Play with Purpose: Games and Innovation

Games. Now that’s a topic I can get excited about! When we think of games, there is usually a specific type that leaps to mind, and this may cause us to either grin or cringe. Board games, video games, role playing games, card games, get-to-know you games, sports, simulation games and the list goes on. But no matter whether they make you smile or grimace, it may be time to have a serious think about games and how they can be used in the innovation process.

Like most of us I guess, my interest in games originated in childhood where I was an enthusiastic player and inventor of many kinds of games. I was usually the one to suggest a game, invent a game or to adapt, expand or otherwise enhance a pre-existing game and it holds true to this day. So when I first heard Jane McGonigal’s TED talk titled Gaming Can Make a Better World, it was like a revelation to me. ‘You mean fun and productivity don’t need to be mutually exclusive?’ I dared to imagine a world where we knew how to harness the potential energy (aka productivity) generated through game play.

Innovation and games have a few key things in common: in a general sense they both involve solving problems and they are both heavily influenced by technology and culture. Games can also drive and even facilitate innovation. Take for example

Gamestorming: A playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers (D. Gray, S. Brown, J. Macanufo; 2010) which outlines some interesting alternatives to brainstorming. If the future involves more integrated games, we are going to need to develop our skills around design and facilitation. Perhaps we’ll eventually be employing our first Chief Gaming Officer in the APS (and I’ll be there with my hand up for the job!).

But I’m not alone in my quest to bring games to the mainstream. NESTA, the UK independent body responsible for innovation, has begun a Serious Games project. This project will look at the new applications for games in organisations as well as how current business and community processes may evolve to become more game-like.

So this is just the beginning. If you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts and experiences, getting updates on the above topics or adding to the discussion yourself, I’d love to get your comments below. So, until next time: get gaming!

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  1. Thanks everyone for your interest – it’s great to see I’m not the only one who sees potential in this area. I will certainly keep posting on this as more information and ideas come my way.

    My colleague found this interesting example of a game in the NY times based around the US budget deficit. It’s definitely worth a go (thanks Channy!):

  2. Very good Miriam.

    And there’s no reason why this technique can’t be applied to major policy issues like boats or the environment. In reality they are just puzzles that require thought to solve. With strategy, luck and thought (like most games), most problems can be solved.

  3. Miriam –
    I love your post. And I hope you get to be CGO! Please also know that we’re very committed to seeing games used in the democratic sector. That’s why I founded Games For Democracy, I invite you to explore the G4D site to see ways in which we can work together to help you leverage the games to better serve your customers.


    Luke Hohmann
    CEO, The Innovation Games® Company The seriously fun way to do serious work — seriously.
    Follow me on twitter at lukehohmann

  4. The relationship between game theory and innovation is very interesting. This is especially the case when you consider both through the lens of social media.

    The Ingenesist Project provides some very good perspectives and ideas on this

    Social media, social innovation and game theory are all linked. Social media is the big enabler.


    Steve D

  5. I think this is a very interesting idea, and one that deserves more attention and development. One of the key issues that I see with it however, is getting decision makers (and indeed the broader APS) to value ‘game playing’ as a valid work activity. Even social media, which we have largely been permission to start playing with as a means to collaborating across divisions and agencies, still gets push back from people at all levels of the APS. I wonder what the general reaction from APS decision makers would be to the concept of ‘game playing’ as a replacement to the beloved brainstorming?

    I await further developments with baited breath! 🙂

  6. Miriam
    I am excited by your innovative approach.
    Games have been used for years (in the more serious end of town) to educate, to solve and avoid problems. Flight simulation (a game under a different title!) and power plant operations simulation have been used for years to ensure operators are fully trained and know how to react to most known situations.
    Games are now being used in education and socialising. Friends’ kids play chess (over the internet) on a global basis. Competitions (exams) in maths and english have global participants.
    Games (under whatever name) are taking the new world by storm. Games to get peoples’ interest in innovation is a logical step.
    I am keen to work with you on this concept and come up with some serious “games” that we can all play in PS.
    I would also like to join you as a “Chief Gaming Officer”. I am sure there is scope for more ...

    ... than one position across all the areas of government (that need inovation).
    Darron Passlow

  7. Call of duty, red tape ops? Seriously though, your post is thought provoking.. There is a lot of potential. Would be interested in hearing about plans to implement. That would be the tricky part

    • I like it, “operation red tape”. Good initiative, would love to hear more :). It seems my 20 years of strategy game playing my come in handy after all.