eLearning Leadership Blog

Join our growing community of more than 13,000 learning professionals!


Game-Like Qualities


by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president of client services

Mary-ScottDuring a weekend partying spree, the King of the Cosmos destroys every celestial body: the sun, the moon, and every star in the sky. He tasks his son with recreating the heavens by rolling a magic ball around the planet Earth, until its accumulated mass is ready to become a star.

Has this ever happened to you on a Tuesday at work?


Well, maybe recreating Katamari Damacy in your highly-regulated, pharmaceutical environment won’t solve your training problems. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the King of the Cosmos.

Excitement about utilizing games in e-learning runs hot and cold. When clients think they've found a perfect match between an existing game and their training problem, they’re thrilled! Elated! Best game ever! Once they discover that parallels are only surface deep and nearly impossible to recreate in training, the love affair ends and the game is dismissed as useless.

That might be premature.

I recommend taking a more eco-friendly approach: instead of immediately discarding, reuse and recycle. Some of the best e-learning I’ve seen utilizes ideas game-like qualities.

In my last post, I asked if readers would like me to elaborate on some of my favorite game-like qualities. Through comments on the blog or private emails, you responded with a resounding ‘YES.’ I thought I’d describe seven (7) game-like qualities that you might consider.

I’ve been informed by my technology experts that there’s not enough space on the internet today to list all seven game-like qualities to consider, so I’ll present three (3) of them today and four (4) in my next post. Hopefully, the internet will be back to full capacity by then (I hear they’re going to make more room by deleting Madonna fan fiction. This is a good thing.)

1. Timer

You can answer that customer question utilizing existing resources, but can you do it in three minutes? When the performance requires a certain measure of unconscious competence (learners must perform tasks quickly or with rote proficiency), integrate a timer into the e-learning. Perhaps the first few practice activities for learners to complete do not have a timer, which gives them a chance to master the skill and read feedback to guide performance.

TimerBut, if you’re training an audience where dead air or awkward delays equal lost business (call centers, sales situations, customer service), consider telling the learners: “In this next set of challenges, you are expected to perform the same task within four minutes, then three minutes, then two minutes.”

As with any game-like quality you’d like to infuse, do a little design analysis to determine if this variable serves your true goal. Timers add pressure. If that pressure is present in the real world, good. Use a timer. But if you’re artificially creating a time-pressure situation because you have a vague notion that learners should do their jobs ‘faster,’ the ‘learning’ they will remember is that you pushed them hard when they did not see the relevance.

2. Collaboration

At the end of my last blog post, Rainy Horvath commented: “…this gaming thing leads to collaborative play, not competitive play. One kid had the controls, and all the others would sit around them and make helpful suggestions, such as ‘See if there is a sword under that rock,’ or ‘Maybe he's really a vampire.’" 

(Rainy, I hope it’s okay that I quoted you!)

CollaborationI love this comment because collaboration is often overlooked as an element of game play. So many traditional games focus on winning at someone else’s expense. For someone to win, someone else must lose. And yet, aren’t we often trying to elicit a ‘win win’ situation with clients and stakeholders? Or a ‘win win win’ including employees in the mix? Or a ‘win win win win’ — well, you get my point.

Integrating collaboration requires designing situations where collaborators supply hints and clues, but do not give away the full answer. Or maybe each person holds one dimension to the solution.

Even better: design a situation where learners have to earn collaboration from co-workers. You answer questions for them and they become available to assist you. Create a ‘you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours’ environment. Isn’t that how the real world works? Don’t you have relationships with co-workers whom you trust so you seek their advice?

Explore collaboration. Otherwise, you might never know if there’s a sword under that rock.

3. Unlock new worlds

As a gamer, one of the greatest thrills comes from earning the right to explore something which was locked away a moment ago. Earning the right to cross a bridge, to access a secret passage, to open mysterious rooms, are the types of rewards that keep me coming back again and again. And yet I can almost see you crossing your arms right now, thinking, ‘Well, we don’t have secret passages in our work environment.’

LockSee, this is where it would be easy to discard this game-like quality and say, “Doesn’t apply.” But what if it does apply? What if there are entire applications for the ‘unlock new worlds’ idea you won’t consider because right now you’re stuck thinking about Super Mario Brothers?

Allow learners the possibility of ‘unlocking a filing cabinet’ where the better solutions are stored. After successfully dealing with three difficult customer scenarios, grant access to ‘the secret room’ where they get the great customers, the ones who are appreciative and fun to work with. Trust me, it will feel like accessing a different world.

And gosh, as expected, we’re out of space and time for today’s blog post. Darn. Well, one of the elements that draws people back to games is the idea that there’s more to explore. Please come back again. There’s more to explore. If you’ll excuse me now, I’m joining the King of the Cosmos for martinis. What’s the worst that could happen?