In 2009 Paolo Pedercini released the critically acclaimed html game Every Day The Same Dream, exploring the utter meaninglessness of working life, set to the backdrop of grey office walls, somber music, and most importantly, repetition. You play as an office worker who repeats the same actions each day, and actions must be repeated again, and again, and again. Disobedience results in a few alternative endings, but even these endings come back to the repetition of the office day once more. The morale of the game is that there is no way to escape the repetition inherent in working life. But is there a way to make it more enjoyable?

One of the most interesting aspects of Every Day The Same Dream is how fun it is, despite its repetition, and here the game seems to reveal the main difference between gaming worlds and the real working/office life. Games contain ‘juice’: distinctive feedback and reward mechanisms that make games incredibly enjoyable, and the lack of which makes most office jobs mind-numbingly boring. Even in a game like Every Day The Same Dream, juice works to make the game world feel reactive to the player in a way that doesn’t exist in the real world.

Modern life is fun and fulfilling and not depressing at all.

Modern life is fun and fulfilling and not depressing at all.

A few years ago, Martin Jonasson & Petri Purho gave a lecture breaking down the concept of juice in games. Put simply, juice makes the interactive elements of a game that occur immediately after a player interacts with the game world. A pong game that makes a sound every time the ball hits the player’s rectangle would be an example of juice at work. Whenever Candy Crush pings when the candies are lined up or flashes disappearing candies before they’re popped out of existence, that’s ‘juice’ in action. These small, interactive design elements help prevent even the most repetitive actions in games from feeling boring.  

Have you ever met a person in real who lines up candies for several hours at a time? No? Me neither. Real life lacks the juice used to make Candy Crush enjoyable.

But how does juice work, and how could we add it in to working life to prevent everyday from feeling the same?

“Juice works to make the game world feel reactive to the player in a way that doesn’t exist in the real world.”

Todd Howard, creator of Fallout 3, unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly, who knows) reveals the answer in a behind-the-scenes video. Discussing Fallout’s V.A.T.S. system, Howard suggests that a key element of game design is to make the actions that a player will repeat the most (in real life think stapling, photocopying, collecting coffees), the most enjoyable aspects of a game. In this way, players don’t get bored or frustrated by repetition, but come to enjoy these small meaningless interactions. Fallout 3 uses slow motion to make firing an animated gun a ‘fun’ experience. Sounds, effects, slow motion, and movement all act as subtle reward mechanisms to the player in this way. In the worst-case scenario , these can be used to manipulate people into forms of addiction and gambling. But in the best-case scenario (as with working life) they may be used to help alleviate boredom.

Where games focus on making repetitive actions enjoyable and ‘juicy’, employers too often focus on making repetitive actions at work efficient (think writing up documents as fast as possible). Instead of adding fun interactive elements to a job, employers ignore how an activity ‘feels’ to an employee. Speed and efficiency are prioritised above employee satisfaction, and yet having fun is an inherent part of being human.  

Anyone else have the sudden urge to line up candy for some reason?

Anyone else have the sudden urge to line up candy for some reason?

If you have to staple a million documents together, the speed at which you do so does not affect your ultimate boredom level upon completion; it will always be boring. But reactive elements – sounds, movements, gaming attributes and rewards, can ease this somewhat, as they do in gaming environments. This gets at something deeply primal and psychological. Humans feel rewarded when given feedback, whether in a game or in a workplace. It’s why people love working in IT companies that celebrate star employees and it’s also why so many businesses have an ‘employee of the month’. And yet a monthly celebration can’t possibly compete with direct, instant feedback upon completion of each repetitive action.

“Sounds, effects, slow motion, and movement all act as subtle reward mechanisms.”

The idea of adding juice to the workplace is part of a larger movement to gamify various aspects of everyday life. Habitica is an online site people use reward mechanisms common to video games (experience, level ups, and so on) to help create new habits and break bad habits. Running a traditional reward/punishment dichotomy, the system rewards users for sticking to their goals and punishes them for failing to reach those goals. Utilized in an office environment, such a system could stave off the boredom induced by the mind-numbingly repetitive tasks of the office worker.

Human beings are inherently social and the above-mentioned feedback/reward cycle is hardwired into how we function. Yet most modern workplaces isolate workers into cubicles, devoid of any feedback loop whatsoever for weeks at a time. It may be time for companies to re-evaluate different ways to engage employees by making their workplaces more ‘juicy’: inherently stimulating, rewarding, and most of all fun.

About The Author

Joshua Krook is a young author, novelist and video game designer, currently working on the mobile project Twelve Absent Men.

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