Wall Street Journal: “Serious Games”

Luke Hohmann discusses “serious games” for solving business problems.

Structuring business problems as games can simulate the actions and reactions within real markets. Gaming business problems can also bring about product insights and reveal customer needs.

Play engages our brains in ways that the linear problem solving we normally engage in at work may not. Incorporating games into the workplace could lead to a more fun environment and a competitive edge as well.


(via atomic spin)


Play as an Alternate Reward System at Work

Long-term goals can be hard to get excited about working towards — especially when they’re not exactly your goals. So how about making the little steps toward accomplishing certain ends immediately enjoyable? Maybe by introducing play?

A couple examples:

  1. Retail giant Target uses games to improve cashiers’ throughput. The game system is tied into the checkout lane and is scored on a per item basis against a target time per item; different items take different amounts of time to ring up and bag up. (Here’s a bit more.)
  2. An engineering manager talks about constructing work games to appeal to programmer geeks with whom he works. As he states: “It’s also why we love games — they’re just dolled up systems — and the more you understand this fascination with games, the better you’ll be at managing [geeks].”

I suspect playful interfaces can be incorporated into a variety of work settings. That being said, we must be cautious to properly develop such technologies with sensitivity to good user experience and workplace psychology. As some of the comments in the links about Target’s system reveal, not everyone found the game to be enjoyable. I can certainly forsee playful systems twisted into oppressive quota regimes.

(examples via and Samuel Bowles)


Information Fun Houses for Museums, Demonstrations, and Tours

Amusement Parks: Way More Than Only Amusement

I love amusement parks. Always have. (I love theme parks too but that’s a distinction for another post). The rides and attractions are fun, fascinating, and enchanting; they manage to boil down basic human experience to its essence: thrill, fright, enjoyment, surprise, delight, amazement, etc.

I’ve been thinking about one classic attraction in particular. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I’m going to talk about fun houses. Fun houses have this wonderful quality of being able to completely consume a person’s attention and crystallize an experience. Further, there’s this tremendous capacity for creating shared experiences (how many people walk through a fun house by themselves?).

Experiencing Information — Smoke & Mirrors and Friends Nearby

Research has demonstrated that novel experiences create vivid memories and create bonds among those who partake of them together. It strikes me that harnessing the novelty of a fun house-like experience could support, in a really fun way, good execution of information architecture and design.

Let me explain.

The goal of a good information design is to highlight and make memorable the most important information. Learning and information absorption are further improved with discussion and the social dynamic of shared exposure. A fun house model for information presentation could help accomplish both of these things:

  1. Fun houses are a series of novel and focused moments of experience — absurdity, fright, thrill, unbalance, etc. Why couldn’t playful technologies be employed to present the most important information experientially within a series of novel experiences? The very format itself would support information design in that the key pieces of information, by necessity, would have to be distilled to their essence in order to be presented to an audience quickly and with great impact.
  2. Most informational presentations are not usually designed to be shared experiences. Museums, demonstrations, tours, etc. are typically comprised of media intended to be digested in a single-serve fashion: reading placards, quietly sitting and absorbing a short film, listening to pre-recorded audio over headphones. The fun house interaction model invites — almost demands — a shared experience.

Essential Elements of Information Fun House Design

  • The walk-through would naturally encourage small groups or clusters of people to navigate the attraction. And, yes, I just called it an attraction as though we were in an amusement park.
  • The experience would be guided by the layout of the physical architecture. Each point of information would be highlighted in a dedicated space crafted to be revealed in an instant (e.g. turning a corner, tripping a sensor to immediately reveal the information, etc.).
  • The information itself would be presented in a manner most suited to its absorption. If it’s a burst of sound, then the space would be darkened and void of visual stimulation. If text is the preferred format, then said text would fill the audience’s visual field. If tactile sensation best communicates a particular point, then an architecture of control would require the audience to feel the information (e.g. requiring them to pull, touch, or sense a motion) in order to move forward through the experience.
  • Various information displays of a certain theatricality would be employed to envelop the audience in each momentary experience. Big sounds. Big video. Big reveals. Surprises. Dimensionality. Smell. Friction. Atmosphere. Echo. Air movement.
  • Information would be structured very simply: few words, key numbers, essential points, simple demonstrations.

Of course, complex topics could be tedious and expensive to structure this way in their entirety. Supplemental narration could be employed interstitially between reveals. More traditional interpretive materials could supplement the experience at the exit of the attraction — not unlike a gift shop at the exit of a good ride.

I can imagine this approach employed at trade shows, museums, building tours, and possibly even as sales tools for product demonstrations.


Elmo and Nokia Bring Teleconferencing to Kids’ Books for Family Story Play

Nokia Research has combined storytelling and teleconferencing to create Family Story Play (take a gander at the embedded video in the preceding link).

Many of the print storytelling technologies being developed today are about changing the medium of the story (e.g. E Ink) and augmenting the written word with audio and video content. Nokia is taking a different approach—enabling shared reading experiences between parents and children over long distances. It’s not exactly easy to spend a great deal of time with a child on a phone call. But sharing a book together is another story (no pun intended—okay maybe intended a little bit).

It’s an interesting idea. How can playful technologies enable and extend any variety of existing toy, play, and storytelling mediums. Rather than seeking to invent the new or replace the old, how about discovering and filling in the nooks and crannies around existing play user experiences?

(via Engadget)


More Big People Toys to Influence Public Policy & Behavior

Building on a previous post on the benefits of using play to shape public policy & behavior…

The Fun Theory just added Bottle Bank Arcade Machine [youtube].

This contraption turns collecting glass bottles for recycling into something akin to Whack-A-Mole (minus any actual whacking of glass).

This is brilliant (and by electing to use italics I’m signifying that if you could hear inside my head as I typed you would have noted that I really drew that out and made it go all sing-songy).