Friday, 5 July 2013

Chore Wars

In reading Jane McGonigal's book Reality is Broken (see previous post), I came across the Alternate Reality Game (ARG) Chore Wars. This game reframes household chores as adventures to be undertaken by a party of characters/avatars. Each member of our household has an avatar who earns experience points (XP) and gold for completing the tasks that keep the place running, from emptying the dishwasher to folding the laundry to making a bed. The gold and XP accumulate, allowing the avatars to 'level up', develop their strengths and record their achievements. There is nothing new about the site; McGonigal indicates that it has been around since 2007. Having come across the site - we are giving it a go!

We are not a World of Warcraft family and, apart from my brief dalliance with Dungeons and Dragons in the early 1980s, none of us have much familiarity with the questing adventurer, XP and treasure type games. However, immediately after setting up our household party of adventurers and the quests that are able to be undertaken, each one of us has thrown ourselves into it. Tasks that would previously have drawn a groan and endless passive resistance are now the subject of competition. Quotes such as 'I get to empty the dishwasher' and 'I've made my bed and tidied my room. What can I do now?' have been heard in reality, not just in our dreams!

We haven't yet worked out how to leverage the virtual rewards into real world awards. Different suggestions include the person with the most points having the right to choose the radio station while driving places or the sort of takeaway dinner on Friday nights.

We've only been doing this for the last couple of days and it will be interesting to see if there is any traction in the idea in a week or month's time. I suspect that the life cycle of the game is likely to be limited to only a few weeks, but it is extraordinary to see the change that 'gamifying' the chores has made. The question is 'Why?'

Is it the sense of accomplishment - points, gold and character levels accruing?
Is it the sense that we are in this together - a collective adventure, seeing one another's progress?
Is it the empowerment that accompanies choice - we can choose to take on the different adventures?

The activities that we are doing haven't changed. Making the bed is still making the bed. However, what has changed is the way that we view it - we are looking through a different lense.

McGonigal suggests that the two key elements in ARGs are that it needs to be optional, and that it be designed to meet the four needs identified in the previous post - more satisfying work, more hope for success, more social connectivity and participation in something bigger than ourselves.

Can school-based learning be reframed so that the same activities take place but they are viewed differently? Or is a more substantial reinvention needed.


  1. Thanks for pointing this website out Tim - I'm going to see if the family want to take up the challenge.

    I must admit, after watching my kids spend hours on real world simulations, I tried something similar (giving them Yeebarr points for doing housework) but it petered out when they realised that the points didn't translate to any "real world" benefits :)

    I wonder if gaining online levels will make a difference...


    1. A month down the track, our analysis is that it worked really well as a holiday tool, but its use has petered out as term resumed. The key factor was probably that I stopped reminding everyone to claim their adventures.
      We will probably return to it during the next non-term time break ...

    2. Our family just joined this weekend (using randomly generated chores) and I am woefully behind on XP already! I hope we can keep it going - but I won't remind everyone to claim their adventures until I'm am at least 10 levels above them :)