The Puzzle of People


I’ve answered the gargoyle’s challenge. The ball of string is light, a single strand stretched taut behind me as it winds its way down the long corridor I emerged from. The ball will fall apart with just a few more steps. The end of another journey.

*                   *                   *

This is my second year participating in the April A to Z challenge, a post almost every day in April following the letters of the alphabet. My first year led me eventually on to discover gamification. So in 2014, I followed up with charting the things I’ve learnt over this last year with my A to Z on Gamification.

The one question I realise I haven’t answered yet, is why gamification at all?

I enjoy games, yes, but I’ve never been interested in game design before. It’s only through the lens of what it can bring to the goals and motivations in real life, through the lens of gamification does it begin to fascinate me.

The Puzzle of People

I’ve always put down my confusion around the ins and outs of people, as a lack of empathy. I admit I don’t naturally feel a connection that comes from ‘affective empathy’. But I do though care a lot about understanding what makes people tick.

People have always seemed like an elegant endless kind of puzzle you might try to solve.

Image Source: Daniel Research Group, Cornell University

As I think back to my earliest memories, I wonder if this feeling of distanced puzzlement has come from standing at the edges of too many playgrounds as a kid.

Why was Suzie best-friends with Anne, but only second best-friends with Mel, which meant she wasn’t allowed to speak to Toby. These little dramas fill my most vivid childhood memories with subtle surprises that reveal the intricacies that even a school playtime can hold.

Take the classic break-time game of many names; “Tag”, “It”, “Chase”. One person chases around the other kids till the caught become ‘it’ and now its their turn to chase you down. The same game mechanic (the chasing) and one rule (catch anyone to switch roles). Except, I remember vividly for one occasion.

On a warm spring day when the huddle of kids in the playground decide to play ‘kiss chase’.

There was a strange moment in this ‘kiss chase’, when I realised that no one was actually trying to chase me. I tested my hunch, at first, by standing still and watching the tide of kids running in every direction except towards me. Feeling bold, I also tried running straight towards the chaser thereby creating a strange inverted parallel game that confused everyone.

In the end, I remember just standing, watching and puzzled at the sudden change to the game-rules I thought I understood. I watched the zigzagging of girls and boys dashing between the trees and benches suddenly following an unspoken set of rules. Who they chose to chase and who they wanted to be caught by.

An invisible web of the hopes and rejections from a dozen childhood crushes played out across our concrete playground,

I felt as if I had solved something that day. A jumbled set of pieces of a puzzle moving around that suddenly came into sight. Suzie, Anne, Toby, what they wanted, what they were afraid of and how all of it got twisted up and changed into the faces they showed each other were laid bare in a game.

I think I believed that there would be more games like this. More ways of seeing the world that would mean one day that the puzzle of people would somehow all be revealed.

I guess I’m still looking.

I look at the field of gamification and wonder if it offers something like that moment. That if I look through the lens of another set of games there might be a way to help solve the puzzle of people, this time playing out on an even bigger playground.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *