Life's a Big Video Game for Gen Y – So Let Them Play!

Life's a Big Video Game for Gen Y – So Let Them Play!The generation of young people now entering the workforce are the first to have spent their entire childhoods surrounded by video games. And it seems they may be bringing some by-products of all that time with controllers in hand with them to their first jobs. In fact, just a few months ago, British researchers found that avid adult gamers can actually confuse real life for video games. Seriously.

The small study out, of Nottingham Trent University, found that gamers described a fleeting desire to fast-forward through a boring class, a reflexive jerking toward the 'stab' button from Call of Duty when they're actually in a real-life crowd, and embarrassing tendencies to try tricks they can only perform in FIFA when they're actually on a soccer field.That's either hilarious or alarming (or a bit of both) depending on your point of view, but what's it got to do with training?

Quite a bit, according to a new white paper from gamification company Bunchball. The porous relationship between video games and real life experienced by Gen Y presents both opportunities and pitfalls for companies looking to develop and train them. The report says:

"[Gen Yers] have been playing video games — console, mobile, MMORPGs, social, and more — since childhood, and have thus been immersed in the language and metaphors of gaming their entire lives.

"In a recent 2011 study conducted by MTV, Gen Yers reported that a 'game-like metaphor' applied to almost every aspect of their life. More than half also reported that 'People my age see real life as a video game' and '#winning is the slogan of my generation.'"

In practice, understanding that game concepts can bleed into real life means companies should incorporate key elements of the video game experience into the workplace, including real-time feedback, transparency about the quality of an employee's performance (you always know how you're doing in video games), clear goal-setting, badges to mark achievements, a feeling of "leveling up," and a healthy dose of team-based competition.

What does that look like when specifically applied to training? Bunchball reminds readers that while gamers will glue themselves to the couch for days while playing games, motivating this same demographic to read a manual is basically impossible. So why not make a game out of the material instead?

"Gen Y isn’t going to read the manual. Actually, let’s face it, no one is going to read the manual," says the white paper. "CIOs and CTOs around the world are spending billions of dollars annually to implement enterprise software solutions that are going to fail to show ROI, solely because employees aren’t adopting them." By using the well-documented drive to master new skills and feel competent to motivate employees and combining this drive with techniques borrowed from games, employees can actually be persuaded to master the new tools offered them.

This apparently works even with not-so-new tools, according to Bunchball, which offers a recent Microsoft initiative to teach Gen Yers the depth of features in Office as an example. How'd they accomplish this without boring youthful trainees to tears?

"Microsoft built Ribbon Hero 2 — an application built directly into Microsoft Office that uses gamification to motivate users to go through training without it feeling like training. Users are playing a 'game' and doing something productive at the same time, so they feel like it’s a 'win-win' situation. Ribbon Hero 2 takes users out of their normal 'work mode' and puts them in 'explorer mode', where it’s fun to discover new things, safe to fail, and where users feel accomplishment for having completed something hard. Ribbon Hero 2 also encompasses the entire Office Suite, so in order to play, users need to learn how to use all the products, which reinforces the value of the entire suite as opposed to single applications."

Are your Gen Y employees suffering game-life confusion and could you use this to your advantage?

Image used under Creative Commons by Flickr user craigmdennis.

London-based Jessica Stillman blogs about generational issues and trends in the workforce for, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist.

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