Game Thinking

Serious Fun: Using Games in Business

Games, gamification, serious games, simulations, advergames, edutainment…There is a market trend of gaming in many different areas and business contexts. The terminology and buzz words can sometimes be overwhelming.

First of all, what is a game?

A game is a physical or mental activity – or a contest – with rules, that people do for pleasure. A game entertains, amuses, and engages players in various ways – toward a common goal or win.

Alibi for interaction

Games date back to the ancient human past… It’s one of the oldest forms of human social interaction. Yet, even back in the old days, there were sometimes serious purposes with games.

One example is the game Kalaha. When using Kalaha, people practiced their ability to think ahead and see patterns. These were important skills when hunting and hence something worth training.

During the past centuries, man has used games outside traditional game contexts. For example, to simulate and train war strategies – as well as tactics*.

Games in business

Today, serious games are used to practice business skills and acquire business acumen. Using games in business contexts has been done for decades, for example through business simulations, in which people get to practice critical business skills in a safe environment.

One of Celemi’s best-selling business simulations; Celemi Decision Base™, was first launched in 1978. The purpose: practice decision-making, big picture thinking and strategic thinking.

Thus, using serious business games is not a new concept – but the wide spreading of it, and the many different applications of game thinking in business contexts are recent. And, they are developing at a high speed.

Games in change and learning

Companies use games as a means of training people since the characteristics and benefits of games help mobilize people.

Games and simulations can get close to reality, and if well designed, create engagement and motivation – leading to people being more receptive to new information.

Also, as games involve people, participants of business games are likely to get a sense of ownership for the new information.

When creating experiences for learning and change, learning designers often integrate game mechanics to create AHA-experiences, new insights and learning that lasts- and that can be applied on the job.

Games are useful formats when one wants to reach broad audiences.

Use games when you want to:

• Mobilize people

In business games, people get to practice and try out things that would be risky to try out in business life. Instead, mimicking reality and testing strategies and tactics defined by the participants, they get to try them out in a safe and interactive environment to see what works. As they get opportunities for instant feedback on their actions, they will develop their ability to act in a real-life context. Feedback is a success factors for reinforcing learning.

• Implement new behaviors

In games, participants can practice behaviors desired and promoted by the organization. Practicing and mimicking behaviors increases the chances of people developing these new behaviors in real life.

With active involvement, people getting to involve their hands, hearts and minds, learning is reinforced and hence, change much more likely to happen. Active involvement is also a critical enabler when it comes to prevent people from forgetting new information. The stronger the memory and the experience during which we were presented with the new info, the less likely we are to forget.

• Improve business performance

Games give good opportunities to clarify cause and effect chains, identify and investigate business potentials. Games also offer possibilities to practice pulling the right levers – that can be applied on the job afterwards.

Business games also offer participants good opportunities to develop their inner compass for decision-making – a crucial skill for managers and leaders today.

*/In the 18th century, combat simulations were used for warfare instruction (Starr, 1994 in Kleiboer, 1997, p. 198)
To instruct its officers more effectively, the Prussian army introduced Kriegsspiel (War Games). In addition, maps, tabletops, sandbanks and model armies provided simulation and gaming tools for military strategizing and tactical development. Most probably, the game of chess was originally developed to provide a simulated training experience for senior military commanders (Beckker, 1976 in Kleiboer, 1997, p. 198.)/

*The exact origin of chess is unclear, but most historians believe it started in India, Persia or China sometime before 600 A.D. The modern game of chess started around year 1500 in southern Europe.

In Need of a Game?

Do you think you may be in need of a game for learning and/or change purposes? Let us help you clarify. Contact us today, for a free assessment of your business dilemma:

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More on games: 

Why We Play Games

Gamification – What it is and what it does


Tom Chatfield – 7 ways games reward the brain 

Jane McGonical – Gaming can make a better world