Seriosity

Byron & Leighton's Blog

Work is a Serious Game

‘”There are features of games that are highly engaging,” (Byron Reeves) says. “We want to figure out why they work, what ingredients they have, and then isolate them, recombine them in other areas that can be used explicitly for good.”’

If you agree with this, you’ll want to read this article from the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), “Work is a Serious Game.”

Byron will be a “storyteller” at the BIF-7 Collaborative Innovation Summit (runs September 20-21 in Providence, Rhode Island).  The BIF Summit was named by Mashable as one of the “7 places to see great minds at work,” and Byron is excited to be a part of it.  As of press time, tickets are still available.

How Game Ideas Can Help Employees Manage Their Own Health

Hear Leighton describe how games are shaping the future of work in this talk at the Conference Board’s 2011 Employee Health Care Conference. This is also a chance to hear our thinking about using game ideas to drive employee engagement for managing their own health.  The talk draws on experience dating back to a successful computer game Leighton published in 1984, as well as current work with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Games Research project.

Click here to listen.

Games for the Enterprise and Embedded Learning

Watch Leighton Read’s keynote at the Training 2011 Conference on how businesses can use game ideas to embed learning into work.

Health Games Research Featured Colleague

What follows is an interview with Leighton Read that is relevant to the conversation in these pages.  Leighton has served for the past two years as Chairman of the National Advisory Committee of a program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation called Health Games Research.   The RWJF is “the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted to the public’s health” and has a long history of supporting research and advocacy in health and health care.  Health Games Research is an initiative within the Foundation’s Pioneer Portfolio, which “focuses on the future, seeking breakthroughs with the potential to generate significant health and social impact.”  He was recently interviewed by Maria Chesley Fisk, Deputy Director of the program about the potential and the challenges for health games.

***

by Maria Chesley Fisk

Leighton Read promotes games and ideas from games as tools for improving people’s health and the design of health care jobs and other jobs. The key is well-designed games that engage and motivate patients and employees alike to change their behavior.

When he was an academic internal medicine physician at Harvard in the early 1980s, J. Leighton Read channeled his interest in computer-aided decision support into the creation of the Original Boston Computer Diet, a text-based adventure game in which players could work to make positive changes in diet, exercise, and lifestyle. To design the game, Read brought together a team of providers who knew what it took to develop a healthier lifestyle: a behavioral psychologist, nutritionist, and exercise physiologist. Working with able designers, they created a game in which players selected a simulated counselor, set goals, and received feedback in the form of text, graphs and animation. Read describes the Original Boston Computer Diet as an “early attempt to combine what we knew about what was engaging and motivating in video games with what we knew were effective tools for behavior change.” The game, at $79.95 for the IBM PC and a little less for the Commodore 64 and Apple IIe, saw some success, and Leighton Read was captivated by the power of games.

Better known in Silicon Valley as a successful biotech entrepreneur and investor, Read is now Executive Chairman and co-founder of Seriosity and Chair of the Health Games Research National Advisory Committee. He remains passionate about the potential power of games to improve people’s health. He says, “In a wealthy country like the United States, the leading causes of mortality have a large lifestyle and behavioral component.” Read continues, “Whether it’s teenage driving and sexual behavior, or diet and exercise, there is a massive opportunity to impact health and health care costs by finding better ways to engage people so that they exercise more and have healthier lifestyles.”

And Read thinks games will play an important role because they can motivate people to change their behavior. Read believes we are now in the early days for health games, and he is convinced that we will see games with large numbers of followers in the future. Perhaps slowly, but he predicts surely, games will become useful and popular tools in our slow-to-change health care system.

Research on the effective design and efficacy of health games, including the studies now being conducted by Health Games Research grantees, is critical to moving health games into the mainstream. Read says, “The exciting thing is that Health Games Research is building a basic science to help us understand which design principles and game elements work and in which settings. Research is the way we can advance the field systematically—the only other way is inefficient trial and error.”

But Read does not believe that every game is worthy of inclusion in a study— researchers have to earn the right to study how a game works by first proving that it does work. As he puts it, “There’s little we can learn from games that don’t work. First, you have to have a game that produces a desirable health outcome.” Player participation should be voluntary. The game has to be engaging enough for people to play before it will have an opportunity to change health behaviors. In other words, Read says, “You need engagement before you can even get to efficacy. Then, we want to know how a game works, why it works, for whom, and under what circumstances.” He adds, “We want valid, legitimate health interventions that are safe, both physically and psychologically.”

Read asserts that lessons from today’s technologies, combined with guidance from research on successful health games, will allow us to create better and better games that can be scaled up and reach more patients interested in changing their behavior and improving their health.

