A Serious Game may sound like a contradiction in terms but in this article we will see how and why Serious Games work, what Gamification strategies can do for you, and learn about some of the theories that went into the creation of Business’n’Play

As children we learnt problem-solving skills by playing games and as adults we retain information more easily if it is presented to us in a fun or engaging way. Many of us will remember more about the fiction books we read as children than the text books we studied at high school.

Before we start, Serious Games and Gamification are two different things. In this article, I will break down the two concepts as well as providing a few bits of extra reading if you are interested. This might seem more of an academic topic than previous articles, but I hope you’ll find it interesting nonetheless!

Trust me when I say that I was sceptical about business tools being made accessible and enjoyable. Turns out I was wrong: the Business’n’Play sessions I have since taken part in have been great and the time always flies by. Hopefully this article will help you see why!

Defining Serious Games: The Purpose and Elements

Serious games are designed to be more than just a game for entertainment purposes. They are designed to have true educational value woven into every part of their design. They are engaging, informative and provide training or skill enhancement in a traditional game format. This might be via a video game (such as Minecraft), a board game (like Business’n’Play and Monopoly) or a card game. 

The purpose of a serious game is to simulate a situation from real life and apply game qualities. The ‘real world’ is given a healthy dose of fiction and fantasy to engage the player and to allow them to make decisions or take risks that in normal life might seem beyond their reach.

That’s exactly how Business’n’Play works. You and all your teammates become Jenny. You all work together to make your shared goal a reality. And you play without money but face plausible circumstances (good and bad) that lead you, not to a final win or loss, but to a clearer understanding of just what it takes to build a business, become a freelancer or think with a more entrepreneurial mindset. 

Gamification Unveiled: Understanding Its Mechanics

The gamification of non-game situations can be generally defined as having “those features of an interactive system that aim to motivate and engage end-users through the use of game elements and mechanics” (Seaborn and Fels, 2015). Gamification applies to the aesthetics of a game – such as specific graphics, provides game elements such as a board, dice or cards, and provides a virtual world in which the scenarios will play out. Its focus is primarily about providing an informative and engaging setting in which to convey skills or learning in an efficient and enjoyable way. This makes the concepts being introduced easier to retain. Think of it as a more involved version of storytelling that puts you in the position of the characters of the story.

Serious Games vs. Gamification: Key Differences

As Preeti GT puts it in her blog post on ELBLearning.com “Serious games are games that have been designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. Gamification, on the other hand, is the application of typically game-like elements to other areas of activity…in order to increase engagement and effectiveness.” 

To make this clearer, take a look at the matrix below:

Serious Game and Gamification matrix

Serious Game and Gamification Matrix

Although the main purpose of a serious game is not entertainment, Business’n’Play still involves a lot of fun and usually a good dose of laughter too. This matrix is based on one that can be found here.

The Psychology Behind Gamification: Behavioural Motivators

We have all experienced that lack-of-motivation feeling or the ability to procrastinate and delay a task for hours, days, maybe even months. However, at the same time, you are on a very high level of that game you downloaded two days ago… The dopamine hit is much higher and faster from that game than it is from a work task. The visible progress and success is also much more satisfying (usually because the graphics are well done and you have collected a lot of coins!). 

Serious Games and Gamification provide us with a mid ground between the two. A Serious Game looks and feels like a game but there is the serious element that gives us the satisfaction of having done something we recognise as being productive and that will grow our skills, broaden our horizons and potentially open new doors for us. Similarly, if we apply gamification to tasks, they become a lot less daunting or dull and the idea of completing them whilst simultaneously learning is far more attractive. 

There is another crucial point that makes gamification so important:

We have our base needs as identified by Maslow’s theory, but the way we behave is not only founded on an internal need to survive. It is influenced by our need to be accepted and be approved of by our peers  (Morsella, Bargh, & Gollwitzer, 2009). This motivator is what pushes us to follow trends and our fear of being seen as different. We don’t want to be thought of as being ‘lazy’ by not doing our work or not engaging in a project when the reality is that we are struggling with it in some way. By applying gamification ideas to new or difficult situations, the process becomes more enjoyable. A sense of team spirit can develop and people are more likely to ask for help or retain information for longer.

Playing games will bring people together: why not employ this simple fact to develop and improve workplace dynamics? 

How this all works in Business’n’Play

One of our Jennys is a startup founder with a background in Graphic Design. Her dream is to create a network of freelancers and businesses by building an online marketplace for digital freelance services. Jenny knows that her idea has potential, but is very confused about what her next steps should be. At the moment she is working with a Web Developer but isn’t sure about what other partners she will need. And then, how will she attract the first users to her platform? It is time to create a Business Model Canvas that keeps an eye on her competitors.

We have the story/virtual world in which our game is set. We have the game elements of dice, counters and a board. The game is brightly coloured and has a sense of joy woven throughout its design. It works like most board games: roll the dice, move the number of spaces forward indicated by the roll and see what happens when you land. 

Gamification comes into play on specific squares. There are green squares dotted around the board which relate to both the SWOT analysis and the Business Model Canvas structure. These crucial but often unknown tools are the building blocks for successful enterprises. They can be a little overwhelming to do alone the first few times, which is why it’s part of the game and you do it alongside your team in stages. 

Business’n’Play takes you through these tools step by step, in groups and with the support of a knowledgeable facilitator. There are no winners or losers, just a safe, friendly and encouraging space in which you can help Jenny and yourself to achieve those goals that you are longing to reach.

The Future of Serious Games and Gamification: Trends and Insights

Business’n’Play was born out of the Covid-19 pandemic as a response to a general sentiment of people feeling stuck and wondering if there was more to life than the traditional 9-5 desk job. A board game may not seem the most natural way to mitigate the sense of hopelessness and lack of direction that the pandemic brought to many of us. However, this is far more than a game for 2020-2021. It’s part of a global trend that has been gathering speed for a while and has even led to specific Masters Degree programmes centred around the creation of (digital and online) Serious Games. 

The future for Serious Games and the Gamification of scenarios looks healthy indeed. Whether it is in person or online, working out problems and finding innovative ways to create solutions by playing games – and having some fun – is here to stay!

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