IBM Impact 2012: Embrace gaming to drive employee satisfaction

IBM Impact 2012 logo
2 May, 2012

Gaming isn't necessarily as counter-productive to business results as you might thing, author and ARG developer Jane McGonigal claimed at this week's IBM Impact event in Las Vegas.

Gaming has the potential to make employees much happier and empowered to achieve more in the workplace.

Games are changing what we’re capable of in extraordinary ways.

As such, businesses should be encouraging and supporting gamers and gaming techniques, rather than putting them off, according to Jane McGonigal, alternative reality game developer and creative director of Social Chocolate, who extolled the virtues of gaming to delegates today at IBM Impact in Las Vegas.

There are some one billion gamers around the world today, who spend at least one hour, on average, a day playing games on connected devices. While many of us think this is simply a bit of fun, it actually arms them with a number of skills that are extremely beneficial to business.

“All of my research suggests games are changing what we’re capable of in extraordinary ways. Games are having a huge impact on what we can achieve in real life. In fact, the impact is so huge I often find myself laying awake at night pondering this question: Do gamers have superpowers?” McGonigal said.

“I’m not talking about fantasy, science fiction super powers like x-ray vision or the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. That would be silly. I’m talking about a more scientific definition. It effectively changes our notion of what is humanly possible, of what we can achieve together.

Every so-called super power so far in history, from languages to the creation of roads and the web, has brought people together to accomplish things at an extreme scale, according to McGonigal.

Gamers are dedicated to their cause, often spending as much time gaming as they do at work. The game Angry Birds boasts 700 million downloads and has been played by twice as many people again. People have spent the equivalent 250,000 years avenging the birds, McGonigal highlighted.

“It makes you wonder. What if we could harness some of this time and energy to solve real problems, to accomplish real work? What are gamers good enough at that we could scrape just a few minutes a week from them on?,” she said.

Gamers are experts at producing 10 key positive emotions, regardless of whether they’re gaming at the time or what situation they find themselves in, according to McGonigal.

1) Creativity

2) Contentment

3) Awe and wonder

4) Excitement

5) Curiosity

6) Pride

7) Surprise

8) Love

9) Relief

10) Joy

“Work is not a happy environment or a place full of positive emotions. Some 71 per cent of US workers are actively dis-engaged. They show up at the workplace and do not care about what they’re doing. They do not feel motivated, purposeful or optimistic. There is no excitement or joy or awe and wonder in what they’re doing,” she added.

“It’s estimated this costs $300 billion annually in lost productivity because people are showing up without those 10 positive emotions. That’s just productivity losses. Imagine the loss in terms of innovation.”

McGonigal said delegates should see it as their mission to spread the gaming word when they return to their workplaces after the conference. Gamers spent 80 per cent of their time failing when playing, yet they continue to persevere, she claimed.

"Play is not work. The opposite of play is depression… Should we be gamifying our software? Should we be gamifying how we engage with customers or how we collaborate and innovate? Your job is to say 'yes' because we want everyone we work with and all of our customers to become super empowered," she added.

"[They will become] more optimistic, more resilient. [It's all about] bringing these 10 positive emotions to work and changing our brains and what we think we're capable of and what we are, in fact, actually capable of."