Management November 2, 2015 Last updated September 18th, 2018 2,331 Reads share

Games Businesses Play: Gaming in the Workplace

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Games can teach a number of life skills, and the next generation of employees is spending a lot of time gaming. In fact, by the time an average gamer has reached the age of 21, they will have spent 10,000 hours in front of the screen. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book on success, Outliers, that’s the amount of time it takes to become a virtuoso in any area. But what are gamers  good at, and how does that apply to the workplace?

Education programs like the Environmental Science program at ASU are using games to introduce students to “real life” scenarios in which they take on leadership roles and experience certain successes. Paul Anderson, a teacher at a Montana High School explains in his TED talk on Classroom Game Design he explains how he incorporates gaming into his classroom, starting students at a zero experience level at the beginning of the year, and letting them level up and achieve mastery at an individual pace. Is this an idea whose time has come in the workplace?



Jane McGonigal outlines some of what gamers are learning in an often quoted TED talk given in 2010 titled “Gaming can make a better world.” Each has the potential for conversion to productivity at work.

Optimistically Driven:

Gamers have extreme self motivation combined with the confidence they can accomplish goals and meet expectations in a timely manner. When properly motivated, they can be driven and productive employees.

Socially Connected:

Playing games together allows employees to create an area of common interest, and can therefore be used to develop company camaraderie and teamwork.

Enthusiastically Productive:

Gamers are happy when working toward a goal rather than being sedentary. Leveling up at work increases motivation and job satisfaction without the need for more typical incentives.

Purposefully Motivated:

Gamers are motivated by mission driven purposes.  They need to see and understand the overall big picture, the end goal, and the consequence and reward of winning or “beating the game.”

She states, “gamers are super empowered, hopeful individuals.” However, business does not offer the same escape from reality games do. “We are witnessing what amounts to no less than a mass exodus to virtual worlds and online gaming environments,” says Economist Edward Castronova. It is that place outside of the real world where gamers are more motivated. So what strategies can we implement to harness these abilities? 

Develop and Share a Sense of Mission

Make sure there is always something important to be done. Make sure the mission is something your employees have the ability and the authority to accomplish, but make sure it is a stretch, so they have to exert themselves to “win.” This effort adds to the mission, and makes completing it more desirable.

Allow and Encourage Collaboration

Gamers share tricks to beat each level in forums, and (most of the time) cheer on the others playing the same game or type of games. Collaboration comes naturally, and should be encouraged in the workplace a number of ways. 

  • Create a work space that doesn’t isolate employees or groups
  • Empower employees and team leaders to make decisions and take risks
  • Encourage innovation and operating outside the norm

Provide Immediate Positive Feedback

When possible, providing benefits and rewards for employees who achieve certain milestones makes the work environment feel more like a game. Even if the rewards are simple, like a combination to a fridge with free drinks, lunch on the company, a decoration or desk amenity, or even a traveling trophy.

Encourage Success through Failure

In many games, failure inspires the player to try again until success is achieved. “Failure” in this way should not be stigmatized, rather employees should be encouraged to keep trying in different ways.

Allow Comparisons

High score lists, or simply asking another gamer “What level are you on?” are common methods of comparison. Often, gamers take comparisons further asking how each level was beaten, and how long it took.

This is their own version of educating success. Only a small handful of people make a mistake before the entire community knows to do things differently . The more mistakes that are made, the easier it is for those who follow to “beat” the level or excel.

Games Businesses Play: Gaming in the Workplace

Employee collaboration can have the same result, so over time a process becomes more and more efficient.

Harnessing skills gamers have already mastered and leveraging the collaborative nature of the social environments already in place opens up some unique possibilities. But how can the workplace be transformed into something more like a game?

Make work an escape from “real life”

Construct your employee work space to be open with plenty of opportunities for collaboration and teamwork, but at the same time challenging. Change the layout often, even by just small changes in decor. As gamers level up, the environment alters subtly.

Give Employees the Ability to Win 

Whether leveling up is completing a team or individual project, or moving on to a tougher part of a task, employees need to have a sense of accomplishment nearly every day, and the belief that accomplishment is something meaningful.

Map Out an Epic Adventure

Not only do you need to have a business plan and goals for your organization, no matter what the size, but your employees need to have a map. It should show where the company has been, where they have been, where they are now, and at least a hint about where they are headed, or at least might be.

The more your employees feel like they are on a quest, and there are levels that can be reached and conquered, the more likely they are to apply skills they have already “unlocked” to the workplace.

This doesn’t mean work should be all fun and games, and that all games should be allowed at work. While some businesses encourage employees to play games during the work day, there are risks. The security concerns behind social media type games are real, Facebook games in particular.

Still, it is believed that workplaces filled with ping pong tables and video games may be onto something. Also, some companies are deliberately recruiting gamers, leveraging their familiarity with technology and critical thinking  skills to solve problems.

No matter how your business responds to gamers and the gaming world, it is likely in the future many of your employees will come from this community. Using their optimism, sense of community, and desire for meaningful accomplishment, you can take your business on an adventure filled with meaning. Your employees will then help you achieve epic wins.

What has your experience been with gaming in your workplace? Is your business leveraging this resource? I’d love to hear from you.

Images: “Gaming Addict – Dirty and damaged hands worn from playing too many computer/video games./


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Troy Lambert

Troy Lambert

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