Her idea is that, if the ‘real’ world had some of the perks video games have, people would be more willing to perform their duties, emotionally activated, and be able to collaborate with each other more effectively. According to McGonigal, the four basic traits of a game are:
The Goal: The goal of a video game is the ultimate achievement for players. Players are charged with focusing their attention on the goal, while the idea of it constantly guides players through the game. In effect, the goal provides players with a sense of purpose
The Rules: The rules of the game create limitations as to what players can do to achieve the game’s goal. Players are challenged to use creativity and strategic thinking to reach their desired outcome within the confines of the rules
The feedback system: Through the feedback system players are informed of how close they are to achieving the game’s goal. Feedback generates a promise to players that the goal is achievable, which ultimately gives them the motivation to carry on
Voluntary participation: Every player is fully knowledgeable of the goal, rules, and the feedback they will get from the game. Transparency creates a common ground for players. At the same time, the freedom to enter or leave the game at any point, guarantees its safety and pleasure as an activity
McGonigal goes on to argue that these traits can lead to beneficial outcomes if replicated in the real world. For example:
Emotional Activation: For many people the real world compared with a virtual game is not as fun. Games are specifically designed to makes us happy and focus our energy on something we are good at; thus optimism is generated. McGonigal suggests that the key traits of video games hold the key to unlocking the fun in real life and creating a sense of positivity
More satisfying work: Comparing different games, McGonigal shows that games that require less time to reach the highest level, receive bad reviews. The reason of course is that players seem to enjoy a difficult challenge of levelling up in order to reach their desired goal. This is explained by the two principles of satisfying work: a clear goal and actionable next steps. Although trying to solve a problem can be engaging, it might not be satisfying. At the same time, many people can lose their motivation if a task misses these actionable steps. Progress is guaranteed for a task with a clear goal and executable steps
Better hope for success: Through games, the fear of failure is eliminated – players can always try again and learn from their mistakes. This is a very important aspect of a game and one that would do good to replicate in the ‘real’ world. If people view failure as a way to become better, instead of being a complete loss, it is quite possible that society would be happier, more productive and better equipped to try and try again
Stronger social connectivity: Through many online games, we are given the opportunity to collaborate with strangers so as to fulfil our missions. Many games have tasks bound together to create a social connection with other members. A key learning here is that players need to consider their goal within the context of the collective – a philosophy that would be beneficial if applied in the real world
A different theory which has similar learnings to McGonigal is discussed in an RSA video. In this video, which is based on Dan Pink’s TED talk, three factors are identified that lead to ‘better performance and personal satisfaction’:
Autonomy: This is described as the desire to be self directed. When autonomy is applied within businesses it can create engagement and might lead to new innovative ideas
Mastery: This is the urge to be better at what we are doing. For example, trying to become better at playing some kind of sport, or musical instrument. Mastery of that skill is both fun and satisfying
Purpose: By creating a ‘transcendent purpose’ companies have realised that they can be much more appealing to people. People enjoy working in companies that allow them to be autonomous, become masters of their skills, while the ultimate purpose is to ‘make the world a little bit better’.
Both theories seem to have some common ground and lessons for society. Each suggests that people desire to be creative, masters of their skills, and free to act on their creativity. I believe we can apply these theories not only to the workplace but society at large to create better, more sustainable future.
Charles El-Zeind is passionate about communicating environmental issues such as climate change and sustainability. Charles is currently involved in a grassroots community project with the Fiveways and Hollingdean Transition Network and writes regularly for the Sustainable Business Toolkit. He holds a bachelor degree from the University of Brighton in Environment and Media Studies.