Yes, gameful work: Gamification/game mechanics and just general gaming (we have plenty of gamesmanship), added to work.  Dec 7th,Tomorrow night I’m going to a meeting of people interested in using game mechanics (things like badges, prizes, etc.) in business settings.  I suspect most of the discussion will focus on marketing, but I’m interested in how the same ideas can apply to how we think about work design. (Some prior thoughts.) I’ve done the normal academic literature review and don’t see that anyone has formally looked at job characteristics and gaming.  I’ll do a start here. Some basics:

  • Game mechanics are the underlying engineering of the game.  Turns, points, movement (as in a board game), levels, etc.
  • Gamification is the application of game play and game mechanics to something that wasn’t designed as a game. Badgeville, for example, provides the tools for publishers, marketers, and community leaders to add game characteristics to website.
  • Jane McGonigal and her colleagues have done much to bring a gameful approach to real world problems.
  • Some people describe their work as a game.  I think my tax accountant sees his work as a “quest” and I’m thankful.

Can work become more gameful?  Will work become more gameful?  Should work become more gameful?

Research on job design may help us with these questions.  The classic approach is Hackman & Oldham’s Job Characteristics model.  (Request full copies of some related work here.)  The core characteristics related to “enriched work” are the variety of skills needed to complete the work, the extent to which the job completes a whole/identifiable piece of work, the significance of the work, the autonomy allowed in carrying out the work, and the feedback received from the work.  The idea is that more enriched work is more motivating and satisfying -- especially if the individual has strong personal growth needs.

Even with the simplest games we can see these job design characteristics engaged.  Angry Birds (Wall Street Journal discussion) teaches us to use a variety of birds with different characteristics to pummel thieving pigs through a series of short scenarios. We play as we see fit and the feedback is immediate. I’m hard pressed to come up with the task significance, but the other components are there.

Now translate games to work.  Think about the last time you were head down for a hour working on a project.  When you came up for air you needed a break.  Did you head for Facebook for a five minute reprieve?  What if you could have tackled a work-focused “mystery mission” instead? You could log-in to the company website and see what missions were available.   A colleague might need 15 minutes of help proofreading a press release, taking a draft survey, or setting up for a meeting.  By helping you get your break and points in the office game of the week. How about the project itself? Could aspects of that work be changed into a quest?  

What examples do you have of times when work felt like a game?  Do you think your performance was higher as a result? Track (and add) links to gameful work materials here (Business Week Exchange) and/or here (