PARIS - What if video games turned out to be just the latest job-training tool? Top French companies BNP Paribas, Orange, Alcatel-Lucent, Thales have joined others around the world in using so-called serious games, a burgeoning video game genre with pedagogical ends, in order to train their sales staff and managers.

Employees of BNP Paribas are now learning to better manage evaluation interviews in a virtual way. Seated in front of their computer screens, they guide an avatar, dressed-up as a manager — either a chicly-dressed woman or a blue-suited man — giving it certain attitudes to take during the course of a meeting. If he intends to reprimand his virtual employee, he then becomes nervous, sinking down into his chair, crossing his arms as a sign of rebellion. It all looks pretty believable.

The use of video games for business purposes is not a new phenomenon. The organization of orientation courses and other role-playing games has often been viewed as an excellent way to reinforce the cohesion of teams, and to help present the business under a different light. explains Olivier Mauco, a researcher at the University of Paris, Sorbonne-Paris I, who has a blog about ideology in video games.

However, at Renault, video games have revolutionized the training of sales people, otherwise resistant to any type of training, which they see as useless and bothersome. Serious games also highlight the relative failure of e-learning: the system with which the learner reads theoretical texts on a screen is simply not convincing.

"We quickly realized that, despite initial enthusiasm, e-learning was not an ideal solution," says Gil Simoncini, the head of Renault Academy, the training center for the automobile company. More than 70% of employees were not finishing the texts, which were often uninviting and lacking any sort of interactivity.

With serious games, employees want to stick with it. In the Algerian division of Renault, for example, sales departments organize tournaments. The one with the best score wins an additional month of salary. "Video games promote a spirit of competition and emulation among the sales team," says Damian Nolan, commercial director of Daesign, a traditional game designer that has moved into serious games development.

Simoncini notes that there was some resistance in certain countries, having to convince company chiefs that they weren't wasting money – or time.

But does it work?

Serious games may fascinate, but are they effective? "A good salesperson in a serious game is a good salesperson in reality. It is rare to see a poor salesperson achieve high scores," says Simoncini. But these games also promote learning by failure. It's not uncommon to see some purposefully chase away a client. According to Simoncini, some would even like to virtually kill someone. The game allows errors to be made in order to measure the consequences.

The limit, of course, is that it does not teach by itself. "We must be aware of the myth of self-training. Just because it's a video game doesn't mean that an addiction will develop. People are not going to give up their free time in order to train themselves," says Mauco, himself an author of a serious game.

Simoncini concurs: "It is imperative that someone be next to [the trainee] in order to bring to life the video game and offer pedagogical lessons."

How are these games made? At Daesign, they are the result of a collaboration between a business sponsor and a design team, also composed of experts in management and communication. "But it's the client who decides the situations," says Nolan, owner of Daesign.

Serious games are meant to standardize the different behaviors of employees, but may also drive them to a childish level. "The real problem is that the learners tend to start believing it all a bit too much," says Mauco. The fear of "game over," without a doubt.

Read the original article in French

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