Gamers Will Save Our Economy (Part 2)

The greatest challenge for leaders of the next decade is to design games that matter. And the best way for our children to prepare for the future is to spend more time playing bigger and better games.

Jane McGonigal is a game designer who is on a special mission. She wants to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games.

In the below video she explains how 21 billion hours of online gaming per week could save the world. Now, before you discard this idea as pure nonsense, have a look at the video first and read on, because Jane is on to something big.

Epic Wins

McGonigal describes an epic win is a classic gaming emotion. It is composed of  a sense of urgency, deep focus, optimism, surprise and foremost: the sensation of achieving something that is almost beyond the threshold of human imagination.

She discovered the epic win emotion while studying collaborative problem solving environments such as World Of Warcraft. She found out what makes this particular game so special and addictive:

  • There are lots of different characters who are willing to trust you with a world saving mission;
  • The mission you get is perfectly matched with your current level in the game;
  • It is challenging because it is at the verge of what your are capable of;
  • There is no unemployment and no sitting around;
  • Millions of collaborators everywhere you go, ready to help you to achieve your epic mission;
  • The epic story of why we are here is omnipresent;
  • The positive feedback (leveling up, +1 strength, etc.)

The only ‘problem’ with these collaborative online environments is that the sense of an ‘epic win’ feels so satisfying that we decide to spend all our time there.

Waste of Time?

It is tempting to say that gaming represents a serious degradation for the human race. The fact that the majority of gamers look even lazier than a couch potato watching TV doesn’t help that perception. Even worse, from that vantage point, finding out that we have spent 5,93 million years of solving the virtual problems of World of Warcraft is not something to be happy about.

However, contrary to the elapsed time we have spent watching TV, these 5,93 million years of virtual problem solving turn out to be changing what we are capable of as human beings.

We are evolving to be a more collaborative species and we have developed an entire generation of young people who are virtuoso gamers. Their addiction to gaming is not the problem. It is their solution to cope with a messy real world. Their solution just happens t to have quite some positive side effects.

The Real Question

Gamers are people who believe that they are individually capable of changing the world. And the only problem is that they believe that they are capable of changing the virtual world and not the real world. That’s the problem I am trying to solve.

Jane McGonigal

Knowing that we have an entire generation of youngsters who are extraordinarily good at … something … the real question is: What exactly are they good at? Because if we can tap into that potential we have a limitless human resource at our fingertips.

McGonigal found four main things that games are making us good at. They are:

  1. Urgent Optimism: The desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that it is achievable;
  2. Social Fabric: we like people better after we have played a game with them. This is because it takes a lot of trust to play a game together.  Gaming builds a tight social fabric of bonds and trust;
  3. Blissful Productivity: Gamers know that they are being optimized as human beings to do hard and meaningful  work;
  4. Epic Meaning: Gamers love to be attached to awe-inspiring missions of human and planetary interest. Gamers love to build an epic story.

The Next Level

The mediocre manager believes that most things are learnable and therefore that the essence of management is to identify each person’s weaker areas and eradicate them. The great manager believes the opposite. He believes that the most influential qualities of a person are innate and therefore that the essence of management is to deploy these innate qualities as effectively as possible and so drive performance.

Marcus Buckingham

While Jane McGonigal is on a mission to change how we tap into the gamer’s potential on a societal level, I aim to zero in on what this means for leadership and organizational change management.

In a recent book called Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein explore the psychology of our every day decision-making and introduce the term Choice Architecture. This is the careful design of the environments in which people make choices. According to them, if anything you do influences the way people choose, then you are a choice architect.

In my opinion choice architecture could be applied on a more subtle level, as the quote of Marcus Buckingham indicates.  I believe there is a need for leaders to design and configure work in such a way that individuals can stand out and perform. And with an entire generation of young gamers graduating, our responsibility is to shape the world of work so that these gamers can deploy their innate qualities as effectively as possible.

Designing Games That Matter

The challenge we face as leaders is to tap into the potential of an entire generation of gamers. And we may be closer than we think: compare the above list of what games make us good at with the list of the things that motivate us:

  1. Autonomy: need to direct our own lives;
  2. Mastery: the desire to learn and create new things;
  3. Purpose: being in service of something that is larger than oneself;
  4. Progress: the sense of making progress.

I would say that the list of things that motivate us is pretty close to the list of things that games make us good at. The organizations that will thrive in the next decade are those who can connect these two lists, i.e.: to design games that matter.

Our Game

In a recent post I have stated that it’s time to raise the bar for our profession by leveling up towards relationship management and social architecture. McGonigal’s insights emphasize three things in this approach:

  • the need to develop our skills to the edge of what we are capable of (i.e.: Blissful Productivity on the Expertise level);
  • the need for designing projects as collaborative problem solving environments (i.e.: applying Urgent Optimism on the Relationship level); and
  • the need to deliver platforms that inspire urgent optimism, tighten the social fabric, aspire blissful productivity and have an epic meaning (i.e.: creating the Social Fabric of the Social Architecture level).

So what are we waiting for? The game for Organizational Change Practitioners has three levels: Expertise, Relationship Management and Social Architecture.

What else do we need to start playing?

And what would happen to the classic failure rates when all of us got addicted to this game?


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