How Video Games Can Help Us Lead Change. I’m Even Using This Method to Get Out of Debt!

life lessons from video games change management debt

Debit: Two cars, a house, student loans, Best Buy and two Macy’s credit cards. My wife and I had just accepted the fact that these monthly payments would continue as far as we could see into the future.

Until we were presented with a thought process that challenged us to change our ways. But change is really hard, even when we really, really want to make it happen. Change is needed for growth.

“War. War never changes.” Fallout 3

My wife and I made the needed change. In just about two years, we have paid off both cars (several years early), all the credit cards, and the student loan should be paid off by Christmas.

How? We made changes. The same changes you can make. You might be surprised by how simple it is. Here is what we did:

  • Spend less.
  • Stop eating out.
  • Negotiate our monthly bills.
  • Send every extra dollar to pay off our debt.

Sticking with the changes is what made all the difference. So how did we stick with our changes? More on that later.

Don’t Ask Solid Snake about Change in the Workplace

In business, the need for handling change effectively is even more important. The reality of today’s workplace is the change is constant, change is the new normal.

“War has changed.” Solid Snake, Metal Gear Solid 4

One doesn’t have to look far to find the many examples of how technology has rapidly advanced in recent years. Who would have even considered buying a phone from a computer company 10 years ago?

And while technological advances move at an ever increasing pace, the important part of any change can be often overlooked.

The human factor

One of the greatest responsibilities and challenges of modern-day managers and leaders is the need to lead bring about and successfully navigate change, both in the workplace and in the external environment.

Change can be big and very complicated and there are many reasons that it doesn’t stick.

Too often much emphasis is placed on the structure and the systems and the timing and the details of what’s being changed but often overlooked is the emotional aspect. Yes, how employees feel has a lot to do with the success of any change effort.

How Video Games Can Help with Positive Change

This is an opportunity for video games to play a greater role. HopeLab, who produces the game ReMission and ReMission 2, understand the potential that video games have to help impact behavioral change through both knowledge and emotion.

In a multi-site randomized controlled trial of nearly 400 young people with cancer, HopeLab’s game ReMission significantly improved:

  • Cancer related knowledge
  • Quality of Life
  • Cancer specific Self-Efficacy
  • Medical Treatment adherence

Read the summary of the survey here

The Secret to Change that Sticks: Short-Term Wins

Another way the video games are able to help with change efforts is the concept of generating short-term wins. As gamers, we have all experienced this idea of a short-term win. Most good games have them, either explicitly or implicitly, and place them strategically – in particular, at the beginning of the game.

An excellent testament to this concept can be found anecdotally on Passive Income expert, Pat Flynn’s blog regarding his college experience with the game World of Warcraft.

“I specifically remember the first time I played WoW, and I knew – I just knew it was going to become an addiction because during the first 10 minutes, I had already completed 2 quests, leveled up twice and unlocked several new abilities – not to mention my coin bank was already growing.”

Powerful evidence of the impact of well-scripted short-term wins. So how do we harness the power of short-term wins to help us make the positive change we desire?

Let’s start by taking a look at what makes for a good short-term win.

Effective Short Term Wins

1. Short-term wins need to be visible

This win needs to be what it appears, that is something that is verifiable not just a rumor or hype. Think about exercising or diets – they typically offer very few immediate signs of success. This makes sticking with the routine more difficult. Imagine if you saw dramatic results the first day you went to the gym or started that new diet – you would probably stick with it, right?

2. Short-term wins need to be very clear

This win must be unambiguous, so that when many people look at it we all come to the same conclusion. This also helps with how the short-term win can be accomplished, because when there’s clarity around what we are doing, how we get there is less important than why doing it in the first place.

If we are not sure if we really achieved a win or not, then it might as well not have happened.

3. The short-term when has to be linked back to some larger change effort

If the win is completely unrelated or not useful to a larger goal/larger scale objective, then it doesn’t really do much good – it’s just a distraction. Think about all the in-game Achievements/Trophies that are totally meaningless – what does it matter if you get an award for playing 10 online matches, or advancing the story by one chapter? These awards feel arbitrary and fail to create any real results. A carefully crafted win can have the exact opposite effect.

Why Short-Term Wins Really Matter

There are many factors that contribute to the success of short-term wins. They provide a great source of feedback in terms of progress. Think about all the videogames the break the experience up into stages, checkpoints, levels and worlds. If we didn’t have a way to measure progress in video games, gaming could become tedious, exhausting, or cause us to lose interest.

There is quite a bit of research around the chemical benefits that these quick wins generate in the gaming world. Much of the research is concerned with understanding the perceived addictive nature of gaming. Results often conclude that gaming is not universally addictive, but there are elements of gaming design that can be.

I can tell you without digging into significant research, that winning feels good.

A Winner is You

The video games we love, typically build natural breaks into the game to celebrate a victory with animation bonuses, fireworks, new items, improved skills of a character in the game, or useful rewards of some kind – all are very appealing ways to celebrate the short-term win.a winner is you life lesson from video games

What Final Fantasy fan doesn’t immediately get a smile when they hear the common victory fanfare from the game?

In fact, when I think about the Final Fantasy series and role playing video games in general they offer tremendous sources of positive feedback and opportunities to celebrate short-term wins. The game system itself is typically built on experience points that you earn for defeating enemies. At the beginning of most games, you start out at a very low level, but the good news is that you can quickly gain experience and increase your levels in a very short time from starting.

Many games scale the experience needed to level up based on your current levels or the amount of progress you’ve completed so far. In other words, moving from level 1 to level 2 takes very little time when compared to moving from level 50 to level 51.

Too often in the business world we set our goal to achieve level 51, only to forget about the celebration in recognition of achieving levels 1 through 50.

In fact, I suspect most players don’t meticulously track every single experience point they are playing in a role playing game, but rather they show up to battle, overcome the enemy, and press forward. As long as the game system responds in a way that is fair and generally predictable, most players are not particularly concerned about the precise amount of experience points they earned for every single battle.

What begins to happen, however, is that momentum is built. As you see levels built, and challenges overcome, you become connected to a game. You often hear gamers talk about becoming “immersed in an experience” or starting a game to play for 30 minutes, only to find out many hours later how involved they actually became.

Changing Things One Level at a Time

As leaders we can take these concepts, and if we successfully build them into any sort of change that has to happen in the workplace, we will find those around us are both more willing to move with the change as well engaged in the change, possibly providing amazing ideas along the way.

This is why big companies creating large-scale change efforts encounter so much trouble – too often leaders and managers don’t plan out the creation of specific short-term wins. In life lesson from video games iceberg john kotter change this way, the leaders role of any organization is a bit like the game designers role.

Change expert John Kotter offers a succinct call to action in his book “Leading Change”:

“The job of management is to win in the short term while making sure you’re in an even stronger position to win in the future”

I promised that I would share the secret of how my wife and I have managed to melt away our debt. I’ve actually spent the whole article talking about it – we made short term goals. Specifically, we followed Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University method.

Quest 1: Save $1,000 for an emergency fund. We managed to do this within 2 months.

Quest 2: Pay off the smallest debt you have (this was around $200). Another quick win. You can imaging how motivating it was to finally receive the title for our car in the mail (especially since minimum payment would have taken another 2 years to get there!).

Debt free, here we come!

It’s amazing what motivational power can be unlocked with a good short-term win.

How can you build a short-term wins into your life or work to create lasting change?