The Gamification of Public Works

Mastermind - Socialiser Gamer Class Symbol from BrainHexMost people my age have been schooled with the “sit and listen” method. But today’s teachers are breaking out of that mold by tailoring lesson plans for different learning styles using gaming ideas and platforms. So to better understand this shift in education, I am taking a summer class offered through Boise State that focuses on this new teaching approach. The course is built on 3D GameLab, “an online, quest-based platform” that can be used to develop training courses. My purpose in taking the class is to develop education-based skills and to understand how best to leverage a game-based approach to learning. And my goal is to use these skills and this knowledge to develop training resources for professionals in public works and for citizens.

So why are educators embracing gaming as a teaching method, and why do I believe this can be leveraged for professional training? Game developers have figured out some critical elements of human nature. They are leveraging the fact that we can be motivated with the right environment and incentives to complete a set of assigned tasks. And this motivation can be so great that for some it borders on addiction. Imagine how many employers would be interested in learning this secret, particularly because the exchange of money is in the reverse – players are not expecting money to play and instead give up their money to game.

I’ve embedded a video at the end of this post that explores the effect games have had on our lives. Some of the insights shared in this talk discuss the ability of games to drive or elicit emotion in a player. This is accomplished through the game environment, the framework of the game, the story within the game, and the tasks assigned. Done well, all these elements combine to grab the player, pull him into the game, and drive his emotion. And because the purpose is to keep the player coming back, those emotions are not designed to be negative. Instead they are set up to create the most epic, incredible emotions that can be felt.

To successfully gamify training in our field, we need to capture these components along with elements from our industry and apply them to our courses. The environment and tasks that make up our workplace are probably the easiest to translate into this method. However finding our story and weaving it throughout the training session and into each task is more challenging. The same approach and challenges exist for developing civic courses for citizens. And in each, a successful course will be dependent on the ability to bring the player into the game, encourage them to accept and become a part of the story, and develop the confidence, skills, and engagement necessary to achieve epic wins in the game and in “real life.” And have them return for more.

(The symbol at the beginning of the post is one of many that can be generated at the BrainHex website. Anyone can visit the site and take a quick test to see what gameplay behaviour they exhibit.)


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Andrew Krzmarzick

Interesting, Pam. Wondering if gaming can create a renewed sense of “fun” and enjoyment in one’s job as they take their virtual experience and begin to see parallels in the real world. So it’s not just educational, but increases their enjoyment of their job…

Daniel Bevarly

Pam and Andrew –In some cases gaming can be used to increase understanding and productivity around programs and projects, particularly among employees. However, to take the concept into the civic engagement arena, we have to really understand our motives and what we want to accomplish. What I mean by that is games can be a solution for ad hoc public participation around a project. However, as a solution for sustaining long term citizen involvement, I’m not sold. Here’s my brief reasoning: Games engage people primarily for entertainment. We know they also have the ability to advance education or knowledge. But they do not sustain. Government is an institution and democracy is a process. The question is will the “gaming of government” sustain citizen involvement? I believe over the long haul, it will not.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Daniel: Have to disagree with you. Jane McGonigal (Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World) details in one chapter the amount of time that players have put into playing Halo – 64,109 years. There are some online games such as World of Warcraft where people have personally played for at least five years (if not longer). And this is not a recent phenomenon. Many famous figures in the Old West often made a living at the gaming tables (back when gambling was considered an honest profession).

So, I believe that gaming can provide the sustainability needed for citizen involvement.

Pam Broviak

I do believe sustainability can be achieved, but the key is in the design, delivery, and ongoing development and engagement. Even World of Warcraft has to provide updates with new levels, races, powers, environment, etc to keep people interested and playing. Successful development and delivery of gaming for training or citizen engagement will require us to do the same. However we have the added challenge of gamifying something that can oftentimes be perceived as “boring” or not fun. Failure to overcome these challenges will result in games that meet Daniel’s prediction. And I wonder if that is why the perception is that it cannot be sustained? We are dabbling in something for which we are not yet prepared and for which there are few models.

Andrew Nash

When we were developing our game about how to make public transport more efficient (http://www.greencitystreets.com/busmeister) we really struggled with the question of how to make it fun. I think we succeeded, but we did not focus enough on making it easy to play (or rather get started playing) so it hasn’t been used as much as we had hoped. The lesson for us is that content and game mechanics are both important. But I certainly think it’s do-able, and that games like World of Warcraft show that games can be designed that lead to continuous engagement.