Not only can games and ideas from games impact individuals, they can also help create other important changes in our health care system. Read maintains that improving the health care system requires thinking about the employees who keep the system running. He and co-author Byron Reeves have written a book that applies to health care and other business systems, Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the Way People Work and Businesses Compete. Their thesis is that “the psychological power of games can be applied with the objective of improving productivity for employers and job satisfaction for employees.” Read explains further, “The common theme between improving health care and employee engagement is engagement. When someone is engaged, you have their attention. They are activated; they are in a better position to make choices and take action consistent with their own values and their own wishes.”

Read suggests that health care work be analyzed with a game developer’s perspective and infused with engaging game elements. Features of multiplayer games in particular can be highly motivating: inspiring narratives, opportunities to explore and build a trusted reputation, a need for productive teamwork, appropriately timed feedback via multiple senses, and explicit rules that help players (or employees) internalize a “can-do” attitude.

Imagine the job of the medical service provider who fields questions and complaints from patients: phone call after phone call requires polite responses that demonstrate understanding of the patient’s situation and the correct decision to resolve the issue or transfer the call to a manager. Reimagine this job set in a virtual world, say a visually rich pirate world, where points and status are earned for individual employees and their teams based on number of calls completed, complete call log entries, quality assurance ratings, real-time analysis of language and voice stress, and more. Employees can see their teammates’ rankings, aid and encourage them via on-line chat, and spur more quality work. Read calls on this example, similar to one in Total Engagement, to illustrate how many health care workers’ jobs— even those of administrators, doctors, and nurses— could be partially or completely gamified to increase engagement, productivity, and job satisfaction.

Games engage us and can motivate us to change our behavior. Leighton Read wants to use games to change health and healthcare by promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors for patients and productivity and effectiveness for employees. Let the games begin!

Gaming as a New Lens on Management

Occasionally we’ll tweet excerpts from our book, Total Engagement, and then give more context here on our blog:

Twitter Tidbit #24:

Games give us a new lens through which we can examine cherished ideas about management and new tools—some simple and some radical—with which to experiment. Pg 13

Tweet in Context:

Most important, this book should enable you to evaluate the arguments for a new idea that has been discussed in academia and industry labs but that is only now poised to guide innovations and practices in the workplace. We think the timing is right. A global economic downturn creates enormous stress on management and workers, and opens the door to disruptive innovation of all kinds. Games give us a new lens through which we can examine cherished ideas about management and new tools—some simple and some radical—with which to experiment. We are just starting to see applications that execute this vision and will tell you about the best examples we have been able to find. We wish we had even more; maybe they will come from you and your colleagues. It’s even possible that the early misapplication of these powerful techniques in the workplace could delay broader use until people are comfortable with checks and safeguards. To supplement stories from real companies, we’ll describe some examples that we think will advance the field, and each chapter will begin with a story like Jennifer’s that has either already happened or could happen in the very near future.

The full first chapter can be found here.

Gaming the Work

Occasionally we’ll tweet excerpts from our book, Total Engagement, and then give more context here on our blog.

Twitter Tidbits #22 and #23:

The highest use of games will be to redesign work so that it is more like a game and to allow work to be conducted within games. Pg 13

From “I wish my job could be more like my game,” to “I’ll take your job because my game experience tells me I can be successful here.” Pg 13

Tweet in Context:

We believe the highest use of games will be to redesign work so that it is more like a game and to allow work to be conducted within games. Even if games seem irrelevant to your business, they certainly aren’t to people you’re going to be hiring, and that’s reason enough to find out about how they work. Business needs to motivate and engage workers who have very different expectations about communication based on extensive, new, and often intense media experiences. These workers will bring new expectations about user interfaces, communication tools, and, importantly, the pace of challenge and reward. We’ve already heard the words “I wish my job could be more like my game.” Soon, we will hear “I quit that job because it wasn’t enough like my game,” and eventually “I’ll take your job because my game experience tells me I can be successful here.”

The full first chapter can be found here.

Games are Everyone’s Business

Occasionally we’ll tweet excerpts from our book, Total Engagement, and then give more context here on our blog:

Twitter Tidbit #21:

Anyone interested in the evolution and design of work should consider how game ideas can be applied to business. Pg 13

Tweet in Context:

We think anyone interested in the evolution and design of work should consider how game ideas can be applied to business. Game psychology and technology are broadly relevant to business. There are new and important lessons for those whose work touches on recruitment, hiring, training, retention, leadership, teams, evaluation, collaboration, and innovation. The lessons are applicable across business functions—sales, marketing, research, development, production, and management. We’ll make the links as we review business issues in each category.

The full first chapter can be found here.

