Serious Play Means Some Serious Business

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The Serious Play Conference that ran from July 10th through 12th in Manassas, Virginia drew in attendees from all over the country, all excited to learn about how gamification is changing how we do things. The use of gaming and simulation has entered nearly every arena, and making us rethink how to approach even the most basic challenges.

There were presenters on every subject imaginable, from government to education to healthcare, and even one track focusing on game design. Over in the exhibits hall game creators were demonstrating the various applications of their designs. The top award-winning games allowed you to experience making a living as a truck driver, innovating a struggling newspaper, learning how fractions work, or even (I am not kidding) mastering coding skills by learning how to program a whale.

While much of the focus of the conference was aimed at video games, board games and types of gamification that you wouldn’t immediately think of made their appearances. Sarah Moffat from the U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services really made a case for the latter type. In her presentation, her “game” consisted of writing exercises and breakout sessions designed to demonstrate that anyone can be your mentor to some degree.

This method actually demonstrates that it is more effective to have a bunch of different people “micro-mentoring” you in different areas that to have one Gandalf-esque uber-mentor. “A ’round-table’ of colleagues or mentors or friends can help  us in our quests,” says Moffat. “They could be the guides and teammates we need to bring out our own greatness, helping us overcome challenges, and experiencing the joy of collaboration. They can challenge us to make sure we’re pursuing leadership the right way.”

The usefulness of gamification to improving the way we do things is prevalent in so many areas. They can enhance a museum’s learning experience, or aid a chronically disabled patience maximize their quality of life. The possibilities are limitless, and the Serious Play Conference showcased quite a few of them.

The use of simulations in emergency response, for example, has helped to totally re-engineer processes. “Simulations are good for the discovery of the previously unknown,” stated Justin Legary, Tech Coordinator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “This is especially true in recent years, when, with the help of computers you can perform hundreds or even thousands of run-throughs instead of just a dozen or so. This allows you to see patterns that were not possible to see before.”

Over the course of three days the Serious Play Conference managed to open eyes, and open minds to how gamification is changing how we do nearly everything. Anyone who is serious about changing the future should think about going next year.

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