How can games have a meaningful impact?

Games are a concept we are all familiar with. Whether they are board games, card games, games we played at school in the playground or digital games. They each have different mechanics and different styles but they all have something in common; they bring us together, either in groups to play and they give us a shared story tell. 

At her recent presentation at Davos, Professor of film and media studies at Dartmouth University, Mary Flanagan, said  "[Games] are methods by which we can have conversations and even change our minds and behaviours.” They are immensely powerful tools that help us learn about persistence and failure, solution and problem solving and that it is ok not to know everything. These traits can be utilised in so many areas of L&D. 

Flanagan discovered four key themes of how games can make an impact in her years working in game design: 

1. Mindset - Games can lead to open-mindedness and disrupt stereotypes - as games are played repeatedly we start to learn characteristics and underlying systems. At Totem we have used games as a talking point for Diversity and Inclusion training to great success.   

2. Fictionalization - games are stories, they are not 'real.' They feel real, but they are a safe place to experiment. Flannigan found that the more fantastic and fictional the story, the more effective the message. I would say this depends on what you are trying to achieve. At Totem we use both fantastical and real world scenarios depending on the client need and audience. For us the important focus is story - if the story is good it doesn't matter if its set in the zombie apocalypse or the office - you just need to make it meaningful to the audience. 

3. Associate - through replay and reinforcement techniques games can help us make new mental associations. We literally will build new connections in our brains and strengthen existing ones when we play games. Games can be a great pre-cursor to training and allow you to build connections between concepts so when you meet face to face or start on the job training those concepts are already embedded and feel natural to your learners. 

4. Rethink - games can help us rethink perspectives. This is a very powerful effect of games. Used in the right way you can step into the shoes of another and experience what it might be like to be for a day. Flannigan references a game about sexual assault that resulted in a shift in behaviours and attitudes, Totem also created a very similar game back in 2012 and we saw the same result.  A game can present scenarios to a player and with the mechanics of narrative and the emotional connections made, those experiences can be very powerful.

When people play games, their personas or masks start to drop away and the real person will emerge. This is often what we call immersion and engagement, but it is an under-estimated impact of serious games; to reach the real person. When you reach the real person, you impact the real person and start the journey to changeing mindsets, behaviours and actions.