By Dr Howard B Esbin, Heliotrope, Founder & Director Guest poster Dr Howard B Esbin takes a look at the primal origins of play, the history of using games as a collaborative tool, and their growing importance for modern business. It takes just 0.41 seconds for Google’s search engine to list 16, 200,000 results on the twinned topic of serious games and collaboration. The following search headings are representative.
- Designing collaborative multi-player serious games
- Problem solving and collaboration using serious games
- Scripted collaboration in serious gaming for complex learning
- Collaboration in serious game development: a case study
- Problem solving and collaboration using mobile serious games
Let’s start with the term ‘collaborate’. It stems from the ancient Latin ‘collaborare’ meaning to ‘work with’. The contemporary definition is “work jointly on an activity, esp. to produce or create something” (New Oxford American Dictionary). ‘Cooperation’ also stems from the Latin ‘cooperationem” meaning “working together”. The semantic roots of both words are closely intertwined for good reason. The science of evolutionary cooperation offers some insight why. Cooperation is practised by many species. Bees, for example, cooperate to produce their hives and honey. Humans learned, through long experience and adaptation, that cooperation is an immense asset for survival. ‘Play’ is another activity, like cooperation, with primal roots. “Anyone who has ever tossed a Frisbee to a beloved dog knows that playfulness crosses species lines. What does this mean? For humans and other animals, play is a universal training course and language of trust” (Fred Donaldson). Games grew naturally out of play. The original Proto-Germanic meaning of ‘game’ included: ‘joy, glee, sport, merriment, participation, communion, people together.’. In other words, our ancestors understood that games brought people together. ‘Communion’ a natural outcome is defined as “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, esp. when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level” (New Oxford American Dictionary). “Games are formalized expressions of play which allow people to go beyond immediate imagination and direct physical activity. Games capture the ideas and behaviours of people at one period of time and carry that through time to their descendants. Games like liubo, xiangqi, and go illustrate the thinking of the military leaders who employed them centuries ago.”
Liubo, for example, pictured in the photo below is at least two thousand years old. “The realm of strategy… is where games have exerted the most remarkable impact on the conduct of war, serving as a tool for, as one U.S. Army general put it, “writing history in advance”. Apropos, Lord Wellington is supposed to have famously said, “the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. So we now understand that the role of play and games has been educational for a long time and instrumental in helping people work together more effectively. There are now 7.151 billion people living on this planet (as estimated by the United States Census Bureau). Practically speaking, anyone can contact anyone else thanks to ubiquitous Internet, inexpensive communication technologies, and almost free accessibility. Play and games can stretch our imaginations in so many different and beneficial ways. Giving the means to billions of people is an immense phenomenon. No wonder the “worldwide video game industry is booming with sales revenues expected to reach $101 billion dollars this year”. For example, “1 billion people spend at least 1 hour a day playing games…(which means) 7 billion hours of highly engaged gameplay a week worldwide” (ibid). On the other hand, “89% of global workers are unengaged” according to Gallup (ibid). This is costing an estimated “$2 trillion dollars is the estimated cost of unengaged workers for companies annually” (ibid). Simply put, “realizing the engagement power behind games, companies…are looking to gamification as a way to better its productivity and employee satisfaction” (ibid). Deloitte Consulting’s Leadership Academy is a good example of this burgeoning trend. “DLA is an online program for training its own employees as well as its clients. DLA found that by embedding missions, badges, and leaderboards into a user-friendly platform alongside video lectures, in-depth courses, tests and quizzes, users have become engaged and more likely to complete the online training programs… Using gamification principles, use of its Deloitte Leadership Academy (DLA) training program has increased 37% in the number of users returning to the site each week. Participants are spending increased amounts of time on the site and completing programs in increasing numbers…The technology research firm Gartner, Inc. predicts gamification will be used in 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015, this will grow to more than a $2.8 billion business by 2016, and 70 percent of Global 2000 businesses will be managing at least one “gamified” application or system by 2014.” In conclusion, the relation between serious gaming and collaboration has never been clearer or its value more immediate. Dr. Howard B. Esbin is the creator of Prelude, a serious game that fosters trust and collaboration. It is used in schools, community agencies, and workplace training internationally. Its design is informed by his research on social learning, imagination, and positive psychology. He founded Heliotrope, a social enterprise to promote Prelude and related research. Howard also has two decades of senior management experience in the private sector, international development, and philanthropy. The International Labour Organization, Education Canada, and UNESCO have published his work.