“Voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”—the definition of a game by professor and author Bernard Suits in his book The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia.
This definition took on a whole new meaning for me during my just-completed Coursera certificate course on gamification through The Wharton School. Not being much of a gamer, I enjoyed my entry into this new world.
Understanding games is the essence of gamification, but games aren’t the only ingredient.
Gamification involves adding game elements and game design techniques to non-game contexts to enhance a task. In work settings, the goal is better outcomes, including a better experience for employees, a la the participants or players.
Why is gamification becoming so popular, including worthy of college classes?
Three trends are at play:
1. The universal love of games across all generations, cultures and economic standings, feeding people’s desire for simple, social fun.
2. The power of games to engage and motivate people, as well as teach—especially in a complex world where we’re facing dilemmas often disguised as problems. Simulations and immersion learning are extremely effective tools to help us deal with these issues.
3. Advancements in technology, which allow people to play anytime and anywhere on their mobile devices.
Video games have come a long way since Pong, the first commercially successful video game, which came on the scene 40 years ago this past June.
Now a $78 billion industry, as reported by Reuters, video games and their features have become a way of life for casual as well as serious players.
One of my many ah-ha moments in the gamification course is how the experiences of game players in their virtual worlds are influencing their expectations for the real world.
For example, good games include fundamental features that make them addictive—or at least pleasurable. Yet these features are often missing or if present, not consistently available, in other settings, especially work where so many of us spend the majority of our waking hours.
Good video games include:
- Metrics and analytics—You know how you’re doing thanks to the score.
- Instant feedback and gratification—You get immediate feedback about your performance as well as rewards in the form of points, badges and other rewards when you excel.
- Transparency—You see how you’re performing against others and you can easily track your progress.
- A clear onboarding system—When you start playing a new game, you get eased into it. Once you start showing that you know how to play, you move to sequentially higher levels, each with greater difficulty. Good games have well-designed activity loops that keep players engaged and progressing through harder challenges.
- Fun—You can choose the type of game you play and the people you play with. You can exert control over the type of fun and degree of social interaction, which improves your experience.
No wonder games can be more engaging than work!
And no wonder why progressive employers are introducing game elements and game design techniques into work!
Work and play are not interchangeable. Players become fully engaged with games because they choose to participate. They care about the rules of their games they select. And if the game is social, they care about the people they play with.
Yet, gamification—which is all about learning what games can teach us and appreciating fun—brings opportunities to bridge the divide between work and play and improve work engagement and results.
If you have any doubts, think of Mary Poppins singing a Spoonful of Sugar, especially the line “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and—snap!—the job’s a game.”
So my challenge to you: Even if you’re not ready for full gamification, think how you can add an element of fun to work. Are you ready?
By the way, if you want to learn more about gamification, check out the Gamification Wiki.