Friday, April 11, 2008

Presentation at Game Research Lab Spring Seminar

This is the presentation that Marinka Copier and I gave yesterday at the Game Research Lab Spring Seminar in Tampere, Finland. Overall it was a high quality seminar with interesting papers and fruitful discussions.

With regards to our presentation, I would say that people in the game studies community are curious as well as hopeful about the application of game design principles in education and organizations. On a conceptual level, there are some issues with our approach that were discussed. I will not bother you with those here. Some members of the audience wondered why we look at game design in specific as a source of inspiration. What is wrong with traditional organization design, they asked. One of the problems is, of course, that these traditional organizational structures are not fitting anymore for our current (network) society and for the new generation entering the labor market. Also, there has traditionally been a tendency towards "overdesign" in organizations (describing and prescribing everything down to the smallest procedure). Game designers know that this doesn't work and have developed ways around this problem.

However, what we took away from those discussions is that the time has come to test our ideas in the field and come back with some case studies. Conceptually, we have gone as far as we can go.

What was interesting to note is that not everyone agrees that interesting and new types of behavior can be observed in World of Warcraft. Almost diametrically opposed to our view was a presentation by Stef Aupers and Dick Houtman of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Based on their research, they argued that the social pressure experienced by team leaders in World of Warcraft was indicative of bureaucratic structures being imported into this environment. However, one of the commentators pointed out that you could also interpret their results as an indication of bottom-up organizations: the fact that the team members have so much power causes stress for the team leaders.

One of the most important questions that kept going through my head while listening to the different presentations was: how can you design an environment inside an organization that creates room to fail and thus allows for trial-and-error? Because that seems to be both one of the most promising as well as one of the most difficult things that game design has to offer to other domains. Promising because trial-and-error means (organizational) learning and innovation. Difficult because it is the game context itself that creates the necessary safe environment for this behavior. Here is a little insight into how Blizzard (the company behind World of Warcraft) deals with this. But there were many other ideas related to this that came up during this seminar and that Marinka and I will be exploring further. And more importantly, that we'll be testing out in the field later this year.

No comments: