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National Restaurant Association - The benefits of gaming

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The benefits of gaming

When restaurant technology innovators think “gaming,” they usually think “training.” It makes sense: They imagine the young people in their lives playing Minecraft or Fortnight and see an opportunity to teach them restaurant job skills in a fun and engaging way.

But gaming has applications far beyond training, says futurist Jane McGonigal, a designer of alternate reality games and director of games research and development at the Institute for the Future. She spoke at our recent Restaurant Innovation Summit about the health and community benefits of gaming – and how they might apply in a restaurant setting.

In her keynote address to 200+ restaurant leaders, McGonigal referred to her book, “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,” as well as her work on SuperBetter, a game that helps players with health challenges, including depression and traumatic brain injury.

Playing a video game affects your brain and can make you more optimistic, energetic, collaborative and resilient, she noted. It can even enhance your ability to connect with others, she said. Those effects spill over into the real world. “Gamers are super-empowered and hopeful people,” McGonigal noted.

The effects are even stronger when people play together in the same space, either as competitors or teammates. “Within minutes, both will start making the same facial expressions,” she said. “Both will start to breathe at the same rate. Gamers’ heart rates will adapt to the same rhythm.” When people sync up in this way, they are more likely to offer and ask for help, perform better on cooperative tasks and are more empathetic, she said. “There are a ton of social benefits,” she noted.

How could this apply in a restaurant setting? McGonigal gave a few pointers:

  • Provide opportunities to succeed. “What would it feel like at restaurants if something good could happen at any moment?” she asked. “What if there were on-demand chances to succeed?” She compared restaurant opportunities to the Pokemon Go phenomenon. The game that provided on-demand chances to succeed. Wherever the player was, something good could happen. They could find a Pokemon, and no resources within the game were scarce. Collaboration was built in: If you spotted a Pokemon, you could tell everyone around you so they could capture it, too, or set a lure to attract other players. It got people outside, and interacting with others. She suggested Starbucks’ Unicorn Frappuccino or chains’ secret menu items are similar to a rare Pokemon – something an individual can both enjoy and share.
  • Allow social gifting. Restaurants could take a cue from video games that allow players to collect tools or benefits that they must share with friends. Restaurant patrons could build credits to send meals or drinks to friends, or gain extra loyalty points by dining with others in the program, McGonigal suggested.
  • Focus on the personal. If you’re using games in restaurant training, make it feel like a real game – and create the same benefits – by going beyond a simple focus on how to perform certain tasks. “It is better to focus on what an employee might consider to be the win,” she said. “Focus on career goals, personal progress and the strengths of individuals, rather than company tasks.”

Learn more about the Restaurant Innovation Summit


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