Gamification for development and peace with Philipp Busch | Episode 066

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Dr. Philipp Busch works for GIZ since October 2014. He obtained a Masters’ degree in Economics and Geography at the University of Mainz, then continued studying to do his second Masters’ degree in Information Systems and Business Administration. In spring 2018 he finished his doctoral thesis about “Gameful Approaches in Development Cooperation”, now teaches Gamification and Agile Methods at the University of Mainz. Philipp works at GIZ for the Social Innovation Team in Cairo to improve the situation for youth on the labor market in Egypt. Furthermore, Philipp is head of the GIZ component “Serious Games” to support the peace process in Yemen.

A regular day with Philipp starts in a hotel (yes, a hotel usually), somewhere in the world because he is allowed to travel quite a bit. He has breakfast and then depending on the project he might go to the office of GIZ, a conference, a workshop or others. When he’s not working he loves to enjoy as much time as possible at the sea with friends.

His favorite failure is related to a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on gamification for development cooperation. They had what they thought were amazing ideas to engage the learners but they were then limited by the usability of the platform… They dreamed really big but didn’t do the reality check with the tech and it was a usability failure. He learned that it is not only about gamification but about designing an experience that is user centered. I would also add that even being limited by the platform making sure those limitations is also an enabler for creativity and finding out-of-the-box solutions.

A nice example of how something really works was the Yemen project he still works on. It is about the (even to this date) ongoing civil war in the country. They were trying to spread a message of peace through the country. There was a massive challenge to spread the message in the correct context. They involved the Yemeni partners (now friends) from the beginning, as well as others all over the world. There were important clashes over design, game mechanics, project management and others, but the key was to create ownership for all those involved as well as the user centeredness of it all. They started with a pilot serious game that would be distributed in Yemen for free. The target was to spread the message of peaceful coexistence, they now have six different games that reach to different target groups. They talk about topics like governance, peaceful coexistence, human rights, gender and more. A fantastic result from this is that one of the partners has created their own game studio in Yemen to spread the word on these types of games!

His process gives a lot of importance to being user centered. Even when you can’t put yourself in the boots of someone living the situation, you can involve someone who is actually going through it to make sure you are making sense. They use also design thinking and agile methods but none of it has to be taken as a dogma but should be taylored for your specific needs depending on what the problem you are facing is. Then it is important to understand what to achieve, is it to spread a message or something else? Right now Philipp is also working on translating a lot of the material he used and created for his Ph.D. to turn it into a gamified learning quest! We will remain tuned to this initiative to see how it evolves.

A best practice for Philipp would be to have a dive into psychology and neuroscience, to see how game strategies can benefit our project. His favorite pc game would be The Witcher III, the fact that there is an amazing story with a lot of emotions and there is always something else to do. In the realm of board games it would be collaborative games like Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 where you actually modify (or even destroy) elements of the original game, which affects future gameplay. In consoles he recently played Sea of Thieves.

He would like to listen to the perspectives from neuroscientists and psychologists in Professor Game, like doctor Henning Beck and also Beau Lotto the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently. The book he would recommend is Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently! On the other hand, his superpower would be to use gamification and different cultures, of course, especially in development cooperation.

The random question this time came from Sawyer West and it is related to possible weakness(es) yet to be solved by gamification, listen to it by playing the episode!

We can find Philipp on his LinkedIn profile or on the Facebook Page of the Yemen project. Until next time Philipp!


There are many ways to get in touch with Professor Game, you can go to my Twitter @RobAlvarezB, my Instagram, our Facebook Page, subscribe to our email list and even ask a question to future guests!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


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