Are you game?

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This being cross-posted from Ogilvy’s Fresh Influence blog

Who among us does not enjoy a good social experiment? As you have probably heard by now one of the themes rising out of this year’s SXSWi is the importance of game mechanics and how people engage when a game layer is added to community.

Seth Priebatsch of ended his presentation with a little social experiment that was a great illustration of how the game layer can bring people together. As we entered the auditorium everyone was handed one of two cards that were color coded.

One card was blue on one side and green on the other while the other card was gold on one side and orange on the other. As Seth wrapped up his presentation he announced he was launching a social experiment. The challenge: Without getting out of your seat, work with the people on your row to determine what color card your row was going to be and then negotiate from your seat to get the color card you needed. He gave us a timeframe and if we made the time his company would donate $10,000 to a charity. He counted us down and the game began.

On my row and the rows around me, we had several empty seats and while you would think it made it easier to choose a color it was actually harder to communicate. As the game began, each person was created equal because each person in the auditorium was working toward their own goal as well as making their row or team reach their goal – celebrity status did not matter. Quickly, my row decided we would go green, and then the race was on to use our influence to negotiate with the rows and people around us to trade cards so that each person on my row had a green card. We quickly determined how many “greens” we needed and then went about making the necessary trades to secure green cards. The process was exhilarating and challenging and at the end of about 150 seconds, Seth called time and asked each row to hold up their cards.

Personally, I was concerned as I found myself wanting to win and for the charity to win. As we all held up our cards, much to I think everyone’s surprise, we (meaning the entire auditorium of 2,500 people) had accomplished the goal. Each row had come together and worked not just with the people on their row, but also the rows around them. It was quite a moment; 150 seconds and 2,500 people had come together and made the experiment a success.

So why am I so energized by this experiment? I think there are several reasons:

–    While Seth’s presentation was interesting I think his point was made stronger through the “game.”
–    The experiential side of this exercise made it more powerful; this was experiential learning at its best. One of the guys sitting next to me commented that he never thought he would fall for game mechanics but as soon as the challenge was on – he was all in to win.
–    Your influence comes with accountability and responsibility and you never know when you will need to exercise it. Someone sitting in front of me had a minor kerfuffle and I noticed as we started the experiment it took his row longer to embrace him. I could not help but find myself wondering if he was wishing he had made different choices about how he joined that row.

In the end, I think Seth did a great job of proving his point that a game layer not only breeds participation but that it can breed cooperation. However, I also find it troubling that the game layer is what motivates people to come together. I’ll admit the gaming made it more fun but is that what we are becoming as a community? Do we need a game to work together?

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