The Cultural Effects of Video Gaming2 |
Xbox. PlayStation. Wii. When you think of video games, it’s likely that some of these names will pop into your head. It’s also likely you’ll conjure up images of Super Mario stomping on bad guys, or of enemy warriors battling on an alien planet, or of your own James Bond-esque spy mission in a 3D virtual world.
But these days, video games aren’t just for tech geeks. Nor are they purely for entertainment value. In fact, games have been put to use in a new way altogether: as a platform for educational, business and therapeutic purposes.
“The gaming industry itself is maturing — both in its development style and its target product,” said D.J. Kehoe, assistant to the director of the information technology program in the College of Computing Sciences at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
In fact, some games are actually intended to be educational. For instance, last spring Kehoe directed a group of students as they developed a game for Pearson Education. The purpose of the project was to create a gaming environment that would bolster the reading skills of middle- and high-school students.
Further, a congressionally funded training program called the “University XXI program” has built 21st-century gaming simulations to train U.S. soldiers and Air Force recruits.
“We have built up capacity to help analyze and update training materials for the Army, and recently we’ve been looking at training materials and education materials for the Air Force,” said Sheilagh O’Hare, systems analyst at the University of Texas at Austin.
Her team worked with the medical department at Ft. Sam in Houston to update PowerPoint slides from the 1990s to incorporate video game elements and create interactive scenarios, she said.
In fact, the U.S. Army has even begun to leverage games as a way to bolster recruiting in areas where interest has been dwindling. Take Philadelphia, for example. As part of its marketing efforts, the Army has erected a state-of-the-art facility in a mall there. Complete with computers and Xbox games — not to mention a Black Hawk helicopter simulator room — the facility places potential recruits, as well as casual mall-goers, in a virtual war environment.
“There’s a game called ‘America’s Army,’ which is a free-to-play, networked, multiplayer game, and it’s just like going through military. They train you and you go on missions, and it’s supposed to give people an idea of what goes on in the military and the kind of work they’ll be doing,” Kehoe said.
One of the goals of this facility is to expose individuals to war-like conditions at an early age in the hopes that they will be more likely to enlist once they become eligible.
Today, almost seven years to the month after it launched, “America’s Army” has become one of the most popular Web-based computer games in the world.
“It’s good for recruiting,” Kehoe said, “but it’s also good just for entertaining.”
Games as Motivational Tools
Research indicates that younger employees — especially those from the Millennial generation — expect new technologies such as games and social networking to be deployed in the workplace and beyond.
Perhaps for this reason, a number of companies have turned to games to increase productivity, morale and retention, reducing turnover rates and absenteeism — measures that will ultimately impact the bottom line. Take, for instance, the Snowfly Capstone program, a Web-based software program. The idea behind the program is to reinforce positive performance and workplace behaviors, such as showing up to work on time or successfully completing an assigned task.
“We have a point-based incentive program that we set up for our customers, and [they] determine specific behaviors, goals and activities that [they] want to reinforce,” said Tyler Mitchell, vice president of market development at Snowfly. “If [employees] do something worthy of recognition, they receive what we call Snowfly game tokens. Via those game tokens, they can select from 11 to 12 games. [Then you] play a game, win a random number of points, accumulate those points and redeem the points for a variety of rewards.”
These games don’t require skills to win, however.
“Employees don’t win more points because they are good at video games; they win more points because they earn more game tokens. And the more games they play, the more points they accumulate,” Mitchell explained. “Once you earn the right to play a game, you have just as good a chance as anyone else to receive a high point payout.”
In fact, a good percentage of employees choose to take their game tokens home to play with their kids in exchange for chores or homework.
“You’re not losing anything [and] nothing is taken from you,” Mitchell said.
Thus far, the program has been implemented in several industries, including retail, health care, contact centers, banks and financial institutions.
Furthering Cultural Competence
Games can not only teach language skills, they can instill and propagate cultural knowledge, sensitivity and awareness.
Take, for instance, Alelo Inc., a developer of learning products that advance cross-cultural skills. Alelo has devised a series of interactive, game-based, 3-D simulations of real-life social interactions.
“The technology is a combination of artificial intelligence and video-game technology that allows us to create simulated game worlds, as well as online practice environments, where learners can practice conversing in the foreign language that they’re trying to learn,” said W. Lewis Johnson, president and chief scientist at Alelo.
“We’re really focusing on the skills [people] need to engage effectively in face-to-face communications, which includes not just the proper language but also the proper use of language, what forms of politeness are appropriate in different social contexts, body language and other cultural norms and expectations that arise in different situations that people might encounter,” he said.
For instance, in a game called “Mission to Iraq,” people must introduce themselves in accordance with local customs. Or, if they’re invited to an Iraqi’s home, they must understand the proper hospitality norms. Additionally, players must understand how to develop business relationships in other cultures.
“In Iraq — like many other countries — business dealings are relationship-based, so you have to practice small talk in the game in order to be able to develop rapport and [achieve success] with the project or the mission,” Johnson said.
Courses developed by the company are widely used in the U.S. military as well as the British army. Within these groups, the audience could include a number of different people:
- Soldiers on the ground who need to learn basic language skills, such as asking questions or exchanging information.
- Small unit leaders who may have to conduct searches through neighborhoods and would need to know how to address and interact with the occupants of homes.
- Leaders who meet with politicians, bureaucrats or neighborhood leaders to facilitate a particular project.
“All the courses address cultural as well as linguistic competence in varying degrees, depending on the learning objectives of a particular customer,” Johnson said.
As a Business Training Tool
Video gaming also can help executives learn business acumen — albeit in an alternate universe — as evidenced by the intricately designed, massively multiplayer game “EVE Online.”1 | 2 |