Our brains are designed to pay more attention to emotionally charged situations. We are drama addicts in one form or another. In this way daytime TV is no different than mixed martial arts or the latest Twilight movie. Our brains are designed to enter into a heightened state of observation when we are engaged.
Neuroscientists define engagement as “a sense of immersion in an experience, generated by feelings of personal relevance”. In this heightened state we find increased long term memory encoding. Experiences that are engaging, dramatic and eventful are clearly a powerful tool in causing change in the brain.
It is no new news that computer games produce high engagement over extended periods of time. Brain-imaging studies show us that the brain cannot tell the difference between “real life” and a games “simulated life”, as the same areas of the brain light up for both virtual and real experience.
Playing games puts the brain in the highly receptive state that is necessary to cause change. The problem with most games to date is that they aren’t designed to change the brain at all. The only outcome that game designers want to cause is to you keep you playing the game so that they can make more money.
Games tend big systems of challenge and reward. Success in these games is metered out in small rewards moment by moment and in occasional big rewards, like finishing a level. Each of these rewards triggers the dopamine response. The brain adapts and gets better at producing the actions that result in the reward. Dopamine is king.
The rise of the social game has shown us that games that produce oxytocin can be highly successful as well. Games like Farmville offer very little in the way of traditional game play. What they do offer is a way to share play with others in your social network. You can even help out on a friend’s farm.
Helping out or sending progress updates all produce the oxytocin hit. Once again this is being done only to cause the player to play more.
The question now is what results can be achieved in terms of changing the brain and creating lasting behavior shifts by using the same game design practices that make people wanting to play more, however, with the ultimate goal of creating game experiences that help people improve their skills and behavior – or in other words, using games for learning and behavior change rather than entertainment alone.
The answer to this is deep practice. Deep practice takes place over a longer period of time and it gives the players access to being something and actually experiencing something in a simulated environment rather than merely reading or learning about it. Simulation type video games offer a safe environment for players and they can learn by doing. For example, video games give players the experience of being a leader and exercise leadership principles in practice rather than mere ideas about leadership.
At Ncite we are using game as deep practice experiences to help players convert game into real life capacity.