Credit Union Leaders Told To Get Into The Game(rs)

Maybe what credit unions really need is Super Car-io Bros., or Call of Duty: Compliance, or maybe Grand Heft Auto Loans.

As is reported on page 19 in this issue, CU leaders were told last week that electronic games and gamers-most often perceived as couch-dwelling slackers whose fingers and thumbs are quick but not much else is-could be one key to more product and service innovation and a more content, engaged workforce-not to mention happier members.

If that seems like something another purveyor of alternative realities, Mark Twain, used to call a "stretcher," Dr. Jane McGonigal asks that you hear her out. At the California/Nevada Leagues' annual meeting in San Francisco, McGonigal-a game designer and director of the Institute for the Future, a consultant to Fortune 500 companies who said she is the only person to ever earn a Ph.D studying how video games interact with people's lives-said gaming provokes positive feelings and challenges people to overcome obstacles.

Those are precisely the mindsets and skills, she said, needed at a CU in an evolving marketplace. You can get more details on her support for those arguments in the related story and at ShowMeTheScience.com, which she created.

Not New To The Game-ification

For the record, the concept of using gaming is not new to credit unions and it's not just for kids. Deere Employees CU in Moline, Ill., for instance, has used an interactive "Retirement Radar" program based on gaming principles. And the Filene Research Institute has touted a number of ideas and pilot programs based on "gamification," including savings programs and training of debt-collectors (and if anyone deserves to play a game once in a while, it's debt collectors).

Drawing on real-world examples, McGonigal offered three examples of where she said "alternate reality games" and game projects that "super-empowered, hopeful individuals" are participating in as part of broader, humanitarian missions that are "changing lives."

Video Games Changing Lives

1. Summon Crowds Out of Thin Air. "This is to help you when you need it most." It's a project she said has been inspired by Farmville.

2. Solve the Unsolvable. This project, inspired by Tetris, seeks to use those Tetris skills in real science challenges, such as protein folding. "It's very complicated because there are so many parts and protein can fold in so many ways," said McGonigal. "Computers had been used in the process, but researchers at the University of Washington put the concept out to gamers in a game called 'FoldIt.' I will grant this is more complicated than Angry Birds. In a published paper the researchers reported that 50,000 gamers helped to solve the challenge of a known puzzle. Gamers were then given a real-life challenge related to HIV, and solved it in 10 days."

3. Evoke a Response. Finally, McGonigal has been involved in a game she helped to create called "Evoke" (you can find out more at www.urgentevoke.com). Backed by the World Bank Institute to teach social entrepreneurship skills to younger people, it used a graphic novel design that was optimized for mobile phones and targeted young people in sub-Saharan Africa.

"In this game it was people coming from Africa to solve problems in rest of the world," said McGonigal, "such as food security and power grid failures. We were trying to invert the typical narrative of the rest of the world saving Africa. We asked players to answer one question per week as a way of getting at their skills and abilities, and we asked which issue really fires you up? We asked them to go out and do one thing in reality that was being taught in the graphic novel, and they had to use social media to prove to us they were actually completing these real-world missions."

What began as a simple text message (with the theme "Free Job Training in Inventing the Future") to younger people in South Africa eventually went viral, and eventually 19,893 people participated. Among the outcomes has been a project called Libraries Across Africa, which is building libraries based on lessons learned from McDonalds and how it designs its stores.

If you're interested in how gaming might be used at your credit union, visit www.gamesforchange.org.

And if you're looking for who might lead this charge at your CU look to the person who's frequently not there, as McGonigal offered this factoid: one-in-four Call of Duty players reported calling in sick to work in order to play the game.

Nothing To Coo Over

* Also at the California/Nevada League meeting: This message appears on the windows of the sliding balcony doors at the Hyatt Embarcadero Hotel in San Francisco: "Please be advised leaving your sliding door open may result in the entry of pigeons into the room." Can only imagine what must have led to the need for those warnings. Talk about your Angry Birds.


Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at frank.diekmann@sourcemedia.com.