Over the holidays, the New York Times had a story titled “All the World’s a Game, and Business Is a Player” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/24/technology/all-the-worlds-a-game-and-business-is-a-player.html)
Many of us are familiar with computer games. If not a passion of ourselves as adults, the passion for games is observable among youth.
The article is not about shooting adventure games, but instead what are called “serious games”. In various ways, we’ve seen the private sector use gamification. But the question here is: do even these serious games have a role in the public sector?
The interest in games is based on the observation that people are much more engaged, more motivated and learn quicker in game situations than in more traditional bureaucratic environments. So there have been game designers and others who have tried to apply these “game mechanics” to the public sector.
Actually, this is not new. The Annual Games for Change conference has been around since 2004. At the conference last June, there was even a Federal government caucus.
In 2011, Jane McGonigal, one of the leaders of this movement, wrote the successful book, “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they Can Change the World”
But there has been increasing attention to the possibilities, even in the public sector. The newspaper article mentions games for everything from reducing energy waste to the Israeli Defense Forces.
In my own work, I have advised a big state government that was interested in the use of gamification to change the environment and re-motivate its work force.
I’ve also been involved in a strategy to better engage customers of city transit services through gamification. This provides two additional benefits: it establishes a relationship with riders who before were anonymous and motivates the more social of those riders to help build a community of riders who can help improve the overall urban experience.
There are clearly limits to the use of gamification and it is fairly easy to think of situations where even “serious” games would be considered inappropriate. But there is much potential in these ideas that have not yet been realized.
If these are to be used in valuable ways to achieve public goals, then public officials need to take the lead on this movement, rather than watch while this movement gets built without them.
Please pass along examples of such games you’ve observed in practice or your ideas of where games could be used in the public sector.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis