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!