Friday, December 21, 2007

The game design attitude

The workshop about Learning from Games that Marinka Copier and I organized took place this past Wednesday. It was quite an accomplishment to have this very diverse group of people around the table in this busy week before Christmas. We had representatives from IBM, the Dutch Innovation Platform, the Utrecht School of the Arts (Game Design program) and Nyenrode Business Universiteit. So a combination of views from game design, education as well as business. And this was exactly what we were aiming for.

The basic rationale behind the workshop was that there are things to be learned from game design principles that can be applied in other settings, such as education or management. At the end of the day, everybody agreed that this is an idea that has immense potential. We arrived at some common understanding of the challenges and exchanged ideas for potential projects in 2008. More about that as soon as these ideas are more concrete.

One of the most important insights I took away from the workshop has to do with the attitude of the game designer. Game design is about building a solution on a small scale (with a focus on the things you can control), letting people play with it, observing and evaluating what happens and then adjusting the solution. Because what you are designing is not an end product but a dynamic process (basically, you are designing behavior) you need an iterative approach and constant monitoring.

The second thing that stuck with me is the different view on the world that playing, studying and designing games can give you. This view has to do with not taking rigid, old structures as a given (such as bureaucracies or hierarchies in organizations) but deliberately organizing things in a different way. Studying games can give you these insights. Once you realize there are other ways of organizing, new doors will open in many areas. Right now, gaming is the only arena where the network society is truly taking shape. What if we could expand this to other fields such as education and organizational life?

This design attitude combined with a view on the world inspired by games could be a very powerful instrument for managers. Especially when you consider that these tools may be essential if they want to use the full potential of the new generation entering the labor market.

However, my attempts to pry open the black box of the game design process during this workshop were unsuccessful. There are a few design principles that you could make explicit (such as giving meaning to meaningless actions, mystification of the rules and direct feedback) but these principles are always connected to the design practice of the individual designer. It is hard to make them explicit as clear-cut rules that a manager could use.

So more work is needed before we can start helping managers adopt a gaming mindset. I have the impression we can work on that from the platform we created with this workshop.

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