Study: Can Games Improve Workplace Collaboration?

Play games, work harder, work harder, play games, sounds like the dream job, right? That's what an intrepid National Science Foundation grant and some researchers at the University of California, Irvine are hoping to determine. With a substantial $3 million in funding, UC Irvine plans to study "how emerging forms of communication, including multiplayer computer games and online virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Second Life can help organizations collaborate and compete more effectively in the global marketplace."

"Many technologies have come out of computer-based games, and their concepts appear to have real potential," said Richard N. Taylor, director of UCI's Institute for Software Research, which is conducting the three-year study. "This grant will determine how emerging technologies can be used or modified to support serious group work."

Virtual worlds are increasingly popular, while businesses are decentralizing, necessitating better "long-distance, collaborative communication methods," according to UCI. The solution? Innovate with existing social technology, say plugging real-world engineering specs into Second Life for developing and testing personal rapid transit systems.

Sound like pie in the sky? Maybe not. In fact the researchers are working with multiple organizations, from aerospace and telecommunications to transportation and electronics industries.

"Advanced information and communication technologies can lead to breakthroughs in productivity and boost morale, but they can also be problematic and unsuccessful, leading to wasted investments," said Walt Scacchi, senior research scientist and project leader. "One goal of this research is to understand the conditions that lead to failure or success."

Back in 2007, I wrote about a Toronto-based software firm called ExperiencePoint, a company that builds Sims-style applications for businesses, which allow employees to "role-play" business ideas they might otherwise be too shy to in real-life meetings.

In December, we published a story entitled "Does Gaming at Work Improve Productivity?" wherein Christopher Null ticked off the various ways in which games from America's Army to Forza 2 have been used as recruiting, teaching, and corporate "relaxation" tools.

And just last week, PC World's Darren Gladstone wrote "Play Games With Your Resume," a column marrying real-world performance profiles, e.g. "team player," "problem-solver," etc. to video gaming analogues.

"Life is a game, boy," wrote J.D. Salinger in The Catcher in the Rye. "Life is a game that one plays according to the rules."

Or to bend and break them, any chance we get.

Matt Peckham wishes they'd design a game to help him write faster. You can follow him a twitter.com/game_on.

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