Gamification: engagement nirvana or emperor’s new clothes?

If you have even a passing interest in employee engagement you’ve probably come across the term gamification. A typically crass hybrid of a word invented by the largely technology-based gaming industry. It’s intended to describe the use of largely online, interactive games in the workplace designed to increase or enhance employee skills- development or engagement. And that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

As with the so-called social media frenzy however, and so many other aspects of corporate life, the gaming fans run the risk of alienating rather than engaging much of the audience given that the beauty of most engagement techniques is in the blend. Sure let’s celebrate the march of technology and embrace the freedoms and opportunities advanced gaming technology brings. But let’s keep it in perspective folks!

One thing we’re all born with is the ability to play. Whether it’s constructing new worlds via the imagination of a five-year old; dropping the entrenched facade of the corporate uniforms we all don from time to time both literally and psychologically and allowing ourselves to have fun at work …..or just finding our own toes fascinating as pre-toddling babes, we all know how to play. We may dismiss it at times or may occasionally lose our way but we all instinctively know the power of a good game. And we often do it best of all when we have little more than a few physical props, a group of like minds, a common goal, encouragement, support, space and time.

Most of our homes are fast becoming wi-fi palaces and software citadels. Sure we can all enjoy an evening on the Wii as the Redknapp clan would have us believe they spend most of their time doing. But I’m willing to bet that Jamie still dreams about his England caps while Louise revisits her own Wembley appearances before she falls asleep at night.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised that a recent trip to the cinema with our own troupe to see the latest Marvel offering The Avengers was a huge success and that the games consoles have been replaced by action figures, role play games and colouring pens for some weeks since. Far better to choose the super hero who exemplifies the qualities you hold dear and act out those super powers with your mates than push buttons while watching a screen, essentially on your own.

Of course there’s room for  virtual reality alongside the actual. But never underestimate the appetite of people for face to face interactions with and for their mates, chums,  colleagues, tribe or team.

So while you consider the claims of the software developers promising remote learning nirvana or positioning so-called gamification developments as if play was invented yesterday, reflect on how easily, naturally and readily people interact, become involved and yes, engage, if the conditions are right. And while you wrestle with innovative ways to credibly and impactfully hold back the tide of pessimism and negativity that is an omnipresent threat in testing economic times, it’s worth reminding yourself that gamification is first and foremost about people, relationships, attitude, involvement and empowerment rather than technology. It needn’t be expensive and should be relatively simple to implement. But the aim should nearly always be to involve and discover the latent superhero qualities in the many, not to implant extraordinary superpowers in the elite few.


4 thoughts on “Gamification: engagement nirvana or emperor’s new clothes?

  1. Nice post Ian – and you saved the best ‘till last. “But the aim should nearly always be to involve and discover the latent superhero qualities in the many, not to implant extraordinary superpowers in the elite few.” I love this as it neatly sums up the problem that those of us who are advocates of gamification and a more social intranet face. You can’t afford to overplay the benefits of gamification because there will always be a significant (albeit shrinking) section of your audience who don’t get it and have no wish to engage with it.

    To them an “influence mogul” or “jetsetter” badge remains and will always remain a joke. To those of us on Empire Avenue and Foursquare, we can see how this works and can appreciate how it can easily become aspirational. Rypple are making a big play in this area, and while it’s easy for me to get excited about what they are doing, most HR professionals I speak to just don’t get it. Although online gaming has a massive global audience (Farmville, Zynga Poker, Angry Birds etc), it still represents a small percentage of the population; and therefore the workforce. Until it becomes more widely accepted I’m afraid that gamification in the workplace will continue to merely “implant extraordinary superpowers in the elite” and fail to discover the “latent superhero qualities in the many”.

    • Cheers Jon. There’s always a hardcore who refuse to see that we don’t don a different personae when we hang up our coats on the corporate peg or that we all need to feel connected to a community; have the courage to express some emotion or even – “heaven forfend” strive to have fun while working.
      Gaming isn’t all about online as I know you know, but the communities and platforms you mention are taking communication into exciting territories. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how liberating even the most pinstriped of directors can find the simple injection of play into the daily grind – regardless of how it’s justified or packaged. Seems a tad counter-intuitive in the current climate, but playing with options beats being paralysed by fear of failure and it may even generate an idea or two …. so to hell with the cynics!

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