TGC 2009: Pleasing the Gamer Brain


IBM believes that games can be the best way for Generation Y – the so-called “gamer generation” – to learn, but not just any old game will do.

According to IBM’s Phaedra Boinodiris, the gamer generation – those born in 1980 and more recently – actually learns differently than previous generations. They’re the most plugged in generation to date, which has affected not only how they view concepts like leadership and community, but also how they integrate information. They respond far better to active learning than passive learning; in other words, they’ll learn faster by doing something than by reading about it. Serious games, those with purpose beyond simply having fun, can promote learning by 108%, Boinodiris told a packed room at the Triangle Game Conference.

IBM uses serious games to teach everything from marketing to leadership to tech training, so it clearly is practicing what it preaches. But don’t just expect to drop Tetris into your tutorial on how to process TPS reports and expect your employees to embrace it – you have to actually design a game whose puzzles and challenges work around your learning points.

The first question you have to ask, says Boinodiris, is “What is it that’s fun about what you’re trying to teach?” Seems like an obvious question, really, when trying to design a game, but it’s one that’s all-too-often overlooked when companies decide to use a game to teach concepts or techniques.

To illustrate her point, Boinodiris used INNOV8 1.0, a serious game IBM designed to teach MBA students about business process management. In the game, players are dropped in as a consultant and have to figure out what’s wrong with a call center’s current business model by interviewing characters and gathering information. The game helps make key business ideas, which are usually taught via charts and suchlike, more concrete for the players, because they’re actually putting them into use rather than simply conceptualizing them. Students have responded so well to INNOV8 1.0 that more than 100 schools worldwide have tailored curriculum around it.

I’m not sure I would personally enjoy INNOV8 1.0 – just the phrase “business process management” makes my head hurt – but I deeply respect the effort that was put into making it not just something that would achieve the learning goal, but a solid game, too. If more companies took that approach to their serious games, we could perhaps experience a learning renaissance.

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