Gamification and Accidental Learning

In an ATD International Conference Session on game-based learning, I was introduced to a couple of new games that have been designed specifically to enhance soft skills in corporate professionals. From negotiation to time management, any content can now be incorporated into a gaming model that is fun, challenging, and intuitive.

Looking at the game play footage, I was amazed by the scale of the world and the quality of the design. These looked like games that I want to play. But as I continued to watch, it occurred to me that these looked like games I have played. As an avid gamer all my life, I’ve learned so many things from games without ever being aware that I was learning. From physics to finance to Egyptian mythology, the games that I loved as a child taught me so much about the world. No one told me I had to learn – I did it because I wanted to and it made it easier to win. This intrinsic motivation has been central to many of the Association for Talent Development Conference sessions.

My realization was quickly followed by shock and dismay as I heard the speaker debunking the myth that girls don’t play video games. The fact that this is even a consideration that still needs to be discussed speaks volumes to me about the slow movement of the education sector.

So in order to kill two birds with one stone, I’m going to write about some of the many games I’ve played that have inspired accidental learning.

  1. Roller Coaster Tycoon
    A classic to anyone from my generation, this game allows you to build a theme park and track its success in terms of revenue and customer satisfaction. My addiction to the game taught me the importance of marketing initiatives, landscape design, and properly placed bathrooms. I hired cleaning, maintenance and security staff, designed my own roller coasters, and learned the consequences of hasty construction when I failed to test a new roller coaster and several of my park guests died in a fiery explosion. I went on to acquire Zoo Tycoon and learn all about the animal kingdom. These days, you can get Business Tycoon, Prison Tycoon, Mall Tycoon,Airport Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon…the list is exhaustive, and the learning possibilities are endless.
  1. Age of Mythology
    Another one in a large series of games (Age of Empires being the original), Age of Mythology allows you to build a whole civilization, harvesting resources and researching technology to advance through the ages, with the added caveat that in each age you can worship a different god who gives you unique units and powers. This game taught me so much about ancient mythology and technology that I remember to this day, like ‘don’t play as the Aztecs because they didn’t have horses’. Many people would tell you Civilization is a far more educational game, and they would probably be right, but this is my article so I’m sticking to what I know.
  1. Gizmos & Gadgets!
    Developed by The Learning Company, this was clearly designed as an educational game, but 10-year old me was completely unaware of this. She just loved building her little race car by solving puzzles involving magnets, electricity, gears, and force. She would invite her friends to come over and help with the levels she couldn’t beat, cultivating a collaborative learning environment in her own living room, without her mother’s knowledge or encouragement. Gizmos & Gadgets! is probably one of those games that has not stood the test of time, but I’m excited to see that The Learning Company is still developing games and apps to encourage inquisitive kids to learn on their own.

While you may not see the value in rolling these games out for your team, I would encourage you to think about what games have made an impact on you. Ask your staff what games they’ve found useful and informative. Maybe you can build a library of games that can be passed around. Alternatively, you can head over to to see how their game developers are supporting learning in the corporate world.'

Author: Kate Salmon

Communications specialist and general word nerd from Toronto, Ontario. Upon learning that I could still get a degree in rhetoric in the 21st century, I went to the University of Waterloo to do precisely that. Now I’m continuing my learning journey at Learnography, a non-profit education consulting organization that really practices its principles of continuous development. With a great team of former educators who are dedicated to creating transformative learning experiences, we are changing the face of corporate training.

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