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September 7th, 2018
One way to get at an answer for this question is to examine something else that is not fun. Think of the boring, soul-sucking job.
The two are actually quite similar. Both the boring job and a game have rules and guidelines for operation. They both outline a way of human behavior – a series of actions in a particular order that achieve a particular end.
In this basic way, jobs and games are structurally, very similar. So why do we enjoy one and not the other?
If we examine the possible outcomes for both the game and the boring job, we see that the difference:
A boring job usually entails an operation that achieves the same outcome repeatedly, over and over. Think of a fast food restaurant and how the whole operation is designed in an attempt to produce the exact same thing every single time.
The game is a whole operation designed in an attempt to produce only varied results: ones that we specifically have not seen before.
Both structures are a reaction to chaos and uncertainty. The boring job is an attempt to tame it and control it by force, where the game is a structured exploration of chaos and uncertainty.
The boring job, in some sense is a fearful reaction to uncertainty, whereas playing or watching a game is the result of curiosity. Both represent attitudes that we can take in the face of uncertainty, and most people try to have their cake and eat it too: they engage in a boring job, and then watch sports or television shows, which for all intents and purposes still fit the structural definition of a game. Indeed, Netflix is primarily a giant exercise in the very first game we play as kids: make-believe. But the boring job followed by a dose of sitcom or game of thrones somehow does not lead to a life that feels invigorating and fulfilled.
The trick is to bridge the separation: To find or invent a job that functions more like a game. Of course there will be rules and guidelines that must be invented or discovered and followed, but such rules and guidelines will promote a curious exploration of uncertainty, and one that is open-ended and that can have many possible outcomes.
The quintessential example is the artist, who looks at a blank space and starts drawing, or starts writing, without any idea of what the exact outcome will be or how long it will take. The piece of work created by the artist is diametrically opposed to the perfectly composed McDonald’s hamburger.
But we need not abandon our lives for that of the starving artist in order to feel more fulfilled with life.
What is more important is to realize that there exists a spectrum between the McDonald’s hamburger and the artist’s work. Any given person can in essence find or create a job that has the right balance of repeatable outcome and unknowable outcome. Though, it’s important to point out what we give our highest esteem to in a culture:
to the artists and innovators. Those most willing to engage with the unknown. And though fame is generally a cheap way to determine value and is effectively useless in the short term to see if someone or their work really is valuable to our society, those who have stood the test of time generally fall into the categories of artists and innovators. It’s this long tail result that tells us which side of the spectrum we should strive to be closer to. We may even realize that we don’t have to always exist at one place on this spectrum of: how comfortable I am with uncertainty and how much I crave stable routine. We can change and grow and strengthen as individuals, and slowly inch our way towards the more difficult end of the spectrum, like a child slowly daring herself to go closer and closer to the deep end until the day when all she wants to do is dive to the bottom.
Knowing about this spectrum might be interesting and thought provoking, but how can it relate to life in a pragmatic way?
For someone who is stuck in a boring job, we might ask: what sort of side project can I start and slowly grow? What is I introduced a little more uncertainty into my life by only working four days a week instead of five and dedicating that extra day to my side-hustle.
What if it were something fun?
What if I could turn a game into a job?
Someone who can answer that effectively turns their job into a game.