The Video Game Analogy

It was late evening on one of the weekdays last week, and I was walking towards my study desk at home. Having come back home from work late, I was planning to catch up quickly with my Gmails and Twitters and all the other things I love to indulge in, given a bit of free time. However I was surprised to see that my laptop was already switched on and the screen was displaying the “Pause Screen” of some highly colorful video game. Soon I realized (in fact, was informed and politely ordered to stay away 🙂 ) that it was my partner hooked away with this new video game on Facebook called the “Royal Story”. I was subsequently explained in great detail that this game was some enhancement of a very popular game in Facebook called Farmville (you have either played it extensively and know a lot about it, or you might be like me who have been forcefully been introduced to and nudged by the name regularly through Farmville requests from FB friends to feed their cows, buy their hens and so on – Pardon me if I have got the actual requests incorrect since I have never got a chance / had the inclination to play this one myself).

royal story

Coming back to the evening in question, I resorted to taking a walk along the lake behind my residence (after being sadly coldshouldered away from my laptop @ home) and my mind drifted away to the thought of this “Royal Story” game as well as other popular games which have people hooked on to them so well. The game, from what I gathered in that very brief encounter, was one where the player (the prince or princess in this case, given that it is a “Royal Story”) starts off with a small piece of land and gradually gathers experience points (XP points, to be more cool about it!) when certain tasks are completed e.g. harvesting crops, milking cows, and so on. On achieving a designated amount of XP points, the player graduates to higher levels where he is given more land to manage, more challenging and exciting tasks and other superior assignments to complete. That evening, I found it extremely intriguing how people are such highly motivated to play these games and with every crossing level, the excitement seemed to increase even more. Suddenly, my thoughts took a queer tangent. Earlier that week, I was helping one of my junior friends with an MBA assignment where he had to talk about people programs within an organization and various initiatives to be planned for associates to keep them motivated and keep up the good work. A thought suddenly came to my mind on why so many people in an organization fall under the not-so-motivated bracket when it came to their work but at the same time get so charged up and involved when it comes to social video games. (By the way, this is not a reference to the person playing the video game in the previous paragraph, but an observation in general 🙂 ) I began to ponder whether it is just the fancy graphics, the fun and excitement quotient, the fact that it is not part of their forced job or is it something else? It was then when this strange thought came to my mind (You may call it a bit outlandish but let me pour it out here anyway).

As mentioned earlier – When you think of any game like those of Farmville, Royal Story and the like, they are essentially ones where the player starts with a small role in a small area with limited number of the resources and is given a set of tasks to be accomplished. The game is generally categorized into levels and the player advances to further levels as and when he/she achieves a specific milestone, say the creation of a cottage in his area. In due time, as the player progresses into higher levels, he/she is given more resources, a bigger area to manage, more plants to water, more animals to feed, people under him to supervise and so on. When you look at it, this is very much analogous to the corporate world where associates start small with limited responsibilities and relatively easier tasks and gradually moves up the levels to enhance his purview and jurisdiction. The question that struck my mind, however, was that if both these scenarios have the same underlying principle, how come individuals found more involvement in one while often looked at the other one as a duty at best and a burden at worst? I could immediately think of a number of reasons like limited resources in reality, fear of failure with the whole physical world looming around him and so on. But there was one major aspect that struck my mind, which is the crux of this blog and I would like to share with you so that you can provide your thoughts as well.

In a game like Royal Story or Farmville, there is an aspect of certainty involved in the realization of rewards. When Mr. X plays a game where he has to collect (say) 10 eggs to proceed to the next level of the game, he knows that when he completes the process of collecting the 10 eggs, he will be promoted to the next level and there is no way the computer will pop up a screen telling him “Dude, what you have done is not enough. You should try for 5 more eggs!” However in the real world it is often the case that neither are the goals S.M.A.R.T.ly (stealing the famed term used for the first time by George Doran in 1981, if I may) defined nor is there a guarantee that once the goal (if at all defined) is achieved, the “reality player” has a certainty of being rewarded. This applies in most cases and I think this is the root cause of all the lack of motivation on the part of the reality player as compared to that of a video game player on role play. Think about it – When we hire an interior designer to design our flat, we rarely provide her S.M.A.R.T goals to execute and achieve. We only tell her the flat should look “awesome” and then get angry after 2 months when what she has produced does not match up to our expectations (which were sadly not even set S.M.A.R.Tly in the first place). Similar situations occur frequently in multiple scenarios – be it when mindshare-hungry companies engage ad agencies to achieve their media planning, or when insurance sales employees are asked to turn the world around to get business, or when clients hire IT resources to create their software and so on. In most of these occasions, the reality player is just doing his job (with a bored face and a squeamish stomach) without the real motivational punch.

game 2

Now, I know that there are hundreds of constraints to implement the same gaming model in the real world, I myself can think of a handful right away, based on my experience thus far (I am sure most of you can find even more good reasons). However, the entire point of contention of writing this blog is to take a moment and think if we could at least try to improvise the reward and progression mechanism in a real-world organizational (or for that matter, any other) setup in such a way that people are assured of a certain reward on completion of a certain milestone, it would really improve, in my opinion, the involvement and motivation level of the worker (I prefer to call him or her the player here!). And maybe this would make him perform in more superior manner than ever and reap lots of benefits for the organization / ecosystem (just like the individual player in the “Royal Story” ends up creating wonderful palace grounds and a kingdom in due course). And maybe, just maybe – they will raise all bars of performance and be happily engaged as they move up the levels. Just a passing evening thought which I wanted to share with you, ladies and gentlemen… 🙂 Thanks for reading!

14 Replies to “The Video Game Analogy”

  1. Awesomely written! Great thoughts! Amazing how you went from the game to practical application in career!

  2. Very well thought and drafted Piyal….. This is a wonderful analogy, but at the same time we need to understand the diff between the real and the virtual world.

  3. brilliant point piyal. Interstingly the buzz word – gamification is defined as using gaming principles in a non-game context – your note is a call of action for further focus – cool!

  4. From Farmville & Royal Story to Corporates & Goal setting .. awesome narration and very interesting analogies Piyal ..

  5. Very nice thoughts and awesomely written…can relate very well our real IT life with this blog..

  6. My first read on a gloomy day..wonderful…I got some motivation and I am going to set up some self reward for myself today… self motivation at the least 😀

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