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Can Gamification Improve the Performance of Older Employees?


In a knowledge economy, getting the most out of every employee is paramount, and with the baby boomer generation beginning to retire this has taken on critical importance for companies, whatever their sector.

What role can gamification play in this?  A new study, published in Nature this week, may provide some answers.  The study, conducted by Adam Gazzaley from the University of California, San Francisco, found that regular gaming can improve the mental performance of older people.

Gazzaley found that a well designed game can give a healthy 60 year old the mental powers of someone 25 years younger, with these improvements lasting a good six months after they stopped playing the game.

To achieve this benefit, the game had to be designed with a specific goal in mind, which most gamification efforts do as a matter of course.  Then, with around 12 hours of playing under their belt, the participants in the experiment began to see improvements in their mental performance.  They could multitask better for instance, whilst their short-term memory also improved.

Gazzaley identified several key features in his game that promoted the improved mental performance, including:

  • Getting harder when people succeed and easier when they’re getting frustrated. This will keep them challenged and engaged, but not turned off.
  • Providing an “immersive” environment, game-speak for a playing field that draws people in through 3-D imagery and a constantly changing scene.
  • Having fun. Research has shown that learning improves when the brain’s reward system is turned on, such as when someone is having fun.

It provides a timely reminder that using games in the workplace can have some interesting side effects aside from their headlining goals of improving direct performance on a task.  With our workforces increasingly occupied by more experienced employees, this research highlights the possibility of using games to ensure those employees stay on top of their game.

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