Social Gaming and Organizational Psychology

soc gamingWe encourage children to play. It is one of the oldest and cheapest forms of entertainment. Children create imaginary worlds, assume roles, establish rules, and determine what constitutes a win. In all that, along the way they create the processes that elevate fun and learning … though we, as adults, may have different opinions about the type of fun and the magnitude of learning that play fosters in the social tapestry of children’s play.

With time and increasing responsibilities, the communion established by play is supplanted for experiences that align the adult toward other goals. However, the experiences of childhood play and the dramatization of imagined scenarios are forever latent in the mind of the adult: except, that it hovers in the shadows and catacombs of the mind … unless, when some instances arise when play surfaces albeit briefly in the context of relationships, work, hobbies, and learning. It is in these moments that time collapses and the adult lives in the present, oblivious to all elements that may serve as distractions to their immediate gratification.

Psychiatrist and writer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes play as a flow state that balances the conflating objectives of challenge and opportunity. Upon closer examination, the experiences that emerge in the flow state cut across several elements with varying levels of magnitude over the sessions established in play: Involvement, Delight, Clarity, Confidence, Motivation, Serenity and a Focus on the present. Would it not be great to create structures and support frameworks in an organization that would revert the organization to these fundamental building blocks of creativity and then …innovation? I contend that play is a big enabler of organizations and will continue to gain rapid ascendance in the marketplace of ideas and execution.

The frameworks designed should be such to encourage fun and desired behavior. Today, companies have a wealth of resources to hinge such programs on: internal platforms like Yammer or house- solutions to general off-line programs of rewards given to winners or participants in the game. This is important: enabling play is to foster participation … ignite engagement and create stickiness among employees to return to reengaging. However, there is and will continue to emerge external solutions that will offer such frameworks with built-in mechanics: most of it imported from gaming environments.


There are three major categories of gaming that play important roles within different functional areas in an organization.

1. The Grind:These games import mechanics from the Massive Multiplayer Online Games: Player vs. Player OR Player vs. Environment games: First Person Shooter or Third Person Shooter games. The Grind is important for long bursts of creative brainstorming, product innovation, team building, setting up processes to test hypotheses regarding customer-organization engagement, et al.

2. The Impulse:These games are driven by action oriented games that provide quick and immediate gratification. Thus, a lot of the games like Angry Birds, Draw Somethin, Doodle Draw, Zyngaville franchise … provide fodder to the participants to establish quick cause and effect relationships and short participation in single or larger settings. These underlying game mechanics that support instant gratification import itself well into functional areas that require short bursts of creative brainstorming, recognition and achievement awards, healthy competition, et al.

3. The Craft:Between the two extremes of The Grind and The Impulse, lies the Craft. The Craft category constitutes games that help individuals craft complex patterns and responses to solve toward good outcomes. These complex patterns may be a result of constraints of random events that could change the fortunes of the players, strategic moves, or just plain luck. Games like Chess, Go, Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Sims Series, et al are relevant examples. These have important relevance in the areas of strategic planning, recruiting, setting up organizational degrees of freedom to accommodate changes etc.


To be able to segment the appropriate mechanics for the appropriate areas means taking the best-in-class game mechanics for these categories that would create immense engagement among participants, and ignite the organization to align the participants to desired outcomes. Gartner reports that by 2015, more than 50% of organizations will gamify processes and incorporate gaming mechanics to non-game environments such as innovation, marketing, training, employee performance, health and social change.

For example, the U.K.’s Department for Work and Pensions created an innovation game called Idea Street to decentralize innovation and generate ideas from its 120,000 people across the organization. Idea Street is a social collaboration platform with the addition of game mechanics, including points, leader boards and a “buzz index.” Within the first 18 months, Idea Street had approximately 4,500 users and had generated 1,400 ideas, 63 of which had gone forward to implementation. Further examples include the U.S. military’s “America’s Army” video-game recruiting tool, and the World Bank-sponsored Evoke game which crowdsources ideas from players globally to solve social challenges.[Gartner Press Release 2011]

With segmentation of categories associated with functional areas, the measurement outcomes should be surfaced or/and broadcasted. Some common techniques are progress bars, leaderboards, badges and plaques, virtual gifts, unlock achievements, challenge missions, points that can be earned, compared, redeemed or gifted, guild groups, et al.

Posted on August 26, 2012, in Employee Engagement, Innovation, Learning Organization, Organization Architecture, Recognition, Rewards, Social Gaming, Social Network, Talent Management. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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