Over at Gameful they had another challenge called Operation : End Boredom
The task : “Pick a job—even your OWN job!—and fix the most boring part.”
I spent some time thinking about how to do this, and I came up with what I think is a fun way to fix the most boring parts not just of my job, but of just about anyone’s job.
Submitted for your approval : Task Fight
I am a software engineer by trade. I enjoy solving problems in code, especially the really complicated ones. But in reality, for every interesting code problem to be solved, there is a lot of really boring work to be done : bug fixing, tps reports, testing, meetings, code reviews, rewriting old code to work with new code, server upgrades, watching progress meters fill up, boring, boring, boring! For every engaging, fun or interesting task on my task list, there are several tasks that all need to be done, but are just really boring. Occasionally all those boring things float to the top of the priority stack. When that happens, it can be hard to stay engaged.
This lead to the creation of something I call Task Fight.
THE SPEED RUN
Players Make Task Lists
Players Assign Points To Tasks
Players Assign More Points To Boring And/Or Hard Tasks
Players Complete Tasks To Earn Points
Players Spend Points For Game Collateral
Players Play A Game With Their Collateral
The Winner Gets A Prize
Task Fight works in two stages. In STAGE ONE, you find one or more people with a list of tasks to accomplish. You all agree on a specific time window for a showdown, assign point values to your tasks, and then you get as much done in your time window as you can. At the end of the time window, everyone totals up their points. Then you move to STAGE TWO.
STAGE TWO involves playing a game where you turn those points into game collateral. If you want to play a war game, you spend your points to buy units. If you want to play poker, you turn your points into chips. In the playtest, for the sake of simplicity, points turned in to dice for a roll-off. Whoever wins this game, wins the Task Fight and an agreed-on prize.
I’m writing this up from the perspective of a software engineer, but Task Fight can easily be played by any group of people who have some things they need to get done. Some aspects of a software development cycle, in particular agile development, translate especially well to Task Fight.
The first thing you need is some players. I played this game solo, and later I playtested it with one other person, but it would work well with a small group, maybe up to a dozen or so people. It can be helpful to have an impartial referee, like a manager, to resolve any disputes.
Step 1 – Agree on a time window. If you want to burn through some tasks, you can do this over the course of just a few hours. But it will play better if you pick a larger window – a week, a month, a full development cycle, etc.
Step 2 – The players sit down together and list out the tasks, assigning point values bases on player consensus of how long the task will take. Assign each task 1 point per 15 minutes the task is estimated to take.
Example 1 : Complete Review Of Training Materials – 1 hour = 4 points;
Example 2 : Implement Poorly Documented API – 2 hours = 8 points;
Step 3 – Based off player consensus, modify the point values for each task as follows : If the task is considered BORING, multiply the point value by 1.5 (round up) ; If the task is considered HARD, multiply the point value by 1.5 (round up); If the task is considered both HARD and BORING, multiply the point value by 3; If the task is interesting, compelling, or at least neither HARD nor BORING, do not modify the point value. (Rational : The things we like doing are their own reward).
Example 1 : Complete Review Of Training Materials – 1 hour = 4 points; BORING = 6 points total;
Example 2 : Implement Poorly Documented API – 2 hours = 8 points; HARD and BORING = 24 points total;
Step 4 – The players divide up the tasks. Doing this after point assignment means that point values should get distributed somewhat evenly, and that no one person gets all the boring and hard work. Then the time window opens and players go complete the tasks. As each player completes their task, they mark them off the list and claim the points.
Peer review during task point assignment should keep people honest, but there is a lot of honor system in place.
If a task is poorly estimated, the referee may agree to change the point value. The other players should at least know when this happens, but they ideally they would agree, especially since the estimates were peer reviewed.
At the referee’s discretion, if a player completes a task poorly, that player may be penalized. This should only be used in cases where it seems clear the player rushed a task through just to get the points.
If high-priority tasks present themselves during the time window, they are given point values and exchanged for something else of equal value on the task list.
There is no bonus for finishing early, and additional tasks taken on due to finishing early may not be scored.
The manager should be permitted to award a finite number of bonus points to reward individual feats (epic wins, significant breakthroughs, going above and beyond, etc).
When the time window closes, the players get together to celebrate – something with food and drink. Point totals are tallied, and any player who completed their entire task list within the time window receives a 10% bonus to their point total (round up). The points are then translated into game collateral for the game to be played. As this game will vary from team to team, implementation details of the game can vary widely. The celebration is part team-building exercise (playing together, sharing food), part reward for good performers, and part stage setting for the next round of Task Fight. Specifically, the following things should be determined:
- The player who acquired the fewest points chooses the game to be played at the end of the next Task Fight;
- The player who acquired the most points chooses what kind of food to be served at the next celebration;
- The player who wins the game played at the celebration receives a traveling trophy that may confer certain benefits (Example : Engraved coffee mug good for free coffee in the cafe);
Here are a few ways you could take point values and use them with different kinds of games in this context:
- Poker – translate the point values into chip counts, and have a poker night;
- Risk – translate the point values into individual units in Risk, modify the base rules accordingly, and try to conquer the world;
- Miniatures – if your team likes to play miniatures games where you build an army with a certain point value, you could translate points into units;
- Dice – In the playtest, we had a very small window. Each point became a single d6. We rolled all our d6, totaled up the roll, highest total won;
- Checkers – If you’re playing with just one other person, and a short window, translate points into checkers and play a game with uneven sides;
- Dance Dance Revolution – Translate points into credits and have a dance-off;
- Paintball – Turn points into paint rounds and go shoot it out (If you do this, hire me to work for you);
- Dodge Ball – For every X points, your team gets a ball;
- Solitaire – Playing solo? Pick a unique flavor of solitaire, and use points to buy cards (I did this in my solo run).
