Let the Games begin!
Hello everybody. Meet Mr.Nice Guy. Like Alice, he loves to do six impossible things before breakfast!
He’s a power bundle of IQ (he graduated from India’s top universities) and EQ (as his friends will attest).
He’s also an inspiration magnet and sees ideas everywhere. Corporate life, cost management, COVID cures all inspire him equally.
Who am I talking about?
Say hello to Kartic, game connoisseur and founder of LetsPlayToLearn. His organization helps us learn using the power of Games.
If you’d like to know more about Kartic, check out the links in the footnotes. You can catch his podcast interview1and his book2.
Kartic has a poster pinned on his cupboard. It features a few of the people who inspire him. The people are an eclectic mix – Tamil fiction authors rub shoulders with Psychologists and Motivational speakers. There’s a common thread – they are all innovators.
So let’s head with Kartic and his poster into the world of games and explore what it can do for us.
Why are games important?
Games are great at providing education, entertainment, and opportunities for socialization.
Who invented Games and where?
Games are at least a few thousand years old. Indeed the first known games are believed to be at least as old as Written language. The earliest game is placed at 3100 BC. Excavations at the Basur Hoyuk Burial ground showed figurines that seemed to belong to a board game.
And Like all great inventions, games cropped up all over the world in quick succession. Senet was discovered in Egypt, The Royal Game of UR in Iraq, and Chaturanga in India (which evolved in Chess later). The 1820s saw the US getting its first published game. Popular games like The Landlord’s game followed (the predecessor of Monopoly).
Today, games are loved by people of all ages, all backgrounds, and everywhere.
Here’s a 10-minute video illustrating the emergence of games.
Named after a cafe (which sadly is no longer around), Lindy’s law tells us that things that have survived in the past have a higher chance of surviving in the future.
Shakespeare’s books will most likely outlive the latest bestseller.
Taleb explains the concept brilliantly3:
If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years. This, simply, as a rule, tells you why things that have been around for a long time are not “aging” like persons, but “aging” in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy. This is an indicator of some robustness. The robustness of an item is proportional to its life!
Given that Games have been around for thousands of years, Lindy’s law assures us they are likely to be around for another few thousand years at least. That’s comforting.
Data confirms this.
Here’s data from the Video games industry. We find people of all ages love games and playing together. If anything, the pandemic has only accelerated the effect.
Games lubricate interaction.
You learn while having fun. That’s what makes games unique. We also participate and open up more – even if we are introverts or from different teams. And all of this happens in record time.
There’s a case study in Kartic’s book2 that illustrates this.
A leading IT company had to deliver a strategic billion-dollar government project in a brief timeframe. Given the complexity, they needed the partners and teams to collaborate and innovate. Over two days, the team played interactive win-win games. They identified issues, roadblocks, and challenges and developed a road map. The project was delivered successfully 20 months ahead of schedule.
How do games facilitate” friction-less’ interaction?
Kartic explains three key reasons why people who struggle to open up in large groups do so quickly while playing games:
Fear of Being Wrong.
Even when we work with the best of teams, we are afraid to open up. Most people don’t feel psychologically safe enough to interact.
What if I asked a stupid question?
What would others think about me?
Would admitting a mistake in a group make me feel small?
We understand these may well be perceptions but find it hard to shake them off.
Games allow us the freedom to be wrong. Losing is considered acceptable. Our social barriers and resistance are down. Success inevitably follows.
Traditional learning often overwhelms us.
We all struggle with information overload. And class-room learning wears us down.
Games, on the other hand, deliver knowledge in tiny portions; and in a fun setting. Kartic believes identifying the core essence and using it as his guidepost is the best approach. His games teach fewer but more meaningful things. And they are constructed with plenty of surprises, fun, and motivational elements.
Duolingo is an app designed to help people learn another language in small bytes. Studies have revealed that a DuoLingo user reaches the same proficiency in 34 hours as she would in 130 hours of traditional college learning.
Games can make boring stuff palatable.
Bitter Guard is – you got it – bitter! The Chef camouflages the bitterness with spices while retaining the essence. You are still eating the bitter guard and will reap the health benefits, but it tastes a lot better now!
Kartic talks about a fascinating example from his Corporate Life. When his team had to implement Cost Control measures across the organization, he found many managers on the ground resisting.
His team designed a games-based-interactive approach using Snakes and Ladders, Chinese Whispers, and Empathy debates. The managers understood the change better. Here’s some sample feedback2 from the participants:
Kudos for coming up with an innovative method of creating awareness. Glad to see the enthusiasm across the teams. We realize now better why we need to stop unnecessary expenses. I believe this exercise will rekindle more interest amongst our front-line managers to adopt positive practices. Thank you, everyone, for spending your valuable time.
