Thursday, March 31, 2011

Real Life Combined with Gaming

We’ve all been there. In one hand we have a messy kitchen which we know we really need to clean. In the other hand, we have that World of Warcraft character that’s just about to level, or a new mode in Bejeweled that we haven’t tried yet. A standard choice between something fun and something..well...not fun. Responsibilities butting heads with our want to be entertained. However, does what many people call “real life” have to be in such conflict with our ability to have fun?

The guys over at Extra Credits don’t think so. Yes, another one of my blog posts is making a reference to their content. In fact, this post has been 100% inspired by their most recent video. They talk about “Gamification,” which refers to taking the mechanics of play and working them in with “non-play” aspects of life. Real life combined with gaming.

Now, I love this idea. Making medial chores more fun? Where do I sign up?

The guys over at Extra Credits didn’t go into any examples, because they didn’t want to advise, say, credit card companies on how to use Operant Conditioning to get customers to rack up more debt. Can’t say I blame them. I would, however, like to put out a few ideas of my own on how to use gamification to make the work place and chores at home more fun.

I actually thought about something similar once before. “If I were a manager at my work”, I once thought, “I would make a big pizza board, and for every good job add a ‘pizza token’ to the board. When the board was full of pizza tokens, all the programmers would get a free pizza lunch!” You can almost hear the standard xbox ping, can’t you? Achievement unlocked: pizza token. I think this is a pretty good but simple example on how to use gamification to enrich “real life” tasks.

Let’s take my pizza board example to a higher level, one that includes more “game.” For example, how about making a big board and putting it up where every member of the team can easily see it. All the people on the team have their own exp bar which would display their current amount of experience points and what level that they are on. You could have a team exp bar as well, or even just make that the only record of progress if you’re worried about pitting your employees against one another. Anyone reading this who has managed a team and doesn't play a lot of games may have already closed their browser, but stick with me.

OK, so everyone has their own exp bar. Anytime a member of the team does a good job, or completes a required task, they get exp points. When they level (or ding as it’s known in most MMORPG’s) then some sort of reward could be supplied. This does not have to be a massive thing. A 5 dollar gift card to the local coffee shop, a spiffy pen, maybe a plant to decorate their cube with, the list goes on. Hell, depending on the people you’re working with, you may not even need to give monetary rewards. If a member of the team levels up by, say, fixing a really nasty bug in the software, the manager could send out an email to the rest of the team. The email would let everyone know that “person x has leveled up and earned the new title: Bug Smasher!” Plus, when a person levels, it can add to the total exp of the team. When the team levels, that can be when you reward everyone with a pizza lunch or something the team in question will find rewarding.

You could even turn the exp board itself into a game. You could actually make a board game, and whenever someone levels up or completes a task, that person can roll the dice and see where they land. You could make chance cards like Monopoly to make the player’s life more interesting, or put rewards/events on the spaces and the player has to hope they land on one...just be ready to deliver if they do.

I know that if you work in a place that takes itself very seriously (like I do at the time of this writing), this whole idea may not be received well. It truly depends on the people you’re working with. However, if motivation and engagement is at a low, then why not give it a shot? The worst possible result would be that it gets flat out rejected by the members of the team, everyone has a good laugh and life in the workplace goes on. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.

Finally, I’ll end with a quick comment on how to bring this idea home. I’m sure you’ve heard parents or even been “that parent” that complains that they can’t get their children to clean up their rooms. Well, why not make an “allowance board,” or something similar. Have a checklist posted where the children can see it, and if at the end of the night their beds are made and the toys put away, they get a sticker. If they have 5 stickers by the end of the week (5 out of 7 isn’t bad in my opinion), they get their allowance. If not, they don’t. If they have stickers for every day of the month, they get an extra treat.

Remember, keep the people that you’re trying to engage on the edge of their seat. Don’t reward them for every little task, and don’t reward them regardless to try and “be fair”. This concept of taking real life and combining it with gaming relies on Skinner’s theories on operant conditioning. One of the core rules of Skinner’s findings is that rewarding all the time is actually not as effective as rewarding every so often. Keep people lean, and they’ll stay engaged, working for that distant payoff...and if you do you’re part right, having lots of fun doing it!

gl hf!

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