As many of you are well aware, the potential of gamification extends far beyond recreational fun. And 2013 was the year that a new book was published exploring this exact topic. It’s called Play at Work: How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking by Adam Penenberg, a professor of journalism at New York University. He is also the assistant director at NYU’s business and economic program. As a media contributor, he has written for Fast Company, New York Times, Washington Post. He as also appeared on the Today Show, American Morning on CNN, ABC’s World News and Money Line.
Penenberg reminds us that games are everywhere. They are no longer thought of as being just for children and computer geeks. There is an endless array of mobile game apps for kids of all ages. Twitter can be considered a game where interesting tweets can grow the number of RT’s and followers. There are also lottery games like Powerball, Take Five and Mega Millions. Nissan has even incorporated a game within their newest models to encourage drivers to compete for the best efficiency levels.
Traditional forms of teaching seek to inspire learning, creativity, divergent thought processes, personal productivity and smart problem solving. As much as parents and teachers want to impart these lessons, they feel like obligatory lists of shoulds and to-do’s for most people. But when these objectives are integrated with thoughtful game design, they can be met quite easily and effortlessly. This dynamic has led to the development of highly innovative and practical applications for learning and productivity, particularly for business organizations, science, medicine, technology and culture.
The use of game mechanics within the workplace and other fields which depend on innovation has led to phenomenal results. Not only is information being easily assimilated and remembered, but also being applied effectively in real situations. And through quality game design, purposeful ideas and solutions are being generated at a faster rate than ever before.
Penenberg feels that mundane tasks can turn into fun activities that employees would actually be motivated to play. But this is not to say that games should be designed as efforts to squeeze more productivity out of them. Instead, the objective of the game design should be to cultivate a sense of fulfillment, engagement and satisfaction. With this intent, games can be designed to truly provide enriching and rewarding growth experiences, instead of bribing players with points.
Play at Work cites examples such as Google, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Loreal, Canon, Wells Fargo, Lexus, FedEx, UPS and IBM.
Google uses a currency called Goobles to regulate the usage of server resources, which can be easily used up within the company. Goobles can also be employed for knowledge asset purposes as employees can use them to bet on market predictions.
Microsoft also implements games to train employees and boost productivity and morale within the company. Their consumers also get to play games as they learn to use the features of Microsoft Office.
Repair tech specialists at Canon use a drag and drop computer simulation to assemble parts onto a virtual copy system.
Japanese engineers at Lexus use a sophisticated computer simulation software for testing the safety of their vehicles.
Cisco was able to boost their sales by 8-12% while reducing their call time by 15%. How did they accomplish this feat? They implemented sims game called My Plan Net. Sales executives take on the roles of CEOS of different service providers so that they can understand how they make decisions and what problems they need to solve. With this insight, they are able to develop sharper sales pitches and strategies needed to boost their performance.
Target uses game design to help cashiers improve their average speed per transaction. The interface of this technology is included on cash register screens. According to the company, 88% of transactions regularly meet appropriate speed standards. Employees are motivated to enhance their efficiency since scores have an impact on their salaries and promotions.
The medical field is relying more and more on simulations so that physicians can learn to perform complicated surgical operations, while gaining experience that will help them improve their timing, decision making skills and precision.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, 70% of major employers are already using gamification to enhance performance and training at their companies. And this organization believes that this year in 2014, we can expect 70% of 2000 major global firms incorporate the use of games within their work environment.
Research on Gamification
In an interview with Forbes, Penenberg also discussed the appeal of games from the perspective of brain researchers.
Game environments are designed to provide relatively immediate experiences of gratification, particularly through feelings of achievement and accomplishment. This does not occur as frequently within real life situations.
The feel good sensations (that make us want to keep playing) originate from surges of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Scientists believe that these pathways were originally shaped by the survival instincts during the earliest phases of human evolution. Our ancestors had to constantly escape danger and acquire their means for sustenance. This is how they derived their sense of accomplishment.
In our modern world, games provoke similar drives where players have to escape from negative consequences and use strategic thinking to win rewards. These mechanics trigger dopamine pathways that were originally aligned with survival. But they are stimulated within controlled contexts where the stimuli is pertinent to the times that we now live in.
Gary Marcus is a research psychologist from New York University is the author of a book called The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind. He believes that our pleasure centers consist of multiple pathways which can be selectively activated by games and other forms of “pleasure technologies” like movies and music.
Exploitation Versus Accomplishing Great Things
Penenberg wrote Play to Work in hopes that games will help humanity accomplish great things, as opposed to acting merely as manipulative tools which serve as a means to an end. He gives game examples such as:
1) Fold It: Participants come up with different ways to fold proteins. The results are then scored and by scientists to see which ones have the potential to create the strongest impact in real life situations
2) Galaxy Zoo: Players collaborate to classify astronomical objects like planets, stars, and solar systems. When the game was first designed, it was estimated that it would take a year to classify a million objects. But in fact it took a day to classify 50 million objects
3) Eye Wire: MIT developed this game to enable participants to map retinal connections and collate information to help scientists learn more about visual perception
4) Ancient Lives: Players help to decode ancient texts from Egypt
5) Whale FM Oceanologists listen to sounds made by orcas and match them to similar sounding calls
The author also predicts that along with great developments in gamification, there will also be poor ones as well. Game design has the potential to be gimmicky. And for those created to enhance performance in the work force, there is also the risk of exploiting employees.
The difference between good games and bad games is the quality of the design to provide rewarding experiences for the players.