Are Business Training Games Playing Fair? Unraveling the Ethical Maze for Respectful, Inclusive, and Beneficial Exercises.

Learn how to navigate the ethical challenges of using games for business training. Discover the importance of respect, inclusivity, and genuine benefits. Explore this insightful article now!

Let's dive into a topic that's been on our minds lately here at LGP. As a company that specialises in creating innovative and impactful business strategy solutions, we've been grappling with the ethical considerations of using games and gamification. It's a complex issue with a lot of nuances to unpack.

On one hand, we're huge believers in the power of play to engage learners, make training more memorable and enjoyable, and drive real behaviour change. There's a growing body of research showing that game-based learning can be tremendously effective, especially for teaching soft skills, encouraging creative problem-solving, and getting people to think outside the box. When done right, games create a safe space to experiment, fail, and try again without real-world consequences. They tap into our innate love of competition, mastery, and teamwork.

But as with any powerful tool, games can also be misused or abused if we're not thoughtful about the way we design and deploy them. Just slapping points and badges onto a boring compliance training isn't going to magically make it engaging and effective. Even worse, poorly designed games can actually undermine the very concepts they're trying to teach.

For example, let's say you create a customer service simulation where players earn points for solving a call as quickly as possible and lose points if the customer gets angry. On the surface, it might seem like you're encouraging efficiency and issue resolution. But you're incentivizing players to rush through conversations, cut corners, and view upset customers as obstacles to be overcome rather than human beings with real problems that deserve empathy and care. That's the opposite of good customer service.

Or imagine an ethics training game that puts players in the role of a manager and awards bonus money for maximizing profits. Sure, you could theoretically win by making all the "right" choices. But you're still framing ethics as a constraint on financial success, rather than an integral part of being a good leader and running a sustainable business. The game is subtly endorsing the idea that profit comes above strategy.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls and make sure we're using games responsibly and ethically? Here are a few key principles we always keep in mind:

  1. Start with empathy. The goal of any training game should be to help players build skills and knowledge that will make them better at their jobs and create value for the organisation. But we can't lose sight of the fact that we're designing for real human beings. We need to understand their contexts, challenges, and motivations. What do they actually struggle with day-to-day? What barriers get in the way of them doing the right thing? A game that makes perfect sense to the compliance team at HQ may not resonate with a frontline worker dealing with angry customers, time pressure and other stresses we can barely imagine. Empathy has to inform every design choice.

  2. Be inclusive. This means considering the diversity of your audience in terms of age, gender, race, language, ability and more. Are you using scenarios, characters, and references that some people won't relate to? Are you accidentally reinforcing stereotypes? Accessibility is also key – a game that relies heavily on visuals or audio won't work for someone with a vision or hearing impairment. Giving players flexibility in how they engage with the game (e.g. playing solo vs in teams, different difficulty levels) can also make it more inclusive.

  3. Make it meaningful. People can smell a gimmick from a mile away. If a game feels pointless or disconnected from their actual work, they'll disengage or even resent being asked to play. The best training games have a clear purpose that links to players' responsibilities and development goals. Use realistic scenarios that reflect the complexities and grey areas of their roles. Give substantive feedback that helps them reflect on their choices. And vitally, make it crystal clear how the concepts introduced in the game show up outside the game, with concrete suggestions they can apply on the job.

  1. Measure what matters. It's easy to get seduced by vanity metrics like number of players, time spent in the game, or completion rate. But engagement alone doesn't prove an impact. We need to go deeper and assess whether the game is actually changing mindsets, sparking "aha" moments, and driving target behaviours. Build in opportunities for reflection, discussion and real-world practice. Use pre- and post-assessments to gauge progress. Track leading indicators like customer satisfaction or error rates. Ultimately, the game is just a fun wrapper for the learning – it's what players think, feel and do differently afterwards that counts.

  2. Be transparent. Whenever you're using games in a business context, it's crucial to be upfront about your intentions. Let players know what skills the game aims to build and why those matter for the organisation's goals. Explain how their data will (or won't) be used. Give them a way to opt-out if they're truly uncomfortable. If the game involves any sort of assessment, make the criteria clear and give players a fair chance to demonstrate their abilities. Hidden agendas breed mistrust.

Lastly, we have to stay humble and keep questioning our own assumptions. The minute we start thinking we've got it all figured out is the minute we lose touch with our audience and start designing clunky, preachy games that people resent having to play. Every training need is unique, and what works for one company or team may fall flat for another.

By keeping ethics top of mind through every step of the design process, we believe it's possible to create training games that are engaging, effective and genuinely good for players and the business. But it takes hard work, humility, and a willingness to keep learning and iterating. As a famous game designer once said, "A game is a series of interesting decisions." We're determined to make sure that the decisions we embed in our games always reflect our values and bring out the best in people. It's a daunting challenge, but one we feel privileged to tackle.


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