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How to Use Elements of Video Game Design for your Workshop Design – with Coline Pannier

How to use elements of video game design for your workshop design with Coline Pannier

Workshops are not video games – there are no controllers, no evil bosses to defeat, no gold coins to collect.

But the design of these two disparate forms share more similarities than we might think and, in fact, there is a great deal we can take from video game design that can help us create better workshops.

This might seem hard to believe, but once you hear the explanations from Coline Pannier, you will hopefully understand it at a surprisingly deep level.

Coline has a brilliant ability to draw comparisons, explain technical concepts in accessible ways, and connect the dots between video game design and workshop design.

So what are you waiting for? Take a seat, turn on the console, and let’s play!


What can facilitators learn from video game design?

Video games and workshops start from similar places, a variation on the questions:

“What do you want people to experience?”, or what goal shall they achieve?

We define what can be changed and the elements that have to remain fixed, then create a system, processes, and mechanics that help them move past friction and challenges to achieving that goal or experience.

You could be designing Super Mario or a senior leadership development programme, those core elements are mostly the same.

As we facilitate change and guide groups, are we not helping them iterate towards the end goal, the experience or outcome, we and the client have agreed upon?

The structures and frameworks may diverge after that initial outline, but there are certainly elements we can take from video game design that fit seamlessly (and productively) into workshop design.


Embracing friction and challenges

Coline explained the benefits of challenges with a fantastic explanation of golf, of all things.

If the goal of golf is to put a ball in 18 holes, “the most efficient way to reach this goal” is to “pick up the balls, walk to the holes, and put it in.”

“That’s not much fun, is it?”, she laughed. “So what you do is invent rules that will prevent you from reaching your goal.”

The introduction of clubs, different terrain, etiquette, and pars suddenly turn an easy task into a challenging one.

“All the unnecessary stuff that is added to prevent you from reaching your goal is actually what creates the experience of golf and thus the fun of playing it.”

Now, this is where it gets really great.

“I think in the various times we’re trying to create with people collaboratively, we can benefit from understanding that people like challenges… People love solving challenges together.”


The importance of identifying your challenges early

Not all obstacles are fun to overcome, Coline noted, and these can become sources of frustration.

“We have to work with our environment and what exists – there are certain things we cannot change, so we have to work with that,” but “frustration can be a very powerful tool because it’s what drives us to learn something.”

This is why a clear awareness of the challenge, the obstacle, the source of frustration in a workshop is clarified in the planning stage. “A good way to decide if it’s a ‘good’ frustration or not” is to analyse “your intrinsic motivation about the task or challenge – do you really want to do it or is someone forcing you to do it?”

“If you think it is a valuable goal, even if it’s difficult, you will be willing to go through a lot of difficult, tough moments because you really care about succeeding.”

Myriam agreed wholeheartedly with this point – “in a workshop context, if the challenge is closely related to the purpose and the goal of the workshop, then the group will be intrinsically motivated to go through that.”


How to use elements of video game design for your workshop design with Coline Pannier


Applying game design to organisational change

If we want to facilitate change within organisations using game design, it is important that we conceive company strategies not like closed systems (e.g. chess), but rather as a sandbox (e.g. Minecraft) in which everyone can express their creativity whilst operating within a system that has very explicit rules.

Crafting strategies in this way allows employees to stay connected to the feeling that their “work contributes to something” – highly important for cultivating a sense of purpose and meaning in our work.

Governance must clarify the distribution of power and resources in a way that is understandable and empowering for employees, making it possible to “unleash the inner game designer of everybody.”

This comes down to clarifying the purpose, the procedures, and rules (what is allowed and what isn’t).

“Everybody wants transparency and clarity… I love this concept of psychological safety, so you want to remove the elements that are too blurry, that create this feeling of ‘I don’t know what is expected of me’.”


Know your goals, know how to achieve them, and win the game!

It is hard to choose a single point to end on, as Coline offered so much useful insight.

Pressed for choice, there is one poignant remark that feels right:

“The more in charge you are of your own goals, the more you can understand how to grow to the next step, the more you’ll be in the flow, the more you know you will be happy with your life.”

“That is a beautiful lesson from games, I think.”

Myriam, and surely a great many more of us, agreed wholeheartedly.

You can listen to the show on your favourite podcast player, searching for “Workshops Work” or stream the episodes on!


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