The game within a game

I’m part of an augmented reality game.

If you finish my class at Marquette University, you get this mysterious virtual currency called “credits.” Usually three, but sometimes it’s two.

You can’t see these credits anywhere physical except a website you log into, which will show you how many total credits you have accumulated over time.

After you have gathered a certain number of credits — which often takes about four years — you are awarded your prize. It’s a piece of paper called a “degree.”

It’s kind of like collecting Pokeballs but for a job.

This isn’t any sort of revelation, but I can’t help but see everything as a game after attending a (gamified) lecture by Karl Kapp, author of “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook.” We just sometimes forget that we’re following the rules of a game.

But the real opportunity that struck me from Kapp’s lecture is that everything has the potential to be a new game within a game.

In education, Kapp shows how instructors can gamify lessons so students can better learn, get to that prize of a degree, and achieve success beyond. It’s a game within a game.

In basketball, we sometimes use the phrase “two-man game” for a give-and-go or a pick-and-roll or an alley-oop. There are still 10 players on the court, but for those moments everything hinges on those two players. It’s a game within a game.

I also saw this game-within-a-game phenomenon when I stood next to traffic outside the convention center where I was attending the conference.

I saw traffic lights, which signal to drivers when to stop and when to go. There are signs and speed limits to follow. And there designated sides of the street that each driver must follow.

The rewards of following the rules of the game are pretty straightforward — you get where you need to go without incident. And the penalties for not following the rules can be harsh — tickets or traffic accidents.

We have some pretty strong incentives to play by the rules of games created long ago. And rules like traffic laws are unlikely to change drastically.

But there was also another parallel game within the game going on.

Right next to the traffic lights, stop signs and cars, there was a bike path. On that bike path was a sign that tallies up the number of cyclists that passed that point daily. There’s a daily count and an annual count, which ticks upward with each person that bikes past.

The bike meter is also very visible to traffic idling nearby at a stop light. I’m sure that was no design accident. While waiting for the light to turn green, a driver can see how many hundreds of cyclists have taken the path that day. Maybe they’ll start to think they should be out there with them.

Even as the rules of the road for cars doesn’t change, this is a small game that encourages more bike traffic instead of car traffic.

I had coffee with my friend Tyler, who takes this bike path daily, and he talked about how he he gets excited to be one of the first riders of the day. It’s a small thing, but it’s an intangible incentive to motivate riders.

This made me think about the times I’ve been frustrated because the “rules of the game” — which may be unfair, inefficient or just plain dumb — seem too entrenched to change.

But maybe there’s another way. Instead of trying to change the whole game, you can create a new game.

And maybe your game might be a gamechanger.

Educator. Podcast addict. Wrote a book about creativity:

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