Meaningful Content Rarely Fits In
Even if you can find game mechanics that harmonize with the decision-making skills required for the training, it is even rarer that any kind of content can physically work in the game interface. Training content usually requires text to communicate meaning, and fun, fast games do not lend themselves to displaying or using text well. Exceptions might include short, clear definitions, facts, or steps formatted in a matching, sorting, or trivia-style game. For more complex concepts, or concepts that are subjective, awarding the user points feels arbitrary, or worse—unfair.
Learners often want to do little more than give a cursory scan of any text in most games, yet effective training often hinges on them internalizing the text more carefully. Attempts to shoehorn lengthy content into a game often results in compromised gameplay, confusion, or tedium. If your content requires extensive approval and vetting, you can count on some level of gameplay getting diminished with each round. Designing a game for the sole purpose of a “break” or change of pace has some merit, but is often at the cost of high production effort.
People Don’t Want to Have Fun at Work
Some upper management optimists believe that people want to have fun at work; that fun, when added to work training, can improve the overall impact and make employees more receptive to the proposed behavior change. Yes, it’s hard to argue that fun, when people consider their personal definition of it, can improve adult learning. The problem is that fun is a highly subjective experience. Everyone’s idea of fun is different, in the same way that everyone’s sense of humor can vary. To that end, this limited study is qualitative and relies on the subject providing descriptions and interviews as its core methodology.
Complicating that is the fact that training is often not where people seek out their idea of fun. They are already primed to not have fun while learning at work, and assume that the two don’t mix. That’s not to say it is unachievable, but it is asking developers to assume a very tall task from the start. Complicating that even further is the truth that many people resent the idea that “fun” could be decided for them, especially when it’s packaged and served to them without their consent—just as no one wants to be told that a joke is funny when the joy in humor is naturally discovering the punchline for yourself. As a result, if learners detect that something is there to trigger that personal experience of “having fun,” they may be quick to make sure that it doesn’t.
People Don’t Want to Read Directions
Even if people are legit up for having some fun during work training, no one wants to read something carefully before having fun. In the context of required training, those are often opposite behaviors. So the moment you ask someone to pause and absorb text about how to play a game, the user is already losing interest in the proposition.
The theory of learned carelessness helps explain this behavior: People tend to assume things will go fine and may opt to take a risk in an unfamiliar situation. These shortcuts are sometimes to preserve cognitive resources. Visual directions make things easier on the brain, but they still won’t reach the tenuous learner who is already skeptical of playing a game. If you forego directions altogether, learners justifiably get confused and irritated, considering the game unfair or a distraction from their primary responsibilities.
Finally, intrepid users who like the premise of a game might happily skip the directions and start to play, only to bail on it when the mechanics seem to run counter to their instincts of how it should work. So, in addition to being extremely difficult to entice learners into wanting to play at all, even when a user makes the effort to immerse themselves in the game, their commitment is so fragile that it becomes a highly unattainable task to maintain it.
Games Require Too Much Production Effort
This is potentially the most compelling reason to reconsider integrating games into learning. Developing game mechanics is often a complicated effort, is often highly iterative, and is often perfected only after a programmer has spent a significant amount of time creating it.
Games are subjected to strong opinions from clients, usually much stronger than any other instructional approach. As such, they are more vulnerable to bugs and rework. Even a highly functional game can be distasteful to parties on the client team, simply because they don’t enjoy games or the difference in visual styles compared to more familiar courseware. Even in a best-case scenario, investing time and resources in gamified training comes with higher risk.
The Less Cynical Part Of The Article
There are so many exciting benefits of games, both for a society and for humans. Training-based games simply require more careful consideration. They are often most effective when a main objective of the project is just that—reaping the benefits of gaming.
If there is a clear desire to introduce learners to the kinds of navigation, strategic demands, and distinct functionality of games to a learning culture, minigames can be a great way to appeal to an audience.