The “Unnecessary” Obstacle of the 5 Minute Perseverance Game and Why it Turns an Overwhelming Task into Doable

The well-known game designer and gamification advocate Jane McGonical quotes many philosophers and game & gamification fathers and influencers in her works. Bernard Suits is one she seems to admire much, and whom she referred to many times in her widely acclaimed book “Reality is Broken.”

Jane claims that the following quote is “the single most convincing and useful definition of a game ever devised”:

“Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.” Bernard Suits, quoted by Jane McGonical in “Reality is Broken.”

As I read this definition, I didn’t quite understand what the word unnecessary in the context of a game meant. But then it clicked as I read the following paragraph in the Jane McGonical’s book “Reality is Broken”:

“As a golfer, you have a clear goal: to get a ball in a series of very small holes, with fewer tries than anyone else. If you weren’t playing a game, you’d achieve this goal the most efficient way possible: you’d walk right up to each hole and drop the ball in with your hand. What makes golf a game is that you willingly agree to stand really far away from each hole and swing at the ball with a club. Golf is engaging exactly because you, along with all the other players, have agreed to make the work more challenging that it has any reasonable right to be.”

In the 5 Minute Perseverance Game, there is only one unnecessary obstacle. And this is that you are not allowed to work on your project in one run and do all at once. You have to work on the project you took into the game only for 5 minutes on any given day and then stop until the next day. If you hadn’t this obstacle, you would try to finish the task on the same day or do it in one piece over a couple of days. This latter approach might seem as straightforward, but it is much more stressful. The seemingly unnecessary obstacle of limiting your work on a given project only for short periods of time can work miracles.

The seemingly unnecessary obstacle of limiting your work on a given project only for short periods of time can work miracles.

First, it takes the pressure off of a big and overwhelming task. “I can do 5 minutes”, is the most common response I get when I introduce the game to someone who has never heard of it or similar games before. So the game turns hard and overwhelming tasks into doable.

Furthermore, the 5 Minute Perseverance Game provides continuity and brings well-being (since it reduces stress). Projects seize to be goals, something to be finished with and instead become paths to go, which is much more enjoyable as many find out also about happiness. If the happiness is a way, then you just make sure you take that path always, or if it were an accessory, then you always take it with you wherever you go. But if it is a goal you never know if you reach it. Making projects being enjoyable and fun paths enriches life, and we simply enjoy what is happening along the way amazed of the many adventures we have during one single day.

I re-discovered this to be true recently as I was preparing a presentation for a large conference. I realized how much I wanted this presentation to be excellent and how scared I was that I wouldn’t manage that. So I called the 5 Minute Perseverance Game for help since I already made the experience of it taking away many of my fears and being able to bring me back into the current moment. As soon as I had the instructions from organizers, I took the making of the presentation into the game and started working it for about 5 minutes a day, completing one or two slides on that day. What I hoped for happened. I stopped being concerned and worrying how the presentation would turn out at the end and instead was glad to create those few slides each day. I had fun trying various things like playing with the layout design, searching for illustrations, and adding the suitable text. The break between the days helped me realize what the weak points were and also helped me see the valuable points of the reviewers of the slides and let my defensive thoughts, which appeared after the first reading of the e-mails with comments and change suggestions, fade into the background.

The main lesson learned here is that the seemingly unnecessary obstacle of limiting the time of work on a project becomes a necessary condition for both to make the project doable in its best and efficient way and to make it real fun.

What is your opinion? Do you think that such unnecessary obstacles are helpful to have fun in a game or activity? What unnecessary obstacles do you introduce (maybe sometimes also unknowingly) in your daily routine to make it more fun, more dynamic, and progress? An example of latter from what I do: I set up a timer to, for example, 15 minutes to do some chores (whether for myself or together with my son) and then work against the clock. I love doing this time to time especially with household tasks. And my son seems to have more fun cleaning up his room when the timer is running. Do you do something similar? And if yes, what exactly?

On the picture above: As I searched for a picture for today’s post in those I made recently, this one with the elephants we saw last week in Aalborg Zoo caught my attention. The hay being placed above elephants’ heads on a chain is quite an unnecessary obstacle. The zookeepers could have put the hay down as I saw at other visits to the zoo. But that would be so much less fun. The elephants had fun catching this cube of hay and pulling it and branches with fresh leaves stuck into it.

What is this blog series about? You can find this out in its first blog post called “5 Minute Perseverance Game – Moving my Favorite Game to my Writing Blog.”

Results for days 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 of the round June 2017 of the 5 Minute Perseverance Game: 8, 11, 11, 9, 11, 8, 9 points out of 15 possible for each day.

Results Total for the 1st week in June (week 23) 2017: 67 out of 105 possible (more than 60 %)

Copyright © 2017 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels