Posted tagged ‘gamification’

5 games every e-learning professional should play

3 April 2017

You can narrow down someone’s age by whether they include spaces in their file names. If they do, they’re under 40.

That is a sweeping declaration, and quite possibly true.

Here’s another one… Gamers are a sub-culture dominated by young men.

This declaration, however, is stone-cold wrong. In fact, 63% of American households are home to someone who plays video games regularly (hardly a sub-culture). Gamers are split 59% male / 41% female (approaching half / half) while 44% of them are over the age of 35 (not the pimply teenagers one might expect). [REF]

In other words, the playing of video games has normalised. As time marches on, not gaming is becoming abnormal.

Woman and man seated on a couch playing a video game.

So what does this trend mean for e-learning professionals? I don’t quite suggest that we start going to bed at 3 a.m.

What I do suggest is that we open our eyes to the immense power of games. As a profession, we need to investigate what is attracting and engaging so many of our colleagues, and consider how we can harness these forces for learning and development purposes.

And the best way to begin this journey of discovery is by playing games. Here are 5 that I contend have something worthwhile to teach us…

1. Lifesaver

Lifesaver immediately impressed me when I first played it.

The interactive film depicts real people in the real world, which maximises the authenticity of the learning environment, while the decision points at each stage gate prompt metacognition – which is geek speak for realising that you’re not quite as clever as you thought you were.

The branched scenario format empowers you to choose your own adventure. You experience the warm glow of wise decisions and the consequences of poor ones, and – importantly – you are prompted to revise your poor decisions so that the learning journey continues.

Some of the multiple-choice questions are unavoidably obvious; for example, do you “Check for danger and then help” or do you “Run to them now!”… Duh. However, the countdown timer at each decision point ramps up the urgency of your response, simulating the pressure cooker situation in which most people I suspect would not check for danger before rushing over to help.

Supplemented by extra content and links to further information, Lifesaver is my go-to example when recommending a game-based learning approach to instructional design.

2. PeaceMaker

Despite this game winning several prestigious awards, I hadn’t heard of PeaceMaker until Stacey Edmonds sang its praises.

This game simulates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which you choose to be the Israeli Prime Minister or the Palestinian President, charged with making peace in the troubled region.

While similar to Lifesaver with its branched scenario format, its non-linear pathway reflects the complexity of the situation. Surprisingly quickly, your hipsteresque smugness evaporates as you realise that whatever you decide to do, your decisions will enrage someone.

I found this game impossible to “win”. Insert aha moment here.

3. Diner Dash

This little gem is a sentimental favourite of mine.

The premise of Diner Dash is beguilingly simple. You play the role of a waitress in a busy restaurant, and your job is to serve the customers as they arrive. Of course, simplicity devolves into chaos as the customers pile in and you find yourself desperately trying to serve them all.

Like the two games already mentioned, this one is meant to be a single player experience. However, as I explain in Game-based learning on a shoestring, I recommend it be deployed as a team-building activity.

4. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

As its name suggests, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a multi-player hoot. I thank Helen Blunden and David Kelly for drawing it to my attention.

In the virtual reality version of the game, the player wearing the headset is immersed in a room with a bomb. The other player(s) must relay the instructions in their bomb defusal manual to their friend so that he/she can defuse said bomb. The trouble is, the manual appears to have been written by a Bond villain.

It’s the type of thing at which engineers would annoyingly excel, while the rest of us infuriatingly fail. And yet it’s both fun and addictive.

As a corporate e-learning geek, I’m also impressed by the game’s rendition of the room. It underscores for me the potential of using virtual reality to simulate the office environment – which is typically dismissed as an unsuitable subject for this medium.

5. Battlefield 1

I could have listed any of the latest games released for Xbox or PlayStation, but as a history buff I’m drawn to Battlefield 1.

It’s brilliant. The graphics, the sounds, the historical context, the immersive realism, are nothing short of astonishing. We’ve come a long way since Activision’s Tennis.

Activision's Tennis video game on a vintage TV featuring two blocky players on court.

My point here is that the advancement of gaming technology is relentless. While we’ll never have the budget of Microsoft or Sony to build anything as sophisticated as Battlefield 1, it’s important we keep in touch with what’s going on in this space.

Not only can we be inspired by the big end of town and even pick up a few design tips, we need to familiarise ourselves with the world in which our target audience is living.

What other games do you recommend we play… and why?

Pokémon whoa!

9 August 2016

When I was a teenager I was addicted to video games. Not stay-awake-for-three-days-and-die-of-starvation kind of addicted, but I would spend every conceivable moment playing.

While I enjoyed car games and classic shoot’em ups, my favourites were the more strategic kinds of games in which you could explore, think, and discover. There was always somewhere else to reach, something fascinating to find, another stratagem to try.

I ended up imposing a ban on myself in order to focus on my studies, and I did not lift a video gaming finger for years afterwards.

Then along came Ingress.

Ingress screenshot

Ingress is a mobile game developed by Niantic (an offshoot of Google). You choose to join one of two factions that are fighting for world supremacy by capturing virtual portals – which are represented by public landmarks in the real world such as statues and fountains.

Ingress is oft described as an augmented reality game, but I disagree. It’s an alternate reality game. And it’s addictive. There’s something about covering a swathe of land in deep green (or blue, if you’re one of them) which elicits that sweet dopamine of achievement.

The plot isn’t real, of course, but that doesn’t matter. The emotion is.

Eventually I had to give up Ingress because I could feel my dubious history with video games flooding back, and I was chewing through my data like a hot knife through butter.

Zubat over Sydney Harbour

It is in this light that I look on with amusement at Niantic’s latest offering: Pokémon Go.

I was vaguely aware of this game since I maintain a general interest in augmented reality. Then one day it exploded. Suddenly everyone was playing it!

I hadn’t planned to play Pokémon Go myself, but given its sheer popularity I felt it would be remiss of me as an e-learning professional to forgo an informed opinion. So I gave it a go.

Frankly, it isn’t my cup of tea. Indeed I find the game a bit childish and pointless. When you catch one Pokémon, you catch another, and then another… ad infinitum. So what?

Still, I can see why others enjoy it. All the key game mechanics are there: it’s intuitive to play; your first Pokémon is easy to catch; you level up quickly; and the Pokédex is an interesting element that taps into the collector’s mentality.

You can also earn ownership of a gym (reminiscent of becoming a mayor in Foursquare) and you can incubate and hatch eggs (reminiscent of the parenting responsibilities for Tamagotchi).

Pokémon Go players congregating undercover by the forecourt of the Sydney Opera House.

Predictably, Pokémon Go has provoked a torrent of criticism from non-players, and I say some of it is warranted. From public nuisances to privacy concerns, the game has also fuelled discourtesy, disrespect, and self harm.

Personally I don’t think that you are stupid just because you play Pokémon Go. However, I do think the game is a vehicle for stupid people to express their stupidity.

I also think the decision to assign churches as gyms was ill advised, though I realise there is a technical reason for this and thankfully some churches are using their lemons to make lemonade.

Pokemon Go screenshot

On the plus side, Pokémon Go gets people walking – that’s unusual for a video game, even a mobile one – and it has single-handedly introduced millions of people around the world to the concept of AR.

And if we needed it, it’s yet another reminder to L&D folks that people love games.

My blogging year in the rear-view mirror

8 December 2015

As the year draws to a close, I like to reflect on my blog posts.

I invite you to scan the list below and catch up on any that you may have missed. It’s never to late to comment!

Rear-view mirror

Thank you everyone for your ongoing support.

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

The dark side of gamification

16 March 2015

How well do you chop your cucumber?

It’s a ridiculous question, I know, but in the short film Sight the protagonist plays an augmented reality game that awards him points for the consistency in the thickness of his slices.

The scene irked me. The last thing I would want while preparing dinner is a computer judging me. Really, who cares how wide I cut the slices, and who judged that distance to be the perfect width anyway? It’s certainly not my idea of fun. And besides, it all tastes the same.

It’s a clear case of gamification gone too far – and of course that was the film’s message. The plot continues to delve into much darker uses of the technology, raising the spectre of what appears to be utopia on the surface hiding dystopia underneath.

Sight screenshot

In my previous post Game-based learning on a shoestring, I advocated the use of games to support learning in the workplace. I believe they have much to offer in terms of motivation, engagement and the development of capability.

However, I also recognise another side of games that can in fact impede learning. They may be downright inappropriate for several reasons…

1. Life is not a game.

Points, badges and leaderboards may be critical elements of game mechanics, but they have little bearing on real life. Firefighters don’t save people from burning buildings for 200 digital hats; soldiers can’t heal their shrapnel wounds with a beverage; and utility workers who die of asphyxiation in confined spaces don’t scrape into the Top 10.

So if you want your game to be authentic, dispense with the inauthentic.

2. Games can trivialise serious issues.

While serious games such as Darfur is Dying shine a light on worthy causes, sometimes even the best of intentions can backfire.

Take Mission US for instance. In one of the missions you play a slave girl in 19th Century Kentucky who tries to escape to the north. Prima facie it sounds like a way of encouraging young folk to appreciate the horrors of slavery. In practice, however, it’s gone over like a lead balloon.

3. Games may reinforce the wrong mindset.

The concerns that many people have over Grand Theft Auto are well documented.

What is less documented, however, is the undesirable influence that work-based games can have on your employees. Do you really want them to compete against one another?

4. Games can contaminate motivation.

Forcing those who don’t want to play a game is a sure-fire way to demotivate them. If you’re going to gamify my chopping of cucumbers, I’ll chop as few cucumbers as possible as infrequently as possible.

Even encouraging those who want to play the game might promote their extrinsic motivation over their intrinsic. This begs the question… How will they perform on the job without the prospect of external rewards?

5. Games will be gamed.

Regardless of the purpose of your game, or its sound pedagogical foundation, someone will always seek to game it. That means they’re focused on “winning” rather than on learning.

And what’s the point of that?

Cucumber

To conclude, I reiterate my belief that games have much to offer workplace L&D. But there’s a fine line between an engaging learning experience and an insidious waste of time. So before embarking on your gamely quest, take a moment to consider – and mitigate – the unintended consequences.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

Game-based learning on a shoestring

23 February 2015

Game-based learning doesn’t have to break the bank. That was the key point of my presentation at The Learning Assembly in Melbourne last week.

Sure, you can spend an obscene amount of money on gaming technology if you want to, but you don’t have to.

Take Diner Dash for instance. In this free online game, you play the role of a waitress in a busy restaurant. As the customers arrive you need to seat them, take their order, submit the order to the chef, serve their food, transact their payment, clean their table, and take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen.

Leave any of your customers unattended for too long and they’ll walk out in a huff, costing you a star. When you lose all your stars, your shift is over.

It’s all very straight-forward… until the customers start pouring in and you find yourself racing to do everything at the same time. Straight-forward rapidly becomes complex!

Diner Dash screenshot

While Diner Dash is just a simple little game, it can afford an engaging learning experience.

For example, suppose you incorporate the game into a team-building workshop. You could split the participants into teams of 3 or 4 members, place each team in front of a computer with Diner Dash pre-loaded, and instruct them to score as many points as possible within a given time period.

Of course the game isn’t meant to be played in this way. Controlling the waitress by committee is awkward and inefficient. The participants will panic; they’ll snap at one another; someone will commandeer the mouse and go it alone; someone else will butt in; and they’ll all start to talk over the top of each other.

But that’s by design. Because when the game is over, you introduce Tuckman’s model of team development and suddenly the penny drops.

What Diner Dash has done is provide the participants with a recent experience of team building. Sure, the premise of the game was fictitious, but the dynamics among the players were real. So when it comes time to reflect upon the theoretical principles of the model, they don’t need to imagine some vague hypothetical scenario because they’ve personally experienced a highly charged scenario that very morning. It’s fresh in their minds.

Hands around laptop

Other themes that could emerge via a game like Diner Dash include time management, priority management, customer service, problem solving, decision making, strategic thinking, adaptability and learning agility.

Another is collaboration. If you were to put a leaderboard at the front of the room, I could almost guarantee that each team would default to competition mode and battle it out for supremacy. But wasn’t the objective of the activity to score as many points as possible? So why wouldn’t you collaborate with your colleagues around you to do that – especially those who had played the game before! This observation never fails to enlighten.

So, getting back to my original proposition: game-based learning doesn’t have to break the bank. With resources such as Diner Dash available for free, you can do it on a shoestring.

Would you like an education with that?

4 December 2013

Last night I attended the official launch of the Tiny Shops Burgers app by Sydney-based startup, hawt.

The app is an educational game in which you are the manager of a busy little burger shop. The customers line up and place their orders – say, a burger, small fries and a drink – while you ring up their bill on the cash register, accept their payment and return their change.

If you keep the customers waiting too long, over-charge them or short-change them, they’ll become unhappy and you’ll lose them.

