Playing games has been part of civilised societies for centuries and is woven into our heritage and evolution as human beings. Board games have been found in the pre-dynastic burial sites of 3500 BC Egypt. As someone who is passionate about games I’m always keen to observe the cultural trends and patterns associated with gaming.

With the digital age gaming has become ubiquitous in a way it never was before.

Board games, parlour games and games room games have influenced and continue to influence the world of video, mobile and PC game design. Board game designers also have their eyes fixed on the digital gaming landscape for fresh ideas and inspiration to inform the aesthetics, theme, plot and mechanics of their creations. This cross fertilisation makes for a rich and innovative playing field, if you’ll excuse the pun.

The recent rise in the popularity of pinball is a good example of how kids brought up on digital games will not, as many feared, be restricted to a lifetime of technological addiction. A whole new generation of pinball wizards, who learned the rules of pinball on digital devices, are now migrating to the real thing and seeking out machines in pinball clubs and pubs which are springing up in our cities.

And despite the continued concern about how digital games might be negatively affecting us, increasing academic and scientific studies reveal that playing for a restricted time each day may actually make you a smarter and better adjusted person, no matter what age.

It turns out, play is good for us, even when we’re all grown up. At the National Institute for Play they are endeavouring to prove it, through scientific study:

All sorts of creative new connections are made when you’re playing that otherwise would never be made,” says Stuart Brown, founder of the NIP, he explains how the censoring of thoughts and psychological barriers are dropped during play, and this can lead to an increase in creative ideas and innovation.

What is Gamification?

Gamification literally means ‘making a game out of something,’ and everything, from the food we eat, to the exercise we do, to how much we sleep can be turned into a game with an App available for just about every activity. At its heart, gamification seeks to engage people on an emotional level and motivates them to achieve their goals.

But play in the workspace is taking on a whole new importance. Organisations seeking to engage and motivate the workforce are studying and implementing gamification and using its insights to increase employee engagement. Small wonder that business leaders and policy makers are taking such a keen interested when you consider that the global games industry is worth over $100 billion. Influenced by the essentials of human psychology and behavioural science, gamification rests on three main elements: motivation, ability level and triggers:

Gamification seeks to take enjoyable aspects of games – fun, play and challenge – and apply them to real-world business processes. Analysts are predicting massive growth of gamification over the next few years. Source

Small and regular rewards

Businesses are using gamification to understand and influence the behaviour that they want to encourage but rewarding people for achieving goals at work is nothing new. What’s different in the world of games is that rewards are frequent and small tasks and achievements are valued. History shows that usual monetary or punitive systems to reward or motivation often fail. But game players feel compelled to keep working towards the goal even though the rewards are not necessarily extrinsic (money, prizes, penalties, trophies). In fact, studies suggest that gamification works better and has more human centred value when the rewards are intrinsic (fun, mastery, personal development, responsibility, power).

When it works, gamification provides an experience that is fundamentally compelling and promotes learning. By employing some of the key characteristics of gaming such as an absorbing narrative, clear rules of play, and faster feedback cycles businesses hope to motivate employees in a way that has never been available to them before.

Playing for profit

Some of the benefits businesses might hope to see when implementing a successful gamification strategy are:

  • Increased employee motivation and productivity.
  • The alignment of values and goals of employees, stakeholders and customers with company goals.
  • Employees are engaged with new initiatives and become brand advocates.

Analysts at Gartner are predicting that organisations will apportion 2.8 billion USD (1.7 billion GBP) of spending budgets on gamification by 2015:

Where games traditionally model the real world, organizations must now take the opportunity for their real world to emulate games,” said Brian Burke, an analyst at Gartner.

David Perry echoes this sentiment and waxes lyrical on the potential of play in his fascinating Ted talk,

Games on the surface seem like simple entertainment, but to those that look a little deeper, the new paradigm of video games could open entirely new frontiers to creative minds that like to think big.

Mr. Perry asks “Are Games better than life?”

Personally – I wouldn’t go that far!