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The challenges and opportunities of gamification


If you're thinking of using game theory in your L&D strategy, make sure you read this great piece from Tim Clague first. 

Unlike a lot of people in the learning and development field I have also worked in the computer games industry, and still do from time to time. I’ve worked on crazy big shooting games, to intricate narrative games, to free online Lego games for kids and even got to work with my childhood hero, Julian Gollop, on his remake of a ZX Spectrum classic.

So I’ve been seeing changing developments as well as longer trends in this field for many years. When people in the training sphere say ‘gamification’ they can often just mean ‘people love to get a score and maybe a badge at the end’. Of course there is more to it than that. And so, here are five challenges from the world of gaming. Can these be made to work in the learning field or not? Do they prove that the two won’t ever work together or are they opportunities waiting to happen?

Games are often set up to make you fail

If you go back to early games, I’m talking way back to the PacMac era, then games were indeed set up to ensure you never completed them. After all, they were designed to guarantee you added another ten pence coin to give it another go. Modern variations like Resogun on the PlayStation4 Network retain this same spirit, forcing you to fail so you try again. Today, large multiplayer games, such as one I worked on, pit player against player, again to ensure everyone wins some of the time, but never all of the time. Linear single player games, such as 'The Last of Us' or 'Infamous' won’t let you fully complete the game during a single play through because choices make you give up certain parts of the game - you can’t do it all. Enjoying the story is the reward in itself. So a successful game has to have a built in element of failure for players. Would you be happy with a percentage of your learners failing? If everyone 'wins', is it still a game?

Games are a 'third place'

Games are enjoyable because they offer the brain an escape. They give it a virtual 'third place' to breath. Not work. Not home. A third thing to occupy it. Or another way to look at it, games give escapism. That’s why the rules of the world must be self contained and fair and make sense. They are the rules of this third place and are different from what occurs at home or in our working environment. A game that takes place within the environment of work, with work-style rules, isn’t a game at all. A game takes place in its own unique world with its own rules. Or does your learning take place in the normal world?

People have their 'work-games' already in place

Think it could be fun to bring games into the workplace? Guess what, everyone already has their own work-based games that they have made up for themselves. Games like, 'what shall I do to deserve another coffee?' or 'how many of these do I have to do before I go home'. People without games often make them up to everyone else’s annoyance. Games like 'can I steal Janet’s biscuit again' or 'can I print the exact number of pages so the printer is left with no paper'. And management comes back by offering games like 'sell five more of these to get a bonus'. All of work is a game already. With these kind of games already going on, do yours seem a little pedestrian?

Few players finish a game

There are a few select gamers out there called trophy hunters. They try, and totally 100% finish a game. Doing it several times, over and over in fact. They want to get every unlockable area, every bonus and every award. But these people are in the minority. Despite this, many gamification elements assume that this kind of behaviour is the standard. Most players in fact are happy to play for a while, get the idea behind a game and have some fun with it and then move on. This is fine. It’s a game. To add a pressure from outside of the game world to finish it kind of breaks it. And of course, those that do conclude a game, may have done so in a patchy and zig zag manner that means they didn't complete all of it, but bumbled through a central portion. But would you be happy for learners to not do all of your course, to get the idea and move on?

Games may not end at all

A lot of games don’t really have an ending at all. Or certainly, the ending seems so far away that it isn’t a clear goal. Games like Skyrim or FarCry carefully overlap the missions so that by the time you’ve completed one task in the game you have somehow started two or three others. You can go on like this for days, in the same way that a soap opera never has a ‘conclusion’. This keeps gamers interested. They don’t want to be heading ruthlessly for the ending as soon as they have started. They want to enjoy the journey. How comfortable would you be with learning that doesn’t have a fixed ending or score?

Are these five things barriers against gamification? No. They are things to think about. Games really engage people. But just how a camera pointing at a book doesn’t really use the power of film making - so most people aren’t really using the full power of games.

Tim Clague is video director client L&D projcts at GP Strategies Ltd

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