Gamification – not a new swearword

You would be forgiven for thinking that gamification describes a new type of weapons technology that shoots gamma rays. It is a lot more benevolent than that and simply describes a way in which games are being used to expose concepts in different settings.


More people are starting to use games in their learning and using strategy simulations and complex real-time games to simulate learning. Organisations have also realised that linking products to games and putting in an educational context drives much better adoption.


The idea of using simulations to learn is not new and was practiced by apprentices and artisans that copied their masters. After many years of learning how the master did it – you could finally venture out on your own and create your own work.


The idea of simulation entered the modern age when fighter pilots were crashing planes and the military realised that the best way to teach people to fly is to give them more time behind the control. The first flight simulators were boxes with sticks and plane like controls – but through successive generations of refinement they are more lifelike than planes today. It also allows trainers to setup often hard to replicate conditions such as storms, multiple systems failures and even terrorist incidents. This type of training is “real” in that quick decision making, multiple attempts at a scenario and lifelike conditions create the ingredients to prepare pilots and crew for dealing with most situations by giving them a strong experience base.


In the 90’s a lot of experimentation was done in emergency management situations with games. We have all seen a show were fire-fighters enter the burning building and put it out. To prevent loss of life a lot of these life-threatening situations were transferred onto computer simulations and later into virtual reality simulations. The same has been done for police services, crowd control and many other areas.


While most of us will hopefully never end up fighting a fire or having to calm a crowd – in recent years there has been a look at how this applies to business.


A whole generation grew up on video games and is now using the method to learn about how to run their life, do business and run organisations.


Games and simulations are being used to teach people how to manage their personal finances, how to better recruit staff and how to talk to your boss. You can get simulations and coaches that take you through most business scenarios and you need to see the solution in a given parameter set.


A common type of game is one in which resources are limited, a solution needs to be found to a static or evolving scenario and only by applying your management skill can you make the right decisions in terms of procuring more resources or producing more output. The aim of these games typically are to shift the behaviour of an individual from being a producer to being a manager of resources and the manager soon realises that you can only win the game if you focus on employing your resources more effectively.


Other gamified scenarios highlight the effect of competition, co-operation, impacts of different changes and acting with particular behaviour patterns. One consulting company used a game that you play to assess your consulting behaviour. You are given scenarios, with possible outcomes and each outcome leads to an evolution of the scenario. If you choose the wrong path – you are in front of the media explaining your actions soon and if you take the right path you get to go to the interview.


It also seems that gamification is becoming popular in general marketing and communications. A loyalty scheme is a type of game. Get points and you get a reward. Using an interactive game to sell is translating into some retailers offering game type settings in which people can buy groceries. Why should it not be fun and why can you not do it from the comfort of your own home?


Why gamification is attractive in a learning context is that players do not get penalised for being bad – but get more points when they improve. This idea is called levelling up and is attractive as it promotes learning. While not everything can be taught by a game – games have always proved useful in transferring key learning concepts. Regenesys has always used games, interactive exercises and workplace based learning to enrich the facilitated and online class-room experience. By drawing on the skills and experience of adults it creates an environment in which people add to each other’s knowledge rather than “breaking-down” your understanding of a concept in a hope that you figure out how to integrate it into your own practices.


Games are designed to work on your desire for reward, achievement, competition, status, self-expression and sometimes fear and absence of punishment. It takes these dynamics and links it to learning concepts. In this way you get conditioned to prefer a specific behaviour or action and through repetition you increase your ability to do this at pace.


Some newer behaviours that have been find to drive people in a more social and open sharing world include making new connections, strengthening of existing links via shared experiences, values-expression, altruism, co-creation and collective problem solving seems to be a new category of emerging drivers in game dynamics and communities.


To make the game work you need a game logic – the rules by which the game is played. This may be as simple as a game-controller or as complex as a manual that describes what is allowed and what not.


This then is linked to a reward system such as points, leaderboards, badges, levels, challenges, rewards. You may have to increase your capabilities as you go through the game and this may have other impacts.


Once people are involved in a game the game designer uses peer pressure, time, specific starting conditions, specific ending conditions, increased reward frequency, exclusivity, show and tell and other dynamics to embed the idealised behaviour.


Virtual reality is also adding to the potential of gamification with new technologies likely to enter the main stream and become a lot more accessible.


Companies are using games to collect customer information, get a clearer sense of preferences and to drive a clearer understanding of customer metrics. This represent a whole dimension that is often lost to the game player – but why should a product not work better if the user helped design it? Games also represent an opportunity for in-game advertising and increasingly games are also becoming revenue generators in themselves with participants paying for in-game goodies.


People remember the game long after the learning event. When you are engaged in a learning environment and it stimulates your interest – you form more direct and permanent bonds. It is as if nature hard-wired us to value experience above learning. By participating in learning experiences we can learn more about ourselves and train ourselves to re-act better in different circumstances.



While it would be nice and tempting to have a game that runs everything – we must never forget that there is still a “real world” – or is it just a game? The translation of learning to the real world is a key metric for any learning system.


Gamification is certainly not applicable to every situation and increasingly we will see highly engaging content and simulations becoming a common interface to interact with complex ideas and concepts.


These experiences only work well if they are designed to be effective and consumers will only adopt if there is a highly engaging experience on the other side. The challenge for business and for learning institutions is to create games and learning experiences that are valuable and that supports behaviours and values that are useful in the working environment.