Saturday, January 21, 2017

“Let the Games Begin”: Exploring whether Applied Improv is Gamification?

Wikipedia explains that Gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. Gamification commonly employs game design elements which are used in non-game contexts to improve user engagement, organizational productivity, flow,  learning, crowdsourcing, employee recruitment and evaluation, ease of use, usefulness of systems, physical exercise, traffic violations, voter apathy, and more.

If I go with the above definition, then yes!, improv is gamification. 

So what is improv?
Improv is a short form of the noun improvisation
o   the action of improvising.
"she specializes in improvisation on the piano"
extemporization, ad-libbing, spontaneity, lack of premeditation; 
"some of the best things in the film came out of improvisation"
o    something that is improvised, in particular a piece of music, drama, etc. created spontaneously or without preparation.
plural noun: improvisations
"free-form jazz improvisations"

And then, what is Applied Improvisation?
Scripted unto the website ( of Applied Improvisation Network (AIN), it says, Applied Improvisation uses the principles, tools, practices, skills and mind-sets developed in comedy, jazz and theatre and utilises them for non-theatrical or performance purposes.

Now my understanding is that improvised comedy, jazz and theatre is all about fun and enjoying in the moment. Games are too about fun and enjoying in the moment too.

For me, just as we say application of improv is Applied Improvisation, I see Applied Games as Gamification.

Both have loads of movement (physical and/or mental), unpredictability, agilty  and , off course high energy. The only thing that Applied Improv doesn’t have is competition to make people move ahead in the game.

I have been a Facilitator for both: since 4 years I am facilitating simulations for a Gamification Co. and since 6 years, I have dabbled in Applied Improv (on the other hand, I have been using theatre-based activities in my trainings since 20 odd years).

I find that Gamification needs a powerful debrief to connect it back to the organisation, behaviours and how the learnings can be translated back to the workplace. It is reflective and yet, I have seen participants struggle to see context, and many a times putting the ways they gamed (as a blame) to that they played differently today unlike what they are in real life or that today they wanted to have fun by taking a deviant position in the game or some other reason/s to defend why they couldn’t make a cut or win. Break-time is all about such peer conversations.

On the other hand, the Tools of Improv are pure application and not hypothetical. The basic grounding of Applied Improv  can be put in an interesting P.L.A.Y. model (van Driel, 2013) that builds Presence, Leap, Adaptiveness, Yes, And, Impact. The debrief is part the Improv itself, one senses, thinks, feels and starts reflecting whilst enjoying the play. I find it powerful and interesting the way it starts moving into behaviours within the time-space of the facilitation and by the first tea break you see participants actually using the tools in the peer conversations.

So then, in conclusion, is Applied Improv Gamification?

My humble opinion is “Yes, …And it is much more than Gamification…. Improv is Life!”

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