GAMING IS ITS OWN REWARDChecking In with Serious Gaming

As this year’s Games for Change Festival draws to an end this month in New York, I am struck by how far the movement has come. While this particular organization is perhaps a bit overrated as the “Go-To Dashboard” for this community, there is no doubt that Serious Gaming in general has truly gone viral and is now a force to be reckoned with.

From its modest beginnings in 2003 at a Washington conference sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School, this movement has grown exponentially and is now a multibillion dollar industry, with arms reaching into science, research and technology, health, public policy and business education. President Obama plays “Words With Friends” when alone in the White House. This is clearly an idea whose time has come.

Through our own forays into serious gaming, mainly through our conflict resolution game for elementary school kids ( and our Negotiation App for business executives negotiating deals ( Rational Games has also become at least a small player in this field.   And the deeper we go into it, the more we are awed by its power.

Following Malone and Lepper (as well as some recent postings by Andrew Hughes at the University of Cincinnati), I have become increasingly interested in the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators in games. The extrinsic ones are fairly well known by now: feedback, rewards, jazzy surprises, control but also challenge, levels and badges. We all thrive on the feeling of advancement and recognition, tangible evidence of our success.

But I am more interested in intrinsic motivators, when the game becomes its own reward. This is what James Carse calls an “infinite” game, one that does not depend on winning and losing and where the player simply takes delight in the play. This also comes closer to the win-win philosophy of negotiation that I teach. Negotiation is seen not as a chess match but as a dance. And the need for bells and whistles falls away.

Viewed this way, the field for new applications for gamified learning is rich indeed. I have had my own great experience with language training ( and with brain stimulation games devised by neuroscientists at But how about taking it further, to teach music and dance, yoga and meditation? One day, there will also be games for games themselves, meaning game design.

The play never ends.