. A couple more quotes in case we were in doubt... • "The employee [who has not been unbossed] wouldn't dream of working harder than his pay packet justifies." • "You're not going to work because you have to, but because you feel like it." • "Would you work for a couple of months for nothing to save it [the company you work for] from bankruptcy if it was in dire straits? [...] If not, you and your colleagues probably need to unboss your organisation."
  • 20. Play focuses on the process • Be motivated by how fun it is to create value! • How great it feels to do things that you are passionate about doing! • How awesome it is to work towards a common goal with inspiring people!
  • 21. ...but we need the product • We do need to eat. • And have a place to live. • And if we get fired we need some money for being between jobs. • And maybe a pension. • And our children might like clothes.
  • 22. If we like the process enough, we will accept an inferior product The value of our input is obfuscated in the feedback-loop of play
  • 23. Employees will be children... ...and employers will be adults who trick the children to work with play [here was a copyrighted picture of Mary Poppins which is actually quite good to know]
  • 24. Play is • Accepting a system that • Limits your possible goals • Limits the actions you can undertake to reach your goals • Dictates what feedback you receive for your actions • Setting goals, performing actions and accepting and reacting to feedback within this system
  • 25. The Employee As Game Designer • Instead of thinking of the employee as the player of management's game, he/she should have a hand in designing it • The employee is dependent on the usefulness of the feedback in the game to live - part of it must be wages • This means that while management designs the goals of play, the employee must contribute not just with actions, but with feedback design
  • 26. Making perversion pleasurable • Well... • ...perversion IS pleasurable! • But as Aristotle says: • "All animals are sad after sex." • What we need is a hangover cure • A measure of influence on and control over the feedback of play is this hangover cure
  • 27. For play to work in the interest of employees... ...they must influence the system they are accepting [here was a copyrighted picture of Immanuel Kant which is actually quite good to know]
  • 28. Thanks for indulging me! Twitter: @thelodahl Mail: milo@eadania.dk [here was a copyrighted picture of a kitten which is actually quite nice to know]