I tried a solo run first, using points to buy cards for a game of Hand Solitaire. I found myself really staying on track for getting my tasks done, but I didn’t think playing solo was much of a playtest. So I decided to find another player.
I took to Twitter to find someone with a lot of things to get done, for a short playtest. I limited the playtest to one other player due to time constraints. We agreed to play the game over a four hour time window, relying heavily on the honor system for assigning points to our tasks.
Once the Task Fight started, I noticed that I was really pushing hard to get things done that I had been putting off for some time. Specifically, I intentionally listed one task that involved tagging some images in a particular way, and I had been putting that task off for a long time – tagging images is BORING. I powered through it during our Task Fight, because I wanted the points. I found myself being more focused on what I needed to get done, as did the other player.
Playtester comment : “Instead of popping open Reddit for 15 minutes when I got in, I said ‘I WANT POINTS’ and put on headphones to focus.”
As the time window progressed, it became clear to me that I had taken on too many tasks. Meanwhile, the other player was dealing with meetings that kept coming up and getting in the way. At the end, I had completed about 12 points worth of tasks (I missed another four points by 10 minutes), and the other player reported in with 8 points (she got killed by meetings). We opted to resolve everything with a single die roll : 8d6 vs 12d6, sum the rolls, winner takes all. Final result : 27 to 43 for me. All hail my mighty army of dice!
Here’s a shot of my checklist – really the only piece of playtesting evidence I can show.
Playing Task Fight in such a small window has good value. If you are trying to sprint through a short to-do list, it turns into a sort of Word War or Word Sprint like you see in NaNoWriMo. But the small windows can really be affected by outside forces. You could have mini-Task Fights in the context of a Task Fight going on over a larger time window. I’ve come to think of these mini-Task Fights as Duels.
Playing Task Fight in a large window with a larger team would pay off in a lot of ways. By assigning points to tasks, you at least become aware of who is getting the boring work, and you can respond by redistributing the boring work across the team. Task sizing and estimation skills will improve as a result of playing the game. Natural competitiveness will keep players motivated to perform. Ending with a celebration is a great way to help build spirit on the team. I’ve come to think of these longer time windows as Showdowns.
“How will your game create an ever-challenging role?” The players will challenge each other in terms of productivity as they compete for points and task completion, but I don’t think that’s the big win. By making the boring tasks more desirable in terms of point values, the boring work will naturally be spread around the team more. As players get rid of the boring work, they find that the only work left is either challenging (HARD) or compelling (at the very least, not BORING). That’s a pretty good place to be.
“Even with your game, how quickly would the job get boring again, and why?” This is going to really vary from situation to situation but here is something I do think I can say : If you always play the same game in STAGE TWO, this game would get boring in about three months. Players will get tired of playing the same game at the end, especially in a team setting where preferences can vary by several degrees. But if you are always playing a different game in STAGE TWO, then I believe Task Fight could stay interesting for a long time – a year, maybe even two. Much longer, if your team embraces the game and really invests in the traveling trophy and the creativity involved with picking games and structuring the celebration. Alternately, you could break out Task Fight once per quarter or so, which would allow you to really customize each Showdown to the tasks at hand.
(Ed Note : I published this before it was done, so the below is all new since it went out)
This is already a bit long, but I want to briefly express the game using a couple different frameworks.
First up, Game Frame
Activity – We want players to get their boring tasks out of the way so they can work on things that are more enjoyable.
Profile – Achievement, Freedom, Control, Social Interest. Lack of Volition may be a symptom.
Objectives – Short term goals : Successful Task Completion. Long term goal : Maximum point values for use as Game Collateral.
Skills – Task Sizing, Estimation, Time Management
Resistance – Time Limits, Competition with other players, (in STAGE TWO, Chance)
Resources – Tasks, Game Collateral
Actions – Completion of Tasks and Task Prioritization
Feedback – Point Accumulation, Achievement Recognition
Black Box – Point Metrics, Referee, Peer Review
Outcomes – Task Completion, Skill Improvement and Team Building
Next, in PERMA
Positive Emotion – by getting the boring work out of the way, players will find themselves more frequently working on things they actually enjoy, leading to a more positive outlook on their job;
Relationships – competition is friendly in nature, and the exercise builds to a celebration of accomplishments made by all players. This celebration happens in the context of playing games together;
Meaning – by using the points allocations to spread the boring work around the team, players will recognize that they are collectively sharing the burden of the boring work, and sharing the goal of getting it out of the way so they can work on more interesting things;
Accomplishment – few things feel better than crossing off the last item on your To Do list. Celebrating that event together as a team will strengthen the inherent reward and sense of accomplishment.