I have heard many Worforce Learning and Productivity Professionals, as I've been chastised to call corporate training folk, complain that they can't possibly consider a serious game in their work environment, where - after all - people work, not play. In addition to all the reasons (but sadly little data) that I would offer, a couple of interesting pieces have been written recently that come at this debate from a completely different direction.
In Julian Dibbell's post to Network Performance (a fascinating blog, by the way), "Online Games, Virtual Economies ... Distinction between Play and Production", he asserts: "Work is play and play is work." His interesting "theory of ludocapitalism" stems from "the increasingly elusive distinction between play and production in the digitally networked world," for which he largely credits online games and virtual economies. He bases his comments on his year-long devotion to developing a livelihood (one hesitates to say "career") playing an MMORPG. My crude synopsis might make his assertion seem a bit silly, but his observations are, in fact, unignorable.
Rex Sorgatz has made similar observations in his essay, "The Game of Life," in Wired-15.11. For him, the blurring is between games and the gaming mindset, and life itself.
"Of course, the basics of gameplay - competing against opponents, setting records, winning prizes -- are as old as human civilization. But the gaming mindset has now become pervasive. We use game models to motivate ourselves, to answer questions, to find creative solutions. For many, life itself has turned into a game. Our online lives are just twists on the videogame leaderboards, where we jockey to get our blog a higher rank on Technorati and compete to acquire more friend-adds on MySpace than the next guy."
And who's the "we" to whom Sorgatz refers? "Those of us who grew up playing videogames in arcades." In other words, people in their 40s and younger. In other words, the vast majority of the world's population needing or seeking education, training, and workforce learning and productivity.
The point isn't whether we want work, life, and the world to go this direction. The point is that it IS going this direction, and we have to accept it and address it - most particularly in our places of learning and places of work. Every learning designer worth her stripes knows that reaching the learner means understanding who the learner is, not just what the learner needs to know.
If the gaming mindset dominates the worker-under-45 set, and work and play are all mushed together, doesn't it just make sense to meet these learners where they are, even just a little bit?
I think the next time someone gives me this objection to serious games, I'm going to ask, "Where are you from, Azeroth?" I think the answer would say a lot.