Screenshots from Tiny Shops Burgers

The time sensitivity of the game reminds me of Diner Dash in that it demands increasingly proficient priority management and faster performance as you work your way up the levels.

Beyond pure speed however, Tiny Shops Burgers also demands accuracy. Your success in the game is dependent on your getting the mathematics right, which must be done mentally (Heaven forbid!) while under pressure.

More screenshots from Tiny Shops Burgers

I recommend Tiny Shops Burgers because it gamifies a subject that plenty of school children dread. Not only can it develop their arithmetic skills, but also their financial literacy, awareness of foreign currencies, and (arguably) an appreciation of customer service.

But does it work?

I’ll answer that with a quote from a Year 5 student from Hurstville South Public School:

“I don’t like maths but I love this game!”

Top 5 benefits of open badges for corporates

17 July 2013

I’ve been blogging a lot about open badges lately. That really means I’ve been thinking a lot about open badges lately, as I use my blog as a sense-making platform.

Through my blogging, combined with the insightful discussions following both Badges of honour and The past tense of open badges, I have been able to consolidate my thoughts somewhat.

This consolidation I rehash share with you now in the form of my Top 5 benefits of open badges for corporates.

Carrot badge

1. Open badges can motivate employees to learn.

Badges are widely perceived as being childish, yet there is no denying that the game mechanics that underpin them can work. Some people are incredibly motivated by badges. Once they’ve earned one, they want to earn another.

You will note that I am using weasel words such as “can” and “some”. This is because badges don’t motivate everyone – just ask Foursquare! But my view is if they motivate a significant proportion of your target audience, then that makes them worthwhile.

I consider this an important point because as learning in the corporate sector becomes more informal, the employee’s motivation to drive their own development will become increasingly pivotal to their performance, and hence to the performance of the organisation as a whole.

Credential badge

2. Open badges can credential in-house training.

Yes, corporates can print off certificates of completion for employees who undertake their in-house training offerings, only for them to be pinned to a workstation or hidden in a drawer.

And yes, corporates typically track and record completion statuses in their LMS, but that lacks visibility for pretty much everyone but the employee him- or herself.

In contrast, open badges are the epitome of visibility. They’re shiny and colourful, the employee can collect them in their online backpack, and they can be shown off via a plugin on a website or blog – or intranet profile.

Badges therefore give corporates the opportunity to recognise the employees who have completed their in-house training, within an enterprise-wide framework.

Portable badge

3. Open badges are portable.

Currently, if you undertake training at one organisation and then leave to join another, you leave your completion records behind. However, if badges were earned through that training, their openness and centralisation in the cloud means that you can continue to “wear” them when you move to your next employer.

This portability of open badges would be enhanced if third parties were also able to endorse the training. So an APRA-endorsed badge earned at Bank A, for example, would be meaningful to my next employer, Bank B, because this bank is also regulated by APRA.

Still, the concept holds without third-party endorsement; that is to say, much of the training provided by Bank A would probably still be meaningful to Bank B – because Bank A and Bank B do very similar things.

Task-oriented badge

4. Open badges are task oriented.

Despite my talk of “training” thus far, open badges are in fact task oriented. That means they recognise the execution of specific actions, and hence the mastery of skills.

I love this aspect of open badges because it means they don’t promise that you can do a particular task, but rather demonstrate that you have already done it.

That gives employers confidence in your capability to perform on the job.

Assessment badge

5. Open badges can formally recognise informal learning.

I have argued previously that in the modern workplace, we should informalise learning and formalise assessment.

My rationale is that the vast majority of learning in the workplace is informal anyway. Employees learn in all kinds of ways – from reading a newsfeed or watching a video clip, to playing with new software or chatting with colleagues over lunch.

The question is how to manage all of that learning. The answer is you don’t.

If a particular competency is important to the business, you assess it. Assessment represents the sum of all the learning that the employee has undertaken in relation to that competency, regardless of where, when or how it was done.

I see open badges as micro-assessments of specific tasks. If you execute a task according to the pre-defined criteria (whatever that may be), then you earn its badge. In this way, the badge represents the sum of all the learning that you have undertaken to perform the task successfully, regardless of where, when or how that learning was done.

Opinion badge

This is my blog, so of course all of the above assertions are the product of my own opinion. Naturally, I believe it to be an opinion informed by experience.

Other people have different opinions – some concordant, some contrary, as the comments under Badges of honour and The past tense of open badges will attest.

So, I’m curious… what’s your opinion?