We played a corporatized version of the games we enjoyed as children. We got a chance to express our viewpoints and also got our misunderstandings clarified. The session taught us concepts in a fun-filled way but brought us together as a team – helping us communicate with each other and understand the change initiatives better.
The good news didn’t stop there. The team also won a prize in a much-coveted company-wide innovation contest.
The bottom line – Games are not only fun but hugely effective.
I am sold. How do I create great games?
Well, for starters, we should realize games are universal. Educational games are not just for the CXOs and corporates. You can have fun designing games for your family, friends, and colleagues.
There’s only one ask of the audience. They should be curious. Kartik’s audience ranges from college grads, NGOs, sales professionals, tourism catalysts, and school children. He even did a campaign on tackling the Covid 19 crisis. He’s always found that once there is curiosity, games will succeed.
Emotions matter for Communication and learning.
We may be strong on data and yet fail to click with the audience.
What’s happening here?
The missing ingredient is often “emotional connect .” Once people connect with the game and each other, it is bound to succeed.
Nuance is also essential. For instance, learning in one’s mother tongue taps into primordial memories and emotions. We think and “feel” better in our native languages.
Games designed to evoke emotions using simple triggers work well. A snake depicting a lousy investment in snakes and ladders will be easier to understand than an elaborate design.
Storytelling is a superpower!
The game should have a narrative that engages.
For instance, here is a storytelling game that would be a big hit with your family – check it out.
There are three components to keep in mind while designing game stories.
Simple is better:
Games like snakes and ladders connect with CXO and freshers. And they have stood the test of time.
We do need to balance simplicity with variety.
We need to keep an eye on outcomes and not get caught in the sophistication and challenge. But humans also crave variety. Mix things up a little. But don’t make it complicated!
For instance, Kartic adapted Card games2 for use cases ranging from Marketing concepts to Understanding everyday investments. The simplicity and the familiarity of the game structures made both a big hit.
Interactivity is the SUPERPOWER.
Games are ultimately about facilitating interaction and learning.
A natural communicator could engage an audience without a game. She can make the magic happen by herself, contextualizing the narrative.
And that’s perfect.
But for the rest of us, a game can be an invaluable toolkit. It can help us engage the audience better.
How about the app gamification?
Kartic helps us understand App gamification in the overall context:
A full-fledged end to end game experience (be it board game, activity game, or digital game) brings in all aspects of flow and gets one wholly immersed. This is game-based-learning
Apps incorporate one part – the motivational aspect – to help you stay focused. In this sense, the app gamification is a subset of the overall games approach. They help provide the necessary motivational triggers needed for change. This can be at the individual level (say health/fitness) or at the corporate level(compliance/cost savings etc.)
Games are the buffet, Apps are a la carte – the use only the motivation part.
Use Games to solve Life Problems.
Games represent life in a more fun setting. We have ups and downs in games as we do in life. And there’s always the element of surprise. Games can teach you how to live life well and think about life at a larger level.
There are several real-world applications of Games.
Games can help with Depression.
Play can be an extraordinary way to bring back some joy into our lives.
Here’s an expert sharing an anecdote that is easy to relate to.
In the last class I gave at Stanford, we had students review their own early play memories, and they tried to remember the purest forms of joyfulness and play in which they engaged as little kids. By connecting with those memories — whether it was a vacation, a birthday party, first bicycle, or a game they started, they were able to find ways to incorporate play into their lives.Dr.Stuart Brown, National Institute of Play4
Now, let’s take a brief detour. Close your eyes and answer this question.
What is the opposite of Depression?
Did you come up with words like excitement, joy, happiness, and calm?
Dr.Brown has a surprising answer.
“The opposite of work is play is not work; it is depression5.”
Just as sleep deprivation leads to ill health, so play deficiency can lead to mental illness.
Games and play have remarkable effects on our wellbeing. This is all the more reason for us to embrace them in our lives.
Play gets us from thinking to being in the moment.
Dana Mitroff Silvers, Founder of Designing Insights LLC, explains6.
Play gets us out of our heads.
Playgrounds us in the present moment. It helps turn off the analytical part of our brain that can cause “analysis paralysis.” Play helps get us into a state of what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow.”
“Bringing the dynamic of play into my work helps me to respond to surprises with curiosity, and it helps me get to get into creative flow with others while getting out of my own head and ego.”
– Kendra Shimmell, Head of Service Design, Capital One
Games also help us relax and de-stress. They can even help with Depression.
Most importantly, Games help build an emotional bridge between people.
All of this explains why Games are loved so much all around the world.
Don’t you think it’s time to invite games into our life and experience some of the magic?
Should you wish to reach Kartic, he’s available at
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
2 Adapted from http://letsplaytolearn.com/book/home.html
3 Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder (p. 318). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.