Metaphor and games

Yesterday it occurred to me that the choice of metaphor in XP might determine the “playfulness” of the project. (For the idea of projects as a game and the importance of playfulness, see herehere – and here.)

In developing my blog tool – see here – I chose the name “Burger” because I thought the phrase “Powered by Burger” was funny. The name of my powerbook is also “Burger”, because at Oops we name our computers after stuff you can eat. But the name made me think about having as metaphor the “assembly” of burgers at Burger King – not too far from the assembly line metaphor of the original XP project at Daimler-Chrysler, but indeed a more playful one.

The blog entries stored as text files in the file system, along with the templates that determine how they will be displayed, and the step by step processing of each blog entry, might be thought of as if they were burger ingredients, chosen according to the criteria given by the customer: “No onion, but lots of mustard.” Perhaps a bit far-fetched a metaphor, but the playfulness of it might make a difference for the project.

Either you can choose the “naïve” metaphor, mapping directly to the “real” world – in this case with blog entries, templates, collectors with criterias, transformers of content, and so on. Or you can choose a more “metaphoric” metaphor, such as “assembly line” to raise the level of playfulness of the project. Or you can go all the way and choose a goofy metaphor, such as “burger assembly”, if you dare to. Imagine hearing executives explaining the system as being “a Burger King” to customers or investors.

I think a playful metaphor can really make a difference in a project. The metaphor strongly affects the vocabulary used in discussing the system and if the vocabulary is playful, the project will be playful. Design discussions will definitely be more fun. For the burger assembly metaphor, instead of thinking of a feature to “transform” content, you could call it “frying”. Instead of “assembling a publishable”, you could call it “wrapping up a burger”. And so on.

The above was posted to my personal weblog on July 1, 2002. My name is Peter Lindberg and I am a thirtysomething software developer and dad living in Stockholm, Sweden. Here, you’ll find posts in English and Swedish about whatever happens to interest me for the moment.


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