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How storytelling in games affect training

Gamification in workplace learning is less and less regarded as a trivial training tactic. Games come with an element of fun and inspire competition, even in personal learning paths. What's more, they offer a safe learning environment, where employees can test their knowledge acquisition without real-life risks.

Gamification's success is training programs is mainly based on the fact that it fulfills the top human needs:

  • self-improvement
  • social recognition
  • accomplishment

No matter how sophisticated and elevated business professionals are, they all need to find ways to fulfill these needs.

Simple game design — like the one in Candy Crush — can satisfy these needs, through progress bars, points, leader-boards, trophies, and so on. While these tactics work, they can't be used every time, in every piece of training courses.

Imagine the possibilities if you add another powerful ingredient to the mix: storytelling.

Storytelling in games

Just think about Candy Crush and Super Mario: one means matching same-colored balls; the other has a hero who goes on a quest to save a captive princess, and the whole journey is full of traps and healing aids. Which game seems more engaging?

Besides the questionable stereotypes, Super Mario comes with characters and a plot. These form the basis of storytelling.

As Leo Tolstoy put it, in regards, to storytelling,

All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.

Mario goes on a journey to rescue the princess, and the journey is the most important part of the story, because players identify with the main character.

You get the point. But busy employees and their organizations have much more complex learning needs; they can't play Mario-like games in every learning situation. Or can they?

Gamification, storytelling, and scenario-based learning

On one side, there's learning content which, most of the times, is like a mountain - a lot. Add a significant amount of text and boring subjects, and you got the perfect recipe of anything-but-engaging training.

On the other side, there's the fun of game playing, and following the journey of a hero to a desired denouement (denouement = fancy French word for the ending of a story). Inevitably, the player experiences the same set of emotions as the character of the game, thus making training anything-but-boring.

Mixing these sides is a tough job for instructional designers. But gamification and storytelling are the perfect tools for doing that and create the perfect scenario-based learning experiences.

Let's take for example a sales training for new hires. There is a multitude of ways a sales process can develop. One important variable is where the future client is in the sales funnel. Let's stick to just this one for the moment.

A conversation with a hot lead (someone close to closing a sale) must be slightly different from one with a very hot lead (someone very close to closing a big sale), and definitely different from one with a cold lead (someone who said no for the time being, but who knows when they might turn into a hot lead). Each of these possibilities can be a scenario. Of course, you can make sub-scenarios for any of the situations.

The new hires must learn fast how to identify and manage these types of conversations. If training includes learning scenarios, their chances of success grow exponentially. They can test lines and answers during the training, make mistakes and see what works best, without losing any prospect.

They aren't a new hire anymore while doing that; they are the most important character on the journey of closing a sale. Being part of the story makes them want to play the game until they reach mastery.

What's next? Total immersion

AR technology, 360° games, wearable devices - these will creep into workplace learning and immerse trainees completely in learning environments. It won't happen tomorrow, but the fast pace of technological advancements suggest it will be possible in the not-so-distant future.

The centuries-old storytelling, along with the satisfaction of the top human needs of games will never get out of style.

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