Thursday, April 15, 2010

Games People Play

In a recent TED presentation, Jane McGonigal, a ten-year online game design veteran who works for the Institute for the Future, said “gaming can make a better world.” (See

McGonigal shares the positive effects of online gaming and challenges the audience to wonder how these effects might be transferred to helping to solve real world problems. She believes online gaming design might be used to solve such real world problems as hunger, poverty, climate-change, global conflict and obesity. Her presentation is thought-provoking and the comments range from the negative to the positive. It is not my intent to defend or criticize her, but to point out some parallels of online gaming with experience-based learning.

McGonigal points out key behaviors associated with online gaming including a sense of urgency, intense concentration and focus on a difficult problem. When done correctly, experience-based learning initiatives also produce these kinds of behaviors. In addition, positive emotions like compassion, confidence, enthusiasm, joy, playfulness, and satisfaction may be produced. Negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, disappointment, fear, impatience, panic and stress may also be revealed.

McGonigal describes four positive outcomes of online gaming. First is urgent optimism. She sees extreme optimism and hope for success in gamers in this outcome. Second is the social fabric created including the building of trust, playing by the same rules and having the same values. Trust is the lynch pin in building any relationship in any situation. Blissful productivity is a noted third outcome. McGonigal points out gamers receive continuous feedback on their work leading to happier hard work. Finally, online gamers find epic meaning in their play. The inspiring mission becomes motivation to want to be a part of something meaningful. Successful organizations with nurturing work cultures have a vision that is awe inspiring and an expectation to live into and for.

All four of these outcomes McGonigal shares in her presentation can be found in good experience-based learning done with a group of people. In addition, participants are challenged to discover more about themselves and others as they collaborate together, face-to-face. They get to see body language. They get to hear tone of voice. In order to understand, they get to ask questions of themselves and others. Unlike online gaming, experience-based learners get to transfer their learning back into the real world. They can keep commitments to positive behavior change through one-on-one support meetings as well as continued small group interactions.

I am reminded of a comment from a past workshop participant who wrote,

“Many of us in this workshop hadn’t been invited to “play” for years, even decades! But play we did as we spent hours together under clear blue skies at Camp Joy! And that playtime resulted in new friendships, heightened trust levels and significant respect for anyone willing to climb a telephone pole, put on a blindfold or scale a wall!”

I say, let the games begin and don’t stop playing and learning about yourself and others and think about the difference we can make through ‘play’.