The Rise of the Gaming Government


    The Dutch Government is warming up to serious games. A trend illustrated by the fact the governement has a Senior Advisor Serious Gaming. Yuen Yen Tsai is advocating the use of games for training and organisational change for four years now. In that time she has seen a shift in mentality of the people around her: “I feel I don’t have to explain myself all the time anymore. I have more meaningful conversations about the use of Applied Games.”

    In these troubled economic times, the Dutch government is looking for ways to cut back spending without compromising the quality of the work force. It’s a balancing act that requires out of the box thinking and there’s plenty of that in Tsai. She is a strong believer in the power of play to institute a meaningful and lasting change in organisations and people. “I realise that not every problem is solved with games”, she says. “But doing the same things over and over just because we are doing it this way for so long, needs rethinking. And that’s what I and a growing group of like minded people are trying to achieve. A constructive and structural change in the way we are doing things. And if games can help to achieve that, all the better – but it’s not a requirement.”

    Hammering home the message

    In the four years Tsai has worked as Senior Advisor Serious Gaming at the Department of Home Affairs the number of games developed specifically for the Ministeries and it’s many bodies has seen a significant increase. “I can’t take full credit for that”, Tsai says smiling. “But by continuing to hammer home the message of applied gaming I’m sure I have created awareness for this topic at the different Ministeries.”

    Tsai explains the different levels of her role as Advisor. First level is simply explaining the concept of applying a game as a possible solution to a serious matter or problem. “Just give them examples of successfull projects, but don’t shower them with facts and figures. Just tickle their interest.” Second layer is when someone has put some thought into this topic already and is wondering if games could work for his or her department. “This is where it gets interesting. Work together to establish a clear view of the goals and see if gaming can help to achieve them. That’s very important. Don’t apply games for the fun of it, all serious games require thoughtful analysis of the issue. What exactly is the problem we are trying to solve? How is that problem triggered? How much human behavior needs to change? What does the desired behavior look like?” Once it’s clear that games are the way to go, it’s time for the final level in her advisory role: production. “At that point I take a step back and let the game studios and the client work it out.” After using the games, Tsai comes in again for an extensive evaluation: “Now what exactly has changed? What part was caused by games? In other words, was the use of games successful?”

    Practically impossible

    Yuen Yen Tsai has a clear ambition for the foreseeable future: “My goal is to have all civil servants use games as their prefered way of learning by the year 2014.” While she knows that it’s practically impossible, saying it out loud shows her determination. “Communication is key”, Tsai says. She grabs my hand and looks me straight in the eye. “Sometimes you just have to demand attention and tell the other: Let’s do this together!”

    Tsai has identified several practices that benefit most from applied gaming within the government. Recruitment and selection, the teaching of new practices, improving teamwork and the understanding of complex issues . “We see a growing need within the government to use games and game design techniques to give insight into the many layers of complex issues. We can intensify the contact with the citizens, engage them to find useful solutions. Taking into account all the arguments, facts and figures for all those different sides, it’s extremely helpful to see the effects running in a simulation of the real life location. Especially when the economic need to expand collides with safety, liveability and ecology. Games and simulations are a great way to really unravel these complex issues.”

    Yuen Yen Tsai is currently working with the Dutch Tax office. Are we losing the most vocal evangelist of gaming in the Dutch Goverment to the Tax office? “No, the Tax Academy has great ambition in the fields I already mentioned. I think there is an important task for me here to ensure the use of serious games in the relevant areas.”

    3 examples of serious governmental games

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    Games are a great way of communicating with the general public. It has the abbility to bring serious subject matters in a casual way. The dialog of goverment and citizens can be more equal if we are more open to suggestions. A great example is the awareness campaign of ticks.

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    This game helps people in and out of govermental organisations to deal with the theory of ‘Tragedy of the Commons’: the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, despite their understanding that it’s contrary to the best interests of everyone. It makes people realise how evteryting is connected by getting the bigger picture.

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    Communications between different departments within the government can be tough sometimes because every group speaks its own ‘language’. This game helps programmers to upkeep their knowledge of the programming language and to create clean code by making games. But there is an even bigger pay off. Through this game programmers gain confidence to let themselves be heard by other groups.




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