By most measures, gaming, particularly electronic gaming, is all about conflict: gamers assume an identity in a fictional world and complete one or more missions in that world, often by generating as much mayhem and by taking advantage of as many fair or unfair advantages as their assumed identities will allow.
Notwithstanding these fictional worlds that exist solely as a platform for imagined conflict, human resource professionals are turning to gaming to resolve real-life workplace conflicts.
Human resource professionals have long relied on game theory to resolve conflicts. Extending game theory into actual gaming is a natural progression that makes use of readily available tools to manage and improve workplace team performance.
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Early Days of Gaming
Mankind has entertained itself with games for centuries. In modern parlance, gaming can include those early simple games, but the term now refers almost exclusively to electronic gaming.
Dr. Edward Condon, who worked as a nuclear engineer for Westinghouse, demonstrated the first integration of electronic computing and gaming at the 1940 World’s Fair in New York with a program that engaged users in simple logic games. More than thirty years elapsed before Magnavox introduced “Odyssey”, which was a precursor to the once-popular electronic ping-pong game.
The Advancement of Electronic Gaming
Atari and Sega advanced electronic gaming by several generations in the 1970s and 1980s, laying the groundwork for home gaming consoles and multiplayer role-playing games. In the 1990s, gamers would gather at LAN parties to connect multiple computing consoles that facilitated real-time network gaming by groups of players.
The rollout of broadband internet in the 2000s and beyond gave gamers the platform and resources they needed to engage hundreds or thousands of players in the same gaming arena simultaneously. By one count, more than one and a half billion people with internet broadband access now play electronic games.
As gaming became ubiquitous, it was only natural for the gaming community to use gaming for purposes other than pure entertainment, including conflict resolution.
Educators, for example, are adapting gaming to teach critical thinking and decision-making skills. Gaming systems can also be used to simulate business startups, and to explain the complex geothermal interactions that cause climate change.
These games and applications ultimately go back to the basics of game theory, namely, that decisions in a gaming environment can have consequences for an individual, the team, or both.
Human Resources and Gaming
When gaming systems are cast with a competitive environment, one person wins but inevitably another person loses. When cast in a cooperative environment that emphasizes compromise, each person maximizes his or her outcome if everybody else’s outcome is also maximized.
Human resource professionals use this competitive-cooperative dichotomy in gaming to instill stronger team performance characteristics and to rectify workplace conflicts such that the whole team improves through the gaming process.
Assume, for example, a simple but thankless task that one of two team members in a workplace must complete. If their manager assigns the task to one of them through a simple coin flip, one team member wins, the other loses, and the seeds of conflict are sown. Expand this scenario to the greater flow of daily tasks that must be completed in any workplace.
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Team Building and Gaming
Managers who assign tasks through coin flips, or some other random methodology, are generating internal conflicts that will simmer until they erupt and boil over. A game theorist might approach the same situation by offering to auction each task to the entire team.
Each bidder in the workplace will have an opportunity to gain something else when he or she bids for each task. This process instills a spirit of cooperation and compromise that gives each team member some element of victory.
To the extent that this process will become cumbersome if it is repeated with every task, a manager can use gaming to train employees to apportion tasks cooperatively. Multiplayer games can put all team members in an arena where working together is the key to survival.
Gaming instills a sense of cooperation over competition, and that sense carries over into the workplace to form a coherent team.
Conflict Resolution and Gaming
The creators of the irreverent “South Park” animated television program took this concept to an extreme in Episode Eight of Season 10 when they portrayed all four of the show’s main characters working together to amass points in a “World of Warcraft” game to take down another player who had more power than any one of the main characters could overcome.
Conflict is inevitable in every sphere of human interaction. Workplaces that throw a disparate group of employees together can be ground zero for the most significant conflicts. Unlike in social engagements, employees do not have an option of terminating a relationship with a coworker when a conflict arises.
Managers who utilize gaming to teach cooperation techniques to employees will be rewarded with a workplace that minimizes conflict. Gaming techniques also help managers handle conflict effectively and productively.