Hi, My Name Is Zsolt And I’m Not A Pokémon! - Reflecting On Games And Gamification
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Contemplating Games And Gamification

I’m on the phone with a service company. This nice person is asking me for details about my problem. We get to my name. Something funny happens. When I say Zsolt (Z-S-O-L-T), she replies:

Wow! What an unusual name! Sounds like a Pokémon.

Then she realized what she just did: potentially insulted a brand new customer. I was fine. It was funny. In fact, it made me think: what if I am a Pokémon, I just don’t know? That led to some reflection of the game itself. Do you remember the craziness when Pokémon Go started?

Pokémon-Style Games And Gamification

Do you remember all the articles how we (L&D) should be building Pokémon-style learning? The future of workplace engagement? What fun would be an onboarding doing Pokémon-style?

It kind of reminded me of Angry Birds! While I’ve never seen any actual successful implementation of learning Angry Birds-style, it brought something into the mainstream: it showed that you can no longer ignore consumer electronics, games, and TV shows that surround us. You cannot separate your workplace from where people live, shop, do sports and have fun. You can no longer keep “learning” in the LMS in the workplace the same way as it was constructed decades ago. If I were a Pokémon, I would not want to be locked up in a management system. I would need to be free, somewhere around games and gamification.

So, Whatever Happened To Games And Gamification?

For the last five years, I’ve been speaking at national and international conferences about games and gamification. I’ve had numerous conversations with L&D professionals about why it’s not a good idea to start with games and gamification for a course. That’s not the same as “don’t use games or gamification!”. It means you do not start with them. If you’re thinking of using games and gamification to “engage learners”, read this article first about engagement for humans. Here’s my recorded webinar with Training Magazine and a podcast interview with Professor Game.

Understanding The Big Misconception

This article is not about where to start (hint: Cathy Moore action mapping) but more about one of the biggest misconception of games and gamification:

Games and gamification are NOT content delivery methods. In fact, they can be probably one of the least effective way to deliver content.

For simplicity, let’s just say that games include gameplay, where people learn through interactions with the game. There’s a start, and end, and most of the time a winning state. Gamification is about motivating people to do something. This motivation is achieved by using the same game elements that games have. However, there might not be gameplay at all, and people don’t learn through gameplay. Gamification can have extrinsic motivations (reward system), and intrinsic motivations (like Keller’s ARCS model). Regardless, both games and gamification are driven by actions.

Actions and decisions are the fundamental building blocks! Not “content.”

Is Our Job Designing Learning Or Enabling Working?

Thinking about what people need to do in the workplace, what decisions they need to make in the workplace, is the starting point for any games or gamification. Don’t use gamification to motivate people to take irrelevant, useless content! Don’t build a game to deliver your boring slide content! Why? Because you’ll ruin it for other potential use of games and gamification.

Let’s be real! We usually don’t choose projects we want. We don’t choose stakeholders and Subject Matter Experts we want. We don’t choose timelines, budget, etc… In theory, it’s easy to cite research and instructional models. In reality, you always make some kind of a compromise.

Practical Suggestion

Therefore, here’s my suggestion (and an alternative solution to the misconception of delivery method):

When we think like Instructional Designers, we often focus on the learning part of the process. That’s our job (?). We learned how to design, build and deliver complete SCORM-compliant courses with all the content our stakeholders wanted to learners to know about.

Just like me, you’re most likely not a Pokémon. But for a second, think outside the traditional role of designing content and focusing on learning. First, you can’t really design learning anyway, as it is an internal process in someone’s brain. However, in reality, you can design the most effective and engaging conditions that may lead to learning. But ultimately, your target is not learning, rather doing. In my 20 years of experience, workplace learning is about developing, evolving, and growing. And all this happens through doing. Reading and listening online is not doing. Drag and drops and sorts are physical activities (of the mouse) but it may not require any mental effort that is helpful for people to their job easier or faster.

Use Games And Gamification To Trigger Reflections

Some of the most successful implementations of game elements I’ve seen in the workplace were not delivering content. Their role was to trigger reflections. To trigger conversations. To trigger arguments. To discover gaps and misunderstandings. In other words, it wasn’t the gameful experience itself that “taught learners anything”, it was the reflection and conversation that followed.

Build a 5-minute, laser-focused game or gameful challenge related to the core problem. Then use that as a starting point for your discussion. You can do this easily in a blended environment. For example, we tracked all data points in a game played in a face-to-face new hire course, then aggregated the data and discussed it with the participants. You know you’ve won when they wanted a redo after the reflection discussion.

What If It’s Not A Face-To-Face Program?

How about starting your VILT with an individual challenge? Then bring people back online and reflect? If it’s OnDemand, use your internal social platform to trigger a conversation about the experience after.

Building a 5-10 minute good quality gameful experience based on actions and decisions is much less expensive and more effective than trying to come up with a 30-60 minute gameful course.

Give it a try!

Zsolt (who’s not a Pokémon)

Originally published at bit.ly.