'The Game' offers a masterclass in experience design - but does it get the lesson wrong?
David Fincher's 1997 thriller takes immersive experiences to reality-shattering heights.
At the very start of David Fincher’s 1997 thriller The Game, hardened investment banker Michael Douglas visits the offices of Consumer Recreation Services. There, he signs up for a life-changing experience:
It’s a game. Tailored specifically to each participant. Think of it as a vacation, except you don’t go to it, it comes to you. It’s different every time.
What follows is a kind of immersive theatre experience, where Douglas must uncover what’s real, and what’s for play; who’s a player in the game, and who’s still on his side?
Until this week, I’d never heard of The Game, streaming now on Netflix. But it immediately made me think about how author and consultant Nick Shackleton-Jones describes his approach to learning design.
Per his website, Nick explains:
The process as a whole enables us to do two things. The first is to create experiences which transform people or build their capability, and the second is to create resources, or useful stuff, which help people to do their jobs. (emphasis mine)
In the movie, ‘the game’ is definitely transformative. Douglas is stripped of his social status, loses his grip on reality, and questions the decisions that have led him to where he is in life. But why? What do the game designers expect the outcome to be?
When we’re designing any kind of learning experience, it can be tempting to rush to what we think is ‘cool or exciting’, rather than working backwards from a desired outcome.
I messaged Nick to get his take, and here’s what he said:
There is still too much ‘magic & mystery’ about experience design. It often means that people surface their biases - if I like music, I think a tambourine team-building session is a great idea. What we seem to be missing is a scientific way of mapping what people care about and changing their behaviour predictably. (emphasis mine, again)
What The Game does well is present a version of experience design where the player is totally immersed. The question it raises is: to what end?
When you’re designing learning, how do you create transformative experiences with a predictable outcome?
🎧 On the podcast
This week on the podcast, we were joined by Reward Gateway’s Nebel Crowhurst to discuss six human-centred strategies for building strong, resilient, teams.
We ended up debating whether it’s a problem if people just turn up and do their jobs, without going above and beyond. Says Nebel:
We're talking about the 'quiet quitting' piece. I don't think that's new. You've always got a mix of people in any organization that go way over above-and-beyond, and the people who do what they need to do in their day's work. But I think what's important is that we understand why that volume of people who are doing the bare minimum might be increasing? Or what might we be able to do to move people out of that space?
Nebel had loads of practical advice for actions that we in HR and L&D can take to improve employee engagement. Listen here for more:
You can also read Reward Gateway’s report for insight into the data they collected.
📖 Deep dive
Are we ‘learning designers’ (LD) or ‘instructional designers’ (ID)? Both of your L&D Dispatch correspondents started with the latter title, but now adopt the former. Why? For us, it reflected a shift away from ‘designing instruction’ toward a broader understanding that workplace learning is not just about how to do things, but also about shaping culture, attitudes and beliefs.
Now a new paper from Slavi Toyanov and Paul Kirschner argues that:
Rather than emphasize the differences between LD and ID, a more productive approach would be to consider the similarities between the two domains and determine how they could be mutually beneficial. Evidence-based practice (LD) and research-based findings (ID) should be complementary to each other.
This quote jumped out at me because I liked the basic split: instructional design is based on established research, while learning design is about making sure that what you’re developing is actually relevant to your learners’ context. Both are crucial to designing a successful learning intervention.
Stoyanov, S., & Kirschner, P. A. (2023). Text analytics for uncovering untapped ideas at the intersection of learning design and learning analytics: Critical interpretative synthesis. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.
👹 Missing links
If you want to understand people, a great way to do so is to watch how they spend their time. That can be a little creepy if it’s one-to-one, so this visualization provides an excellent insight into how our fellow humans allocate their hours on this Earth.
Look at the ‘save’ icon in Word: Do you know what that object is? Or check out the Instagram logo: does it in any way resemble the camera you use day-to-day? These are both examples of ‘skeuomorphism’, where something new takes on the appearance of what it replaced. Once you see it, examples are everywhere.
Check out that envelope emoji! Another skeuomorph! Anyway, the Undercover Economist (Tim Harford) has identified seven types of email to avoid, and I think his list is excellent. They include bad subject lines, rambling requests, patronising reminders and donotreplies. By the by, if you ever want to comment on something in THIS email, just reply to it.
Legendary film composer John Williams turned 91 this month, so let’s all take a moment to enjoy this absolute banger. It's perfect.
Or just hit reply to this email!