PokemonGo and Learning: 21st Century Jeopardy Game

Jeopardy PokemonGo

Here’s how the story goes:

  1. New tech thingy launches (in this case a new game).
  2. Irrational exuberance ensues (millions of people begin to play the game).
  3. National and global news outlets report about it as a phenomenon.
  4. Regular people talk about it because of the hype (some play, others just talk about it).
  5. Marketing professionals pontificate how wonderful it could be as a “channel” for brands.
  6. Educators/academics dream of “using it in the classroom”.
  7. Learning and Development professionals consider its use as a “learning tool”.

How many times have you been a part of this story? The current storyline is titled PokemonGo. Have you come to the end of the story yet?

My Introduction to Pokemon Go

I was watching TV (I know, a very non-millennial thing to be doing) I think it was the Olympic Trials on July 6th when I quickly snuck a peek at “whats trending”. Surprise! PokemonGo has launched in the US and the internet is having a collective meltdown: Apparently, 1) because of Pokemon being awesome, and 2) the servers are failing because they can’t handle the awesomeness.

I knew this was a big deal, and so I relayed the information to my youngest daughter. She’s the only one of my 3 kids who would still care. She was mildly excited enough to download the app and explore the craziness. After about 5mins she realizes that she must actually physically move her body and location in order to move her character. This was not exciting and new. It was met with mild disdain. Then after another 10mins of “exploring” within our house she is horrified by the realization that her avatar and name are located on the map where she lives.

This is a horror that I assumed others would have discovered. My response was that certainly others in the game can’t “see” you and where you live. This did not calm her fears and the next few hours were spent figuring out how to delete the account. This was the beginning and end of my experience with PokemanGO. But it’s not the end of the story.

That’s a long way of saying I have not played PokemonGo. Although, I read enough about it to know that it’s almost identical to the fabulously geeky augmented related game known as Ingress. They are almost identical because… well… they are. Think of PokemonGo as an Ingress skin. But you can read more about that all over the internet. I wanted to hear more about the experiences and found this post: A Letter to PokemonGo Players from an Ingress Fan. I’ve read many others since that infamous July evening.

If you weren’t freaked out by the location of your home being in the game then maybe knowing that the game has complete access to your Google Apps account is more likely to be your tipping point.  If so, read this post: How to Remove Pokemon Go from Google Apps for Work.

Games and Physical Activity

Did I miss the memo? When did simply getting up off your butt and walking around become harolded as groundbreaking improvements in physical activity? Well according to this article “PokemonGo is Getting Everyone to Exercise”. And players are not just walking around, but running around to find the elusive little creatures, level up, join a team, and battle.

I’m all for exercise. I truly believe it is one of the most effective ways to improve our capacity to learn more efficiently. And the science proves it. However, I think the hysteria takes the health benefits from a game a little too far. And this isn’t the first time. Did we all forget about Wii Sports already? Or Dance, Dance, Revolution? Who doesn’t remember breaking a sweat playing those games?

Yes. Any movement is better than NO movement. It’s a great thing if a game can get people from zero exercise to walking around because of a game. Yippee! Way to go! #winning! However, if that’s the bar set for human performance improvement then I think there are bigger issues at play… pun intended. As professionals in L&D we should be more interested in providing performance improvements. And if you’re truly looking for health gains via exercise, would playing PokemonGo be your recommended solution? I think not. Perhaps you could offer it as a fun way to “rack up that step count”… but not much more. And that would only be one of many, many, ways to increase steps.

Yes, the engagement factor is enticing. But if we are looking for efficiencies in how we meet our business goals, PokemonGo games would rank very far down the list of options.

Applying Games as Training Solutions

It’s fun to think about all the cool applications for something like augmented reality. And when a well known company like Nintendo hits a home run with an augmented reality game, it’s fun to consider the training possibilities.  I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. It’s fun to imagine the future. But considering the fact that we still have conversations about wanting to be taken seriously by senior management, I would like to encourage us to keep these conversations amongst ourselves.

This is exactly the kind of conversation that will get you kicked OUT of the boardroom, not invited in. I would suspect that many in our industry still struggle with defining gamification to management as a tool for performance improvement. You are only complicating an already convoluted conversation about gamification when you add augmented reality, and games, into the mix.

PokemonGo is not even a good example of augmented reality for corporate training and L&D. Augmented reality will be used in performance support applications. It already is. But not in a gaming format. Using games in the enterprise is one thing. Using augmented reality in the enterprise is something completely different. I do not recommend mixing them at this point. But, as usual, I’m always open to hearing about successful solutions that prove me wrong.

History Repeating Itself with Technology Based Games for Learning

One of the most ridiculed “learning games” in the history of my L&D career is Jeopardy. Most new professionals probably won’t get this. But there were many years where Jeopardy games were the poster children for BAD learning games. But if you go back just a little further in history you will recall the wonder and amazement of our industry to have obtained the technology to create our own gameshows with multimedia development tools. Minds blown!

Yes, that’s right! There was a time when creating a Jeopardy game was considered a cutting edge instructional tool. Because, after all, who didn’t LOVE Jeopardy? Who didn’t have fond memories of sitting down with the family in front of the 17inch TV to compete against the players on the show?

Families were fully engaged! And learning was about engagement. Classrooms were boring. So why not engage your students with some friendly competition…Jeopardy style.

I’ll take sexual harassment for 200, Alex.

Trends come and go. But solid content never goes out of style. Before you attempt to dress up boring training courses, or on-boarding programs with augmented reality games, maybe first start by asking yourself… why?

The job of training, and L&D has evolved far beyond just finding better, funner, ways to deliver courses. Our responsibilities now involve providing business value, targeting business metrics, and measuring activities that impact those metrics. Gamification is great tool to have in your toolbox. We need it. But don’t confuse it with games delivered with corporate content.