This morning I was at one of the excellent Creativity Forums that FlandersDC regularly organizes. This one had a special twist – female speakers only, including Randi Zuckerberg, Christine Heffner, and my personal favourite, Jane McGonigal of the Institute for the Future.

For those of you who don’t know here, Jane has been a seminal force in investigating and developing games for social good over the past years, and has developed such games as I Love Bees, World Without Oil and Evoke. Her stated dream is that by 2023 a game designer will get the Peace Nobel prize.

Her presentation circled around the real life advantages gaming can create. The interesting twist of today was that this goes far beyond the types of advantages often cited, such as awareness creation and activism – playing games has very concrete and tangible positive effects on the gamer. As I have been one of those defending games for years against the parents and politicians that think that games are purely the territory of lonely teenagers who become suicidal or homicidal, and have advocated the use of gaming in business and social development, I was thrilled by the research she showed.

For instance, games bring out the best in us. Not only do 75% of all gamers prefer social and cooperative games, playing these actually improves their real-world sociability. For instance, children playing Super Mario Sunshine (an collaborative environmental game) in the week after playing the game spent three times the gametime on real world tasks such as assisting other people or cleaning up their environment. Rockstar players are substantially inspired to buy a real instrument – and 68% of those already owning an instrument start playing it more in real life. In other words, games do not substitute for real experiences, but on the contrary enhance and improve real world behavior.

Also self-improvement can be fostered by games – from the simple fact that people playing with a highly attractive avatar in a virtual world for only 90 seconds display a full 24 hours confidence boost in the real world, to the fact that soldiers engaging in games have less psychological issues and PTSD’s than others, give us powerful clues for the future. It should be noted that there are of course major differences of effects depending on the style of games played, where massive online collaborative games score a lot higher then – say – a 24 hour solo - GTA session in your basement, which might improve your hand-eye coordination, but not much else. The most impactful games are the ones that inspire real-world collaboration through Wiki’s etc, i.e. are so engaging that they get people to work together beyond the game environment to solve the challenges.

Jane was so gracious as to give me 10 minutes of her time for a few questions after her presentations, and naturally I asked her about her opinion on the value of gaming in business environments, as I see a whole range of beneficial applications in this field.

And indeed, she has had excellent experiences with this, from her most recent game, Evoke, which helped the World Bank to recruit and support young social entrepreneurs in 130 nations around the world, to even the famous I Love Bees, which was a seminal moment in ARG development – and viral marketing for Halo2….

While the opportunities to link these games to a companies’ CSR efforts are – in my view – ‘pretty obvious’, what interested me most specifically in what Jane had to say was the use of these games for scenario development, innovation and intellectual corporate stimulation.

World Without Oil has been used by many corporations to test scenarios – so what IF indeed we face a world without oil, how are we prepared to deal with this? Similarly Superstruct has been used by for instance P&G, Kraft and Toyota to test scenarios of food supply interruptions, mass migration, etc.

The most interesting results come when ‘real gamers’ are invited into the game with the senior executives, as they are used to pushing the envelope in each gaming environment they encounter. This is where the real inspiring, out-of-the-box, ‘outlier’ ideas are created. I think this should become a standard part of any executive’s task – just as I would expect any senior executive to spend a few days a year on working in the shop, answering the phones or other direct customer interaction, so they should engage in gaming environments with corporate outsiders to get fresh ideas and insights.

And who knows, maybe a game designer might then even win the Economics Nobel Prize for showing how games have made our economies more creative, robust and future oriented. In the meantime, I am looking very much forward to Jane’s book, Reality is Broken which is out in January, which explores and explains the above concepts in-depth. I am sure this will become a must read in the boardroom.

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