Friday, April 17, 2009

Book Review: Got Game

Title: Got Game? How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever.

Authors: John C. Beck & Mitchell Wade

Publisher: Harvard Business School Press, 2004

The focus is on the difference between the baby boomers and the gamer generation, how each approaches the workplace, and some suggestions on bridging the generation gap.

One has only to look at the impressive sales numbers to see how important gaming is. In fact, more children have regular access to video games than have computers at home. "Game Boy and PlayStation aren't just a faintly embarrassing part of the economic landscape; they are a central, defining part of growing up for many of millions of people (6)." When video games started becoming really popular in the early 1980's, it really changed the attitudes of the children who grew up with them. The gaming generation is people 34 and younger (and since this is 5 years old, we'll say people under 40). Even people of this age group who didn't play games heavily during childhood have been affected to some degree. "Video games ultimately grew so pervasive among and exclusive to youth that they became the defining experience for an entire generation (59)."

Traits of video games:
  • you're the star/center of attention
  • you're the boss of what happens, you're no longer a passive consumer, you can manipulate the story
  • you're the expert
  • you can experience violence without really getting hurt
  • you are encouraged to rebel, be a hero, and bond with people who share your gaming experience
  • there's always an answer
  • everything is possible
  • things are "fair"
  • trial & error are almost always the best plan
  • things are (unrealistically) simple
  • young people rule
  • the only real limiting factor is your willingness to keep going

Studies spanning between the mid 1980s to the present have found gamers had improved cognitive skills in visualization and mental maps; improved visual memory in children as young as four; process information in new ways (leaping around rather than thinking linearly). Few technologies have been more taken for granted and more ignored by older generations.

The authors conducted a large survey of those in the gaming generation and those who were older and found drastic differences in their attitudes about risk, achievement, value of experience, and their own capabilities. "[Gamers] really seem to believe that the world is their video game (45)." Our world is "interrupt-driven," so being totally immersed in a game comes as a welcome break. Games ask one fundamental question: "What do you want to do today (65)?"

Traits of gamers that affect the workplace:

  • They are committed to professional excellence. This often comes off as being arrogant. Gamers are more likely to say they are "knowledgeable."
  • Gamers believe winning matters and see competition everywhere.
  • Gamers are more likely to care about the organization they work for.
  • True multi-tasking probably isn't possible. Studies continue to show that the brain can only do one thing at a time and must switch between multiple activities. But gamers are used to switching a lot and can switch between tasks more quickly.
  • They're used to living in the "N-Dimension" (as opposed to a two-dimensional world), they love being immersed in data and this is valuable in many industries.
  • Gamers expect high rewards for the value they create (though it's not necessarily monetary).
  • Gamers are more likely to prefer pay and bonuses based on performance rather than a set salary (this increases in both age groups according to how much they report to play games).
  • Gamers are motivated by skill, competition, rewards, and sensory excitement.
  • They value heroism more than power, money, or even love. Monetary rewards are important, but secondary to serving the greater good, personal challenge, and playing an important part in the organization.
  • Games prefer learning and working through trial and error. Games, such as business simulations, can teach basic principles much better than a college degree in some ways.
  • The authors feel gamers have the potential to make great managers and CEOs.
  • They're global and self-educating, learn from peers rather than authority figures, learn needed skills usually right before they need it, and prefer hands-on training.
  • Gamers have a "relentless drive to make things better (160)."

To harness gamers' potential, managers should tap their instinct for heroism by framing tasks as opportunities and providing opportunities for public praise or failure. Don't judge gamers to quickly on their attitudes (in comparison to how baby boomers were judged by elders for length of hair or choice of dress). Use the game generation's "selfish" drives to inspire them to great performance by appealing to their pride. Don't dismiss gamers' ability to concentrate. Help your employees work together across the generation gap.

Gamers have learned that failure doesn't hurt. They focus on what they did wrong, what they could have done better, and how to get to the next level. They're not reckless, but they are more comfortable with the right kind of risks than previous generations.

The authors of this book are not of the games generation. They post the traits of gamers in either a neutral or positive light, recognizing the negative view that many older generations have of "them." It is a little strange as I am fully a part of the games generation and recognize many of these traits in myself even if I was not a heavy gamer growing up. Their research findings and conclusions are convincing and the writing is easy to read. Overall, I believe this is the best book on gaming I have read since James Paul Gee.

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