The promise of gamification

More and more organizations are employing the mechanics of gamification to achieve goals in a different way. To most organizations gamification means that some of the more boring or tedious tasks will be executed better because it engages people in a competitive or reward driven mode of doing these tasks. This is fine. Actually, it is great because all parties benefit from it.

But, if you look at some definitions of gamification, this is merely scratching the surface. Let’s take a look at the definition of gamification, conveniently copied from the Wikipedia entry on the topic:

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.[1][2][3] Gamification has been studied and applied in several domains, with some of the main purposes being to engage (improve user engagement,[4]physical exercise,[5]return on investmentflow,[6]data qualitytimeliness), teach (in classrooms, the public or at work[7]), entertain (enjoyment,[6] fan loyalty), measure (for recruiting and employee evaluation), and to improve the perceived ease of use of information systems.[6][8] A review of research on gamification shows that most studies on gamification find positive effects from gamification.[9] []

Looking at this definition closely, you could conclude that many organizations only make use of the ‘user engagement’ property of gamification. So, possibly, gamification has a much larger promise than this. Here’s a great clip of a TED talk by Brenda Romero on gaming.


The appealing idea here is that games can be used as a medium to actually experience the true meaning of something abstract, thus gaining a deep understanding of something very complex.

So, can this be of use in my daily work? Well, imagine I have a client, a large corporate organisation, with a major HR issue. They need to enter a process with the trade unions and the works council to create a new benefits package and social plan for the coming five years. Traditionally, this is a very wicked problem, because one solution needs to be designed that satisfies the demands of very different interest groups. This would result in a long period of drawing up proposals, negotiation, consulting and making trade offs. This whole process will also be partially governed by the different hidden agendas of all parties. A common result of such a process is that no one will feel they got the best out of it, no one will feel understood and everybody is a little pissed off at each other.

A lot of this has to do with not being able to understand each other. Each parties’experience of reality is totally different. The organization needs to maintain an economically healthy system, the works council has a lot of different interests from groups of employees to represent, the trade unions want a socially acceptable solution and are also dealing with a declining number of memberships. Behind these interests lies a world of complexity, which is generally ignored in the process.

So, what if we could design a game that will take all these complex worlds that float under the surface and make them very explicit for everyone, bringing all the social, economical, technological and cultural aspect that are normally ignored to the table? I suspect that the rational outcome of the process will be better and more balanced. But more importantly, I have a strong feeling that the experience of the process will be totally different. By seeing not only the interests you are representing but also the conflicting interests of others, seeing what happens in the complexity of what is behind these interests when the balance shifts will dramatically change the game. I believe understanding each other and seeing what the consequences of a decision are for all parties will lead to a much more satisfying process, both in terms of results AND experience.


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