Why Games Work When Goals Don’t

I'm lucky. I did not play any organized team sports growing up. And I didn't participate in any competitions like spelling bees, dance recitals, or science fairs. And I never quite got the hang of playing the clarinet in 6th grade band. So for me, the idea of playing a game calls to mind a casual neighborhood round of soccer-baseball (a.k.a kickball), or attempting to jump rope for as long as possible without missing, while simultaneously reciting some weird story about a girl with a name that begins with A, then B, etc. and adding fancy steps until I tripped on my sneaker laces. Pretty low risk. No Olympic dreams. No athletic scholarships. And no, sports wise, I really never "could a been a contender." My history leaves me blessed with a rather childlike concept of play. I think playing a game is…well, fun. Your mileage may vary.

With this blessed perspective, here are some reasons why I think games work when goals don't:

  • Playing a game lightens the performance burden. We are "just playing" after all. No one expects to be perfect. We are energized to keep trying new things.
  • Playing begins with, and perpetuates a love of the game.
  • Playing fully engages all of our senses, and thereby unlocks abundant creative resources.
  • We more naturally identify simple, measurable steps. We can make those steps as easy or as challenging as we wish. I'm a big fan of easy — not because I'm afraid of hard work. I'm a fan of easy because an easy task gets me into the game, then my natural curiosity and desire take over.
  • If it isn't working, we can make-up new rules or call a do-over.
  • It's fun to keep score. Is there anyone who doesn't love amassing shiny gold stars? (Please, it's not just me, is it?).
  • A game naturally creates an environment that is designed for success. When we play a game, we think about things like equipment, and practice, and coaches, and fans. We learn or create rules that help us win. We begin to hone in on the actions that really make the difference (Just connect with the ball, don't try to knock it out of the park every time). Pick any game metaphor you like, and you have an instant framework for moving forward on something you want to be doing.

And, hello, we are playing here. It is supposed to be messy and chaotic, and loud, and punctuated by belly laughs. A lot like life.

2 thoughts on “Why Games Work When Goals Don’t”

  1. Whether it is a game or a goal there is a common theme here…NOT taking ourselves too seriously 🙂

  2. @Lea, I agree absolutely that NOT taking ourselves too seriously really smooths out the journey. And sometimes we forget. But then, as I imagine Pollyanna would say “Oh, goody. Because then I get to remember all over again! How fun!”

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