Games Institute partners with ODScore to study gamification in the workplace

The UW Games Institute’s Betsy Brey and Guelph-based human resource consulting company ODScore have partnered to study the possible applications of gamification in the workplace. 

Gamification is the application of elements traditionally found in games to non-game environments. Brey and supervising professor from the department of English language and literature Neil Randall explained that in the past this has often been expressed by simply adding a points system, or awarding badges in non-game systems, such as fitness apps. 

“The problem with [points and badges] is it’s really the most simplistic and least engaging elements of gameplay,” Randall remarked.

Instead, Brey plans to look more indepth. “It’s more about game-like thinking and critical thinking than it is necessarily about the game elements themselves,” she said.

Brey will be studying how to use gamification to help the many companies transitioning to leaner, less hierarchical structures. In workplaces with more fluid management structures where employees view themselves as part of the team rather than as underlings to a supervisor, Brey and Randall believe that gamification may be an avenue for strengthening motivation, engagement, and teamwork. 

“We know that games keep driving people forward, keep bringing them back to things,” which makes them potentially powerful tools for engagement, Randall said.

Besides working as a motivator, gamifying activities can also be used as learning tools. Games provide a low-risk environment where employees can experiment without fear of repercussions from failures. Brey explained that games and real life treat failure differently.

“A low-risk failure environment encourages different kinds of thinking patterns and different ways of approaching problems and issues than you might have if you know there’s one way that works and if you mess up it’s a problem. So encouraging different kinds of problem-solving and looking at elements of failure and what happens when you do fail … is a part of what we want to talk about with gamification,” Brey said.

ODScore and the Games Institute were partnered through Mitacs, a non-profit organization that pairs graduate and doctoral students with private companies. ODScore and Mitacs each provide half of the necessary funding. 

“Working with an industry partner has been really helpful…. They have some really fantastic people … who are helping me to understand the process more and see the applications of my research outside of an academic setting,” Brey said.

Though the research is focused on gamification in the workplace, Brey and Randall suggest that results could be broadly applicable. According to Randall, gamification applies in a number of sectors, including business, manufacturing, education, and health. 

“It’s a very large potential … activity that a lot of people can take up,” he said.


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