Game mechanics enable events to fulfill genuine human needs for connection, happiness, challenge, motivation, community support—and sustainability.
Serious fun through the integration of game mechanics can add power, impact and focus to a meeting or event, a message I’ve been relaying to you these past couple of months in One+. This integration brings buzz and the thrill of friendly competition to a conference program; builds stronger, more intense bonds among onsite teammates; and drives concrete action on specific meeting objectives such as corporate social responsibility and sustainability.
Too many business meetings and events focus strictly on motivating people to sell more, the bottom-line results or the ubiquitous ROI. The language of business suggests a direct link from onsite programming to financial success. Yet, there is a small community of well-respected economists (such as Herman Daly, former chief economist in the environment department of the World Bank) who are trying to re-align our understanding of economics and wealth with their original meaning. The original meaning of wealth was about wellbeing, the condition of being happy and prosperous, while economics meant the management of a household, family or community as stewards of communal wellbeing.
Game mechanics help events adapt to fulfill genuine human needs for connection, happiness, challenge, motivation, community support and sustainability. As author, speaker and game designer Jane McGonigal states, people turn to games because "reality is broken." Meetings and events are all about creating human connections and community, both of which grow out of the purposeful learning and action of an onsite game.
The Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) pioneered the use of sustainable games at its 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference in Portland, Oregon, the first industry event targeting meeting professionals to explicitly integrate game mechanics, increase engagement and change behavior. It also served to build intense onsite bonds and collaboration, a concrete example of creating human connections and a sense of community. Since this innovation, other meetings and events have followed, working game mechanics into their own designs.
Event Camp Vancouver (ECV) was another one of these early adopters. They experimented with a competitive game to drive learning about green meetings and create socially responsible activity in the conference environment. ECV creator Tahira Endean, director of creative and production at Cantrav Destination Management, says organizers decided to incorporate a game into the event in a quest to experiment with formats to achieve their learning objectives.
"A game that could be well-integrated without taking over the other learning seemed ideal," Endean said. "We knew that we wanted to showcase responsibility from the beginning. We wanted to show meeting professionals that with a few tools they could integrate sustainability into their meetings, but more importantly, by engaging individuals in the process from beginning to end, we can take small steps together to achieve greater good. Making small choices at every step was achievable by anyone."
Shawna McKinley, director of sustainability with MeetGreen, joined forces with Judy Kucharuk, principal of Dawson Creek, British Columbia-based Footprint Management Systems Inc., to create and manage the game Get Your Green On. In McKinley’s opinion, the sustainability focus came first; the decision to create a mobile application to deliver the game came second, for three main reasons.
"First, the atmosphere of Event Camp, like many events, is one of collaboration; we didn’t have a lot of command and control of the sustainable practices of our collaborators," McKinley said. "Second, we heard from the planning committee that there was a lot of uncertainty about how to integrate sustainability into events. Many people think that this is too complicated and difficult. They wanted simple, easy steps. Third, we wanted to make sustainability attendee-focused, not about what the supply chain was doing on their behalf. We wanted to experiment with how much influence an attendee could have in reducing footprints, while having fun doing it."
Kucharuk added: "An overriding consideration through the whole design process was to keep it fun and not overwhelming for the participant. We wanted to respect the experience of the audience, be new and interesting, have fun and introduce them to the concept of sustainability without being intrusive. We wanted to influence our attendees to make better choices."
McKinley says she wanted to demonstrate the power of attendees to contribute to event sustainability.
"So much work in event sustainability focuses on supply chain and planner actions, and this is largely invisible to attendees," she said. "This project allowed us to shift that focus, to make it very visible, active and an engaging part of the attendee experience. At the end of the game, we could measure specific reductions in our footprint because attendees voluntarily chose to do something."
Get Your Green On attempted to shift attendee awareness about sustainability and motivate them to make better, more sustainable choices through a simple, fun, but also challenging interface. It also had an overt community-focused side; for every act of green, CAD$1 was donated to the British Columbia Cancer Foundation, up to a maximum of $1,500 ($1,000 was donated by MeetGreen and $500 by Oracle’s Paul Salinger, president of the Green Meeting Industry Council). This goal was exceeded thanks to 1,715 acts of green. Results included the elimination of 178 single-vehicle trips through the use of public transit and a lanyard re-use rate of 60 percent.
The wellbeing of the community through ECV has had lasting impacts beyond the onsite game and donation to the British Columbia Cancer Foundation. Endean asserts that its legacy includes more awareness of the ability of game mechanics to support and enhance learning.
"We showed the participants how easy it is to integrate sustainable choices into their own meetings and events, and this was the desired impact," Endean said. McKinley added: "I would like to think that, at a minimum, we helped familiarize event professionals with a lot of new tools: sustainability, game mechanics, mobile application technology and social networking. By keeping things simple and fun and making the game voluntary, people were less intimidated to try things out. If that makes them more comfortable to dive deeper into any one of these skills or tools, I would consider that constructive."
Get Your Green On enriched the meeting professional community through the introduction and development of new ideas, tools and skills and increased its capacity to improve the wellbeing of everyone through more sustainable choices.
Kucharuk provides a thoughtful last word on using game mechanics in meetings and events purposefully to motivate to meet human needs and build community wellbeing by referring to an old proverb.
"‘Give a man a fish, and you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.’ I look at this experience as a fishing lesson." One+
About Elizabeth Henderson Elizabeth is the Chief Sustainability Strategist for Meeting Change. She is an experienced hospitality and meetings industry practitioner with a specialization in sustainability and a love of innovation and lifelong learning. She was named one of North America’s Most Innovative Event Pros for 2011 by BizBash Media for her work on the gamification of the GMIC 2011 Sustainable Meetings Conference, and is in the forefront of bringing gamification concepts to the meetings and events industry. She has been active in the meetings/events industry for 15 years, with extensive experience in sustainable events, corporate social responsibility (CSR), not-for-profit management, business planning, community engagement and communications. She gives back by volunteering for the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC), and is involved in the creation of new sustainable event standards, including the GRI event sector supplement and ISO20121. Her love of lifelong learning has earned her three university degrees and she is working on a fourth, an MBA with a focus on global energy management and sustainability. She is co-authoring a textbook on CSR and ethics in the meetings and events industry to be published in 2012.
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