I found myself in the middle of a small whirlwind earlier this month when the Green Meeting Industry Council released its case study on meetings gamification. The study tells the story of GMIC’s 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference, its first attempt to build the energy, intensity, and teamwork of online gaming into a face-to-face event.
I was involved with the release because I co-authored the case study along with Elizabeth Henderson, the formidable chairwoman of GMIC’s 2011 conference design team and chief sustainability strategist with Calgary-based Meeting Change. But in the flurry of interest that surrounded the game, the case study, and GMIC’s plans for an encore in 2012, there was scarcely time for a question that might help you gauge whether meetings gamification is really ready for prime time:
If you had to choose, why would you entrust any part of a gamification project to a writer and meetings strategist who abhors trivia, resents wasted time, routinely rolls his eyes at gamer culture, and whose daughter once declared that he doesn’t believe in fun?
My family would tell you (between snorts of laughter) that I’m the worst possible advocate for anything involving fun and games. But it turns out that building a game into a face-to-face event is a great way to keep participants passionately engaged. The twist is that it’s worth doing only if it serves the purpose of the event.
An on-site game can become a distraction, rather than a catalyst, just like any other meeting feature. Look no further than those motivational speakers who fill the room with a cotton-candy message—wonderful in the moment, but gone in minutes.
Contrast that with a growing movement to take the nearly obsessive thrill of a game like World of Warcraft or Portal (OK, so I’ve played Portal only for about 10 minutes, but the draw is obvious) and put it to work in a real-life setting. Renowned game designer Jane McGonigal, who wrote the New York Times bestseller Reality is Broken, has predicted that a game designer would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by 2023. In their book Total Engagement, Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Read describe companies that use game formats to spice up the drudgery of call center work.
And then there’s the growing genre of serious games that bring together large groups of virtual players to solve complex problems. One of the very best was World Without Oil, a massively collaborative, online reality game that chronicled the first 32 weeks of a oil crisis. Any face-to-face meeting planner should envy the sheer intensity of that experience.
There are still times when I have trouble convincing my daughter Rachel that I believe in fun. I do maintain that we’re surrounded by trivia and entertainment that too often distract us from important and daunting problems. But I’m completely sold on using games for serious purposes and serious meetings. If you download the case study, I think you’ll agree that the right game, used in the right way, can be a great way to capture and hold participants’ attention and make your next meeting worth attending.
Post script: In an earlier column, I was a bit premature predicting the imminent return of the Stanley Cup to Canada. But no one in our office, and no one in the Canadian meetings industry, was pleased with the street rioting that followed Game 7. The comments on our blog post give you the response from the real Vancouver.
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog and tweets as @mitchellbeer.