| 1034 words

I love games. Who doesn't! Everybody enjoys a nice round of their favorite game or sport, on a calm weekend afternoon. For some it's video games, for other maybe a sport or hobby. I, too, enjoy all these things, but what I mean by games is different than all those things I just mentioned. Beyond those classic examples, I think I have a different conception of what a game is than most people.

Everybody knows that young children love games. It comes naturally to them! They don't have to think too hard about what a game is or how it works. They just play. They can sometimes be surprisingly good at game design too, coming up with fun and interesting ways to challenge themselves in everyday activities. They're often expectedly bad as well, which is no less entertaining to watch.

This is one reason I really enjoy spending time with children, passively soaking up their wisdom and game expertise by being around them, but I've talked about that before. It's not what I'll spend too many words on right now. The key idea is that anything can be a game. Anything can be a game. If you can look at things with the right perspective, and keep an open mind, then really you can play with anything.

Maybe I'll spend more time figuring out exactly what makes something into a game, but maybe some examples will be more explanatory. Here's one "game" I love playing: being the "guy in the chair". You may recognize the phrase from Spiderman: Homecoming, where Ned asks to be Spiderman's guy in the chair, the one who gives him directions and plans his moves and tracks all his information. At the end, he gets his wish!

I love being the guy in the chair. You know what it's like? There's a whole genre of games, strategy games, which are essentially video gamified versions of being the guy in the chair. Or, to reframe it, being a guy in the chair is like getting the immense privelege of playing a strategy game in real life. There are so many situations in my life where I essentially set things up as much as I possibly can to feel like I'm playing my own game.

You can really turn anything into game. If I'm navigating somewhere, I challenge myself to do with as little electronic guidance as possible. If I'm somewhere new, I pretend I'm in a stealth mission and try to find secret nooks and crannies without being spotted. And if I have some time to plan, like I did last weekend during the eclipse, I can conjure up a game that's especially interesting.

Here's what the situation was. The eclipse totality was passing over a narrow strip of land. The closer you are to the totality itself, the longer it lasts which meant ideally we'd want to be as far south as I could get from Toronto. The other factor was cloud cover, which was pretty horrible in Southern Ontario that day. We definitely needed to find a place with as few clouds as possible. Finally, to witness the finer details like the 360 degree sunset I preferred an open place away from big crowds.

Most crucially, instead of finding the perfect spot the night before I decided it would be more fun to watch all the maps while in the car and gradually refine our location. Also because the cloud maps are less accurate on the day before, but mainly the first part. While I was driving I got live directions and updates from my friend who navigated full time to get us to the perfect spot.

In a sense I made things unncecessarily difficult. It wasn't simple to optimize those three constrained parameters to find the perfect spot. I had to weigh in a few times even though I was driving, and once we even had to stop somewhere to reevaluate and access the latest weather forecasts. At the end we made to a good spot, but not the one we thought we would be going to; we were almost cutting it close.

In another sense though, I turned this necessary navigation activity into a really fun game! The most fun game possible, at least to me. We got to be our own guy in the chair. Our own Jarvis, from Iron Man. It was so much more engaging than just putting a location in the GPS and driving for 2 hours. I learned about the best, most accurate cloud cover map. We were watching the western horizon to see if the map would be accurate to the minute. We were looking for public parkland and checking Google Maps traffic overlay to infer how busy it would be. It was so cool.

I think it's possible I like these kinds of constrained optimization/geography based puzzles more than most people. It's why I designed my scavenger hunt around Toronto the way I did; to force as much moving around the familiarity with the local geography as I could. It's also why the Youtube series Jet Lag: The Game is one of the favorite game shows ever. And with a little bit of effort, I replicated those feelings by turning what could have been a regular activity into a game.

See, anything can be a game. Navigating anywhere is a really fun game. Building IKEA furniture is a great game. If an activity that you're doing has rules, an end state, and is just the right amount of stressful or competitive then I really think it may benefit from a reframing into being considered a game. It might be fun!

I also think anybody could be a guy in a chair for anyone else who wants it. Even remotely, it'd clearly work. I would enjoy it too. I wonder if I'm a particular outlier here, or if more of my friends would like it if I set events like this up. Hmmmm, now I'm getting some fun ideas...