TGC 2009: Pleasing the Gamer Brain

TGC 2009: Pleasing the Gamer Brain


IBM believes that games can be the best way for Generation Y - the so-called "gamer generation" - to learn, but not just any old game will do.

According to IBM's Phaedra Boinodiris, the gamer generation - those born in 1980 and more recently - actually learns differently than previous generations. They're the most plugged in generation to date, which has affected not only how they view concepts like leadership and community, but also how they integrate information. They respond far better to active learning than passive learning; in other words, they'll learn faster by doing something than by reading about it. Serious games, those with purpose beyond simply having fun, can promote learning by 108%, Boinodiris told a packed room at the Triangle Game Conference.

IBM uses serious games to teach everything from marketing to leadership to tech training, so it clearly is practicing what it preaches. But don't just expect to drop Tetris into your tutorial on how to process TPS reports and expect your employees to embrace it - you have to actually design a game whose puzzles and challenges work around your learning points.

The first question you have to ask, says Boinodiris, is "What is it that's fun about what you're trying to teach?" Seems like an obvious question, really, when trying to design a game, but it's one that's all-too-often overlooked when companies decide to use a game to teach concepts or techniques.

To illustrate her point, Boinodiris used INNOV8 1.0, a serious game IBM designed to teach MBA students about business process management. In the game, players are dropped in as a consultant and have to figure out what's wrong with a call center's current business model by interviewing characters and gathering information. The game helps make key business ideas, which are usually taught via charts and suchlike, more concrete for the players, because they're actually putting them into use rather than simply conceptualizing them. Students have responded so well to INNOV8 1.0 that more than 100 schools worldwide have tailored curriculum around it.

I'm not sure I would personally enjoy INNOV8 1.0 - just the phrase "business process management" makes my head hurt - but I deeply respect the effort that was put into making it not just something that would achieve the learning goal, but a solid game, too. If more companies took that approach to their serious games, we could perhaps experience a learning renaissance.


This is a really good tool that should be supported and should actually be available to the public to get a sample of what issues one would have to deal with in changing careers.

However I think they forgot one other important factor that stands out in my mind. Proactive employees. It is not enough just to have employees know how to solve problems but with a game the encouragement of solving the problem and the possibility of preventing the problem from occurring is a habit that needs to be taught.

A lot of employees are passive at work and forming that habit to be proactive is key to make any workplace efficient and more importantly stress-free.

Nothing bothers me more at work when I see one person doing all the work while others just wait for customers when they could be a real team member.

I envision a mainstream Xbox 360 shooter that teaches people high level calculus without them knowing it.

Of course it's easier to learn by doing, and not just reading the stuff. I'm not an expert on neuro-science, but I so know a thing or two about learning processes.

The business student who played a lot of tycoon and business manager games will be a more productive businessman than, say, the guy who just studied in a business school. The gamer dude will be better at planning, coming up with ideas and implementing them. Why? Science has the answer to that.

If you just read textbooks, your brain tries to store an abstract version of the material in your brain, void of any sensory elements, like visual and exemplary parts. But when you learn by doing, trying out different methods to apply that knowledge, your brain stores the specific scenarios, their progression and outcome, accompanied by visual, emotional components (succes: joy, failure: sadness) and examples. It is much easier to apply something to a problem that you have done earlier (even in a game), than to apply some textbook phrase.

Even thinking about and visualizing a problem in your head can help MUCH more, because scientists proved with EEG studies, that when you imagine something (like playing an instrument or participating in a sporting event) the same areas of your brain light up just like when you were doing it for real. The only difference is that your muscles don't move, but all the brain waves are the same. It's just like when you are thinking about a good song you heard recently, and you catch yourself tapping your fingers or feet to the rythm :)

Even if it's a game (or moreso, because you actually enjoy playing it), it has almost the same effect, same learning experience than if you were doing it for real.

I have been working in the brain fitness(brain games) space since 2001 and we have come along way. There has been significant scientific studies over the last 5 years that illustrate how we can maintain and develop our cognitive skills through our lifespan. We create games that help improve memory, concentration, logic and visual-spatial skills. I truly believe the next 5 years will see a lot of positive developments in this area.


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