Is Gaming a Win-Win for Businesses and Employees?

Occasionally we’ll tweet excerpts from our book, Total Engagement, and then give more context here on our blog:

Twitter Tidbits #19 and #20:

Work would be hopelessly confused with play … Pg 10

“Buying work,” where a game is sufficiently bad that you may have to pay people to play it (as epitomized by most jobs today). Pg 10

Tweet in Context:

Stranger things have happened, but we are quick to admit that the mapping is yet to be done. If successful, this would be an astonishing alignment of personal motivations and business value. Work would be hopelessly confused with play, with the result a possible win-win for the players and for the businesses that sponsored them. There is a spectrum of possibilities that runs from “stealing work” from unsuspecting players to “renting work” when players are in on the deal and to what we call “buying work,” where a game is sufficiently bad that you may have to pay people to play it (as epitomized by most jobs today).

The full first chapter can be found here.

A Powerful Blending of Games and Work

Occasionally we’ll tweet excerpts from our book, Total Engagement, and then give more context here on our blog:

Twitter Tidbit #18:

Games are the sandbox where compelling design principles are engaging millions of talented minds. Pg 9

Tweet in Context:

Our shortened summary for the convergence of these experiences is this: Work is hard enough already as globalization, technology and the economy create new challenges and opportunities; games are the sandbox where compelling design principles are engaging millions of talented minds. Might a blending be in order? Imagine the value, we speculated with abandon, if online workers could chase surreal characters through a virtual forest with villains, spells, and dragons, all following a set of rules that if broken would result in pretend tragedy, and at the end of an evening’s successful quest, the computer tracking this complex human/computer solution would output the design for a new computer circuit or a better routing plan for delivery trucks in Chicago. To complete the picture, you need to imagine a Rube Goldberg algorithm that maps human problem-solving behavior in the game to the real-world problem.

The full first chapter can be found here.

Maybe it’s Easier to Raise the Intelligence of a Group than an Individual!

Seriosity founding director Thomas Malone is among the authors of an important new Science paper online this week. This paper is the first rigorous evidence that group intelligence is something much more than an aggregation of the intelligence of the individual members. See Professor Malone’s interview in an MIT news story here.

Surprisingly the contribution of individual members’ intelligence was less important to group intelligence than members’ scores on a scale of “social sensitivity” and members’ willingness to share the conversation.  It’s worth noting that women in the study scored high on both of these two predictors, and female membership was positively correlated with group intelligence.

The paper concludes with the intriguing suggestion that better electronic collaboration tools could raise the collective intelligence of a group.

For our take on the prospects, see Chapter 7: Virtual Teams, in Total Engagement, specifically, the paragraphs below:

A prevailing view in business is that good collaborators—and good leaders—are born, not made.  Do gamers agree? We assembled a team of seven expert guild leaders to observe collaboration and leadership in the games and extract generalization about why and how groups in the games succeed.10 Their conclusion? It’s about the environment more than the players.  The places where collaboration happens and the processes by which it’s managed are more important than the innate capabilities of the people participating.  When asked about the most important implication of that conclusion for serious work, a guild leader comment was: “Change the game, not the people.”

This conclusion emphasizes the last point in our list above all the others: collaboration infrastructure.  In the real world, this usually means architecture: open seating, conversation pits, and, recently, the use of technology to create similar functions online.  Games do a pretty good job of blending all of these components.  Games create collaboration environments that redefine all the other points as environmental factors rather than attributes of people.

The multiplayer game environment that creates a setting for great collaboration is a blend of the designer’s vision and emergent properties resulting from the way players organize themselves into guilds.  Game designers do a good job of making clear the objectives of large-scale collaboration effort; what’s hidden is how to achieve those goals.  Designers make sure that it will take close coordination of many players with different skill sets to conquer a particular “boss,” the powerful computer-controlled monster that is the object of a raid.  The game provides persistent and transparent reputational markers so players can easily recognize relevant talent.  Timely metrics on the performance of individuals in the raid can be pulled out of the game and analyzed.  Using this extraordinary infrastructure, guilds create collaborative styles and systems that reflect the group’s personality.  DKP systems are one of these emergent properties.

The new research has us thinking some more about tools that stimulate “social sensibility” and conversation levelers.  How do you see the opportunity differently?




































The authors

  • Byron is the Paul C. Edwards Professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University, and Co-Founder and Faculty Co-Director of the H-STAR Institute and Media X.
  • J. Leighton Read, M.D., is a General Partner in four Alloy Ventures funds from 2001-2007 and a successful entrepreneur and CEO.

Total Engagement

A book on using games and virtual worlds to change the way that people work and businesses compete.
 

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