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In the era of coronavirus, social distancing, and working from home, one industry is doing quite well, thank you: games. In fact, board games and online games that were trending upward before the new normal have suddenly moved to the top of the charts.

Thank the Millennials.

Born between roughly 1980 and 1994, and the largest generation in the U.S. labor force today, per the Pew Research Center, MillennIals are the first generation of “digital natives,” that is, people who grew up with digital technology. They are also the first generation of gamers.

For those who lead them, support them, and want to hire and retain them, a game may be the key that opens that door.

What Motivates Gamers (And All of Us, Really)

In Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality, Edward Castronova, Ph.D., and Professor of Media at Indiana University Bloomington, shares with his readers the two domains a gamer lives in—the real world and the virtual world.

Castronova also makes a prediction: that the real world will have to offer similar experiences if it is to prevail. It will, in fact, have to become more fun.

Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, would agree.

Games make us happy, McGonigal writes. We get to play at the edge of our skills, collaborate and compete, go on epic missions, fight the bad guys, and, in the best of games, be part of something greater. In fact, we get to be heroes. When, in real life, do you get to do that?

Maybe more often than you think. Indeed, if you can see the work environment with a gamer’s lens, possibilities are everywhere.

How to “See” a Game Layer

Many years ago, as part of target audience research for a client’s training project, I interviewed a member of a hospital cleaning staff. This woman’s job was to spend her day on one floor, continuously cleaning the bathrooms, in an endless loop.

I’ll always remember what she said at the end of the interview, “I feel like my job never ends and that I never accomplish anything.”

I left disheartened by her situation. How easy it would have been to change it and motivate this employee by adding a game layer to her work. By assigning points for bathrooms cleaned and cycles completed and competition with others in similar positions, she might actually find her work rewarding or, at the least, fun.

The Facts about Fun

“Accelerated learning” (AL) is a niche in the instructional design field. Its premise is, in a nutshell, that we remember what is emotionally charged. (If you don’t believe that, think of the last scary movie you saw, or compelling book you read.)

Developed in 1947 by Georgi Lozanov, MD, a Bulgarian scientist, neurologist, psychiatrist, psychologist, and educator, AL is based on the belief that stories, games, music, art, role-playing and other creative training methods relax learners. Once relaxed, learning occurs naturally. (Indeed, learners often forget they are learning!)

Discoveries in the field of neuroscience have deepened and expanded AL since the 1940s. Since then, researchers at The Maritz Institute, a research and design organization, in The Neuroscience of Learning: A New Paradigm for Corporate Educationnoted that:

  • Emotion (feeling) is as important as thought (information and content)
  • Learners want both novelty and familiarization
  • For maximum learning, engage the senses.

All of this occurs in games, regardless of the type. Art and graphics anchor the learning visually. Stories in the form of business cases, simulation narratives, and/or the path on a game board, enroll the learner emotionally and masquerade activities in plots, characters, challenges and competition.

Additionally, the game environment itself is rich with subtle outcomes. Games are social. They enable players to build relationships and learn from each other. They set the stage for strategizing and collaboration. Finally, the humor and fun that is part of the game experience reduces the stress of a crazy work schedule (and, today, a crazy world).

Today, in our now-remote work universe, games and game-based learning may be the perfect delivery method. Not only can they be used to introduce and/or reinforce new knowledge and processes. They can also act as team-building and stress reduction tools. Today, both are needed desperately.

Carolyn Miller, MA, is a strategic partner with Continuum Consulting Services, LLC. An award-winning writer and senior instructional designer, Carolyn design and develops creative learning experiences.