Last year I attended my first father-daughter dance.
Coming from Queens, I wasn’t very familiar with the concept. My old neighborhood was home to many notorious mafia families, so I was more likely to see local fathers escorting their sons to jail than their daughters to dances.
But last year while living in Tokyo, my daughters’ school organized a dance. I put on a suit, my wife dressed up my two girls, and off we went.
I wasn’t expecting much and, as it turned out, that was a good thing. The event was so-so. All of the daughters just wanted to dance and run around by themselves. All of the dads ended up against the wall talking.
I had a great conversation with a Disney executive, so as a networking event it turned out to be okay. But as a bonding experience with my daughters? It sucked.
This year was different. This year, my family and I are living in Vancouver, and to my surprise about two months ago the conversation came up. My daughters wanted me at the dance. They demanded I wear a tuxedo, which I thought was a little aggressive considering I wasn’t even invited onto the dance floor the previous year, and my wife ordered flowers for both girls.
I assumed it would be much of the same. At the very least, I would meet some cool dads. What I didn’t know was that there had been conversations going on for a year among all the young girls about who was going to “win” the father-daughter dance-off (which explained the tux—they thought they’d have a better chance of winning if I looked good).
The organizers had taken into account most dads’ reluctance to bust some moves, and their daughters’ embarrassment at them doing so. So they had decided to gamify the whole event—and they let the girls in on the plan.
Gamification works by applying the mechanics and reward structures of games to any other activity. There are levels to reach, prizes to win, and a whole load of challenges to overcome, all within the context of competition and collaboration. You know, like a game.
So at my daughters’ school shindig, dancing partners scored points for the best smile, craziest dance move, and more. This got everyone onto the dance floor.
Engagement in the room was high. All the dads and daughters were keeping tabs how many points and prizes we were racking up; they were also supporting and encouraging one another to do better. The game was on! I danced and laughed and connected with my two daughters in a way that was totally different than how we usually hung out.
And no, we didn’t win the overall prize, but it got me thinking: Gamification is actually a great tool to apply not just in building bonds, but in overcoming obstacles and achieving success. Here’s why:
1. Games Motivate
Recognition, rewards, and healthy competition are all excellent motivators, whether in business or cutting a rug at the elementary school. But prizes and praise are extrinsic motivators. This means they’re external rewards, and people eventually get tired of chasing the same carrot.
That’s why the best games also build in intrinsic impetuses, like the pride of overcoming a challenge, or the pleasure of bonding with your kid. The trick is to know your audience and what they value most—and make that the main prize.
2. Games Encourage Involvement
I’m more Flintstone than Astaire on the dance floor, but that didn’t stop me from embracing my dance-off duties with full fervor. Nor did it prevent me from engaging with those dads and daughters waving arms and legs wildly alongside me and my girls.
A well-designed game can break down communication barriers and get people working side-by-side or even together to achieve a common goal. This happens on the Spartan race course over and over again, and I’m always proud to witness it. Competitors stop to hoist others over a wall or cheer them on as they stumble toward the finish line.
3. Games Promote Mastery
Games offer us the chance to improve. Most are made up of a series of small challenges that get progressively harder as you move through them. But as they get harder, we get better. That’s how we manage to move from one level to the next. That feeling of crushing a challenge or mastering a certain skill is not only awesome, but it’s the inner fuel we need to continue developing our proficiency and power.
4. Games Create Flow
Staying focused when pursuing your goals can be a huge challenge. But applying gamification tactics can create what Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called “flow.” This is a deep focus on the task at hand. You become so absorbed in the activity that you lose all sense of time. You develop a feeling of control and effortlessness, along with a balance between your ability and the challenge you’re facing.
At my daughters’ dance we sweated it out in true Spartan style for more than four hours, and it still felt like the fun was over too soon.
Commit in 2018. Download The 2018 Spartan Race Schedule.