Richard Landers the optimistic skeptic in gamification | Episode 088

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Richard N. Landers is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Minnesota and holds the John P. Campbell Distinguished Professorship of Industrial-Organizational Psychology. His research concerns the use of innovative technologies in psychometric assessment, employee selection, adult learning, and research methods, with a recent focus on game-based assessment, gamification, artificial intelligence, unproctored and mobile Internet-based testing, virtual reality, and social media. His work has been published in Journal of Applied Psychology, Computers in Human Behavior, and Psychological Methods, among others, and his work has been featured in popular outlets such as Forbes, Business Insider, and Popular Science.

Richard was initially attracted to the professorial lifestyle because almost every day is dramatically different. Just the day of the interview he woke up early, celebrated the Ph.D. graduates, did a makeup exam, a wild ride. Every now and then it might be just a day at the office but recently he’s been spending quite some time at the virtual reality lab as well.

His favorite FAIL (First Attempt in Learning) is one he uses often to warn people in terms of new tech and new things in general, about being “too forward thinking for your own good”. Around 2005-06 he was conducting research and decided to spend a lot of energy on Second Life which was a massive hit at the time. It seemed to be the next great way of how we would interact with each other through the internet. Companies opened offices in this world and so many more things. It turns out that, in hindsight, we can see that it ended up not being such a big deal after all! It is for him a warning for avoiding a thought process that would be something like “gamification is great because… you know… games!” which is something we should certainly stay away from. This became a defining moment for him, he is much more hesitant now to jump into new things. He now approaches things from a healthy, optimistic skepticism.

After the previous experience (and many more of course) his practice has been evolving. He feels his profession in general, Industrial-Organizational Psychology, suffers from the shiny object syndrome quite a bit. In that sense, new tech has been the shiny new object many times. VR is something that he has been figuring out lately. It is quite well studied how do interviews with candidates work, so this endeavor has been about figuring out how can VR actually add value to justify using the innovative technology. What they’ve found is that one of the things that are hard to find out in an interview is how does the candidate handle stress, so what ends up happening is that the person is hired and both the employee and the organization find out on the job if the stress handling is adequate or not, with the corresponding consequences. What they have been working on is representing through VR situations like giving negative job performance feedback to an employee, when the manager is the candidate. The idea is that this employee pushes back and the candidate has to deal with that and all the emotional load that comes with it. In this case, the tech actually immerses the participant deeply and is able of doing things that were not possible without it. Another example that he feels is quite useful is recreating the experience of a lab with dangerous materials to basically disappear the risk (and cost) of handling such materials in a way that can be very close to what it is in reality. This provides an affordance that, without VR, you wouldn’t have previously! These are the kinds of things he looks for when analyzing new possibilities and technologies to advance his field.

His process is basically a reverse-engineered process. It starts with what is the outcome that you’re after. In business, it might be some form of return, employee retention, etc. The next thing is to figure out what needs to happen for this objective to be reached. He used the example of a job application process, where there is a chance of people not to drop-off during such process. It would be looking at what needs to change for people to stop in the process, which could be a large list of things and it would be necessary to try and figure that out. Only there can game elements be introduced to modify how it is working right now so people stay engaged. We also went through a quick chat about how some people are just looking for gamification because it will, for example, sell. This doesn’t make much sense if you don’t have some problem you want to solve using gamification. Sometimes it is not even about gamifying but about finding out what could be wrong in the process! We also went into how some people even in game design can be “naturals” to find engagement and fun in games but this is not often the case and it would mean leaving things to chance perhaps too much. This is one of the reasons that research in the field is particularly important to have a basic set of things that need to happen to even have a chance of success.

A best practice is definitely design. There is a tendency to just buy some tech and stick it onto something and this is very attractive because it is very simple. Selling software that is just there for no reason almost certainly will not help reach any of the objectives you set forth with the project. He showed how easy it is to fall into this mistake and realize how it doesn’t get any results through an experiment using VR vs. not VR without any design. It is always important to think about what you want to achieve and how to achieve it, as simple as it sounds it can be quite complicated to do and easy to bypass.

The game he has spent the most time on is Kerbal Space Program! It is an indie game that takes rocket science into a fun format that helps people learn. Another game he has been spending a lot of time lately is Beat Saber. Richard would like to listen to Valery Shute! He would recommend that the Engagers read classics like Rules of Play, which he feels is really valuable. More on his space would be a book like Storytelling with Data also quite recommended, which is also like gamifying presentations almost in his opinion.

Richard’s superpower is being a translator. He works with organizational designers, organizational development practitioners, many of them with a very business-side perspective, so he is able to translate these things in game design, human-computer interaction and the others and of course to turn these into the experiences these people will need. I find this to be particularly useful in gamification! He’s found that people often feel the game design is easy. He has seen that teams that are more dysfunctional are those where these teams are quite distinct and don’t communicate often.

The random question this time is about failure (or possible failure). Listen to it by clicking play!

We can reach Richard Landers on Twitter @rnlanders and over email at rlanders [at] umn [dot] edu

 

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Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,

Rob

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