Tag Archives: life

Last week, I was in Edinburgh to take part in a panel discussion on gamification, organised by IPA Scotland and Creative Edinburgh. Thanks so much to all involved for the invitation, the conversation and the hospitality. We had a very broad mix of interesting panellists all doing different things and each offering something unique. Being in children’s media with a background in television, I questioned initially just how close I actually am to gamification. But in reality, we use the principals in preschool media all the time and I could of course see that directly when I took some of those principals and applied them to Dino Dog, a digging game for children.

We offer rewards. We often do this as stories unfold but where you’ll see it much more blatantly is in our faux interactive television with our “can you find…?” and “you did it!” and then in apps, patting our audience on the back to keep them going or to nurture that word people love in preschool media: empowerment. Gamification isn’t a million miles away from the James Earl Jones effect, which I have written about here before.

But is it a good thing?

I think it can be a great way to engage children in good media and that is something that can be taken much further in interactive forms such as apps. We can use basic gamification to help children learn to read or count or learn about the world. So yes, it can be a very good thing when used well. But I wonder sometimes about the more long term effects, specifically how we create an expectation for reward or praise for very basic tasks. Isn’t reading its own reward? Isn’t learning to count awesome in itself?

And then what about later in life? There is a little moment of selfishness in my life that stayed with me. It’s not a pretty moment but I’m going to tell you about it right now. I made my first 40 episodes of Fluffy Gardens, my first show. I wrote it and directed and anyone in the business will know the workload that entails. We finally wrapped the series and I thanked each person involved because the show simply would never have been as good without them. It wouldn’t have happened without our producer. There were so many people to thank. And I remember in a quiet moment wondering: who thanks me?

At that point, I had to sit myself down and give myself a stern lecture about this being entirely the wrong question. When you hit a certain point in your career, you become the one who thanks others. And if you’re doing this to be thanked, to seek out that warm sense of validation, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Now at certain points people will come back to you and thank you (parents who can see what you’re giving their kids, for example) but you shouldn’t expect it. You should do it because it’s right and because it’s good and because you can make something that you can give to others.

If you have trained yourself in your life to expect that gamified reward, that achievement unlock sound, that warm thanks, that street parade thrown for you, then two things will happen for sure. One – you will be constantly disappointed in your life. Two – you will give up long before you have a chance to do something truly fantastic.

Life is not a well-structured progression of rewards like Link’s Awakening. And Dora won’t always be around to tell us we did it. Gamification can be a great tool to engage people but let’s just be careful about how much or how strongly we use it.

And now with this post written, I’ll get that completion buzz by crossing ‘write site post’ off my to-do list and then watch obsessively how many people share this post on Twitter or Facebook and feel good or bad depending on those numbers…

Sorry, that should have had a question mark in the title. Anyone know how to survive a mid-life crisis? I’m turning 40 tomorrow. I am not cool with this at all. Not even slightly. It’s a pretty huge milestone and you know the thing about those first 40 years? You don’t get them back. You don’t get to try again. There are no save points we can reload.

And that sucks.

I guess two things might help. 1) We can try to appreciate what we’ve done well in that time. 2) We can aim to make the best use of time generally, knowing that these milestones come whether we like it or not.

Life is made up of many parts but just looking at work and content, what have I done in that time? Well, I created Fluffy Gardens and that is still one to be proud of, even if I do say so myself. It’s only really looking back on it now that I can see the slight lunacy of taking on directing the entire series while writing it too but if I could do it again (I can’t) I don’t think I’d do it any other way. I love that show and those characters will always be dear to me. And they are clearly dear to many parents and kids even now. So that’s nice.

Planet Cosmo, a show to introduce the planets to kids. I love this show. It was so much fun, I worked with an amazing team and I got to drop in some nice sci-fi references. Best of all is that it did what it was supposed to do – it inspired children. And I made other stuff that I can still really enjoy today: Roobarb & Custard Too, Punky, Dino Dog and more. My favourite? It might still be the Fluffy Gardens Christmas Special.

I once joked to someone in animation that, if there was a hell, you would be forced to watch what you have made over and over on a loop for all eternity. But if you’ve made stuff you like and are proud of, then it’s not hell. It’s heaven. So you better make great content. It feels the same turning 40. If you’re reading this and you’re much, much younger than me (likely!), keep that in mind. One day you’ll wonder about what you’ve spent a large chunk of your life creating. Hopefully you’ll be happy with what you have made.

Am I? I guess. I’m never truly content but that’s a great motivator. I always want to make something better. Something more challenging. Something that will really matter to kids or their parents. Which leads on to the next part: aiming to have something we’re happy with when we hit these milestones. We can’t plan every move and no doubt things will change as we encounter new opportunities but I think if we really care about what we do and genuinely aim for better each time, we’ll hit upon something we’re proud of. For me, that’s building new content and collaborations with Mooshku that will really set up the next decade. The foundations have been put in place.

If your own challenge is not yet finding something you’re passionate about, keep trying different things. That is not wasted time. I animated on features, made commercials in lots of different styles and tried a whole bunch of other things before realising I wanted to make children’s content. Our path is not always obvious.

Hopefully when you hit your next big milestone, you’ll have an easier time with it than I am. In the meantime, go make something awesome. Now excuse me while I sit in a dark room and listen to The Cure…