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What Can We Learn From Video Games?

Video games have been a favorite pastime for individuals and groups of people for a long time, and continue to become more and more advanced as technology evolves.  With all the attention that video games capture, is there something we can learn from them?

One observation is that in video games we often become the best version of ourselves.  While playing games we stick with a problem as long as it takes to complete the task and we are willing to get up after failures and try again, but real life can be a different story.  When challenges arise, we can get frustrated, feel overwhelmed or anxious.  Often we feel like we are not as good in reality as we are in games.  In games we feel successful, achieve more, are motivated to do something that matters, are more willing to help at a moment’s notice, and are inspired to collaborate and cooperate.

What is it about video games that draws people in and makes them so enjoyable for players?  This can be different reasons for different people.  One factor is that when you show up in a game world, lots of characters are willing to trust you with a world-saving mission.  There is always something specific and important to do, and there are lots of collaborators available to help.  In a game-world you are matched with your current skill level and you are never given a challenge you can’t achieve, but it is on the verge of what you’re capable of, so you still have to put forth effort.  Another thing that attracts people to games is the constant feedback – they’re earning a +1 or a +20 when they do something right, and in a gaming world feedback is timely – in fact, immediate.  Players know right away they’ve done something right, and in turn feel more rewarded and search out the next opportunity to do it again.  The result of all these factors is that gamers can often times achieve more in a game world than in real life.

How then, can we transfer this information into our workplaces in order to improve them?  Being able to trust employees with an important task right away can be very beneficial for an employee’s morale, but at the same time can be challenging for some employers.  If there is a large amount of training necessary it would be important to get the employee fully trained before sending them out into the workforce.  Trust is generally built over time, but it can be beneficial to give employees the benefit of the doubt.  Trusting employees with projects from the start will show them you have confidence in them.

Having a specific and important task to do is crucial so employees have direction.  If they understand this direction well and are able to offer their expertise along the way both the employee and the company win.  Even in creative roles where the desired result could be several different possibilities it is important that the overall purpose should be pinpointed and explained in detail.

Being matched with your current skill level is important for employers. When an employee is not challenged it is easy for them to lose interest with their job, and if the tasks are too challenging for their skill set they can become overwhelmed and not put forth their best effort because they don’t feel it is realistic.  As employees gain more and more experience their skill levels will likely increase, and so can their job duties and responsibilities to keep them challenged.  This will also maximize output for the company.

Constant feedback can be difficult in organizations because it is difficult to automate like in a game world, and there are no pre-determined guidelines for the feedback.  It can be a challenge to compare across several positions and give consistent and constant feedback to everyone.  A manager can only see so much of what goes on, especially if they are managing several people.  A happy medium might be to offer feedback as often as possible keeping in mind that immediate responses have the most impact and meaning to the employee.  Feedback can come in the form of verbal appreciation, or in writing, but either way it should be specific to the task.

With all the attention that video games capture, it would be great to tap into the intrinsic motivation they spark and use that information to improve workplaces.  One method could be to help people to imagine what victory looks like, and then allow them to achieve it.  Along the same lines, another option would be to think of the best case scenario outcome, and empower people to make that outcome a reality.

For more information on this topic, view Jane McGonigal’s video, Gaming Can Make a Better World at http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html.

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