Chapter 3 Harnessing the Potential of Gamification in Humanistic Management Teaching: Games for Change Jennifer S.A. Leigh, Erica Steckler, and Whitney Ennis – Humanistic Management: Social Entrepreneurship and Mindfulness, Volume II


Harnessing the Potential of Gamification in Humanistic Management Teaching: Games for Change

Jennifer S.A. Leigh, Erica Steckler, and Whitney Ennis

In this chapter we argue that social gaming is a critical tool in the contemporary management education repertoire. Playing serious games amplifies students’ awareness of, insight about, and engagement with a range of topics and societal challenges that require more than conventional ­business acumen to address and resolve. We share our experience of achieving humanistic learning objectives in a social entrepreneurship course through serious video game play and reflection.

We begin the chapter with establishing the connection among social entrepreneurship, humanistic management, and social gaming.

Conceptual Background

Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is a relatively new scholarship domain and a very recent player in traditional curriculum offerings of business schools. The rise of social entrepreneurship courses in schools of management reflect a growing interest from organizations, universities, and the general public in the role of business for addressing difficult, or “wicked,” societal issues (e.g., Elkana 2009; Milway and Goulay 2013). While definitions vary, Haugh’s conception of social entrepreneurship provides a useful starting point. Social entrepreneurship incorporates the “economic benefits of entrepreneurship with the delivery of social and environmental outcomes,” which includes “the potential to assist the economic and social development of individuals and societies around the world” (2007, 743). Brooks defines social entrepreneurship “as addressing social problems or needs that are unmet by private markets or government” (Brooks 2009, p. 4). In sectoral parlance, social enterprise attempts to combine the efficiencies of market mechanisms in the economic sector with the values of the civil society sector. One of the most well-known social entrepreneurs is the Noble Peace winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus who created the Grameen Bank, famed for providing microloans to the poorest of the poor.

Humanistic Management Principles

Humanistic Management is a philosophy that advocates for the purpose of management to uphold the unconditional human dignity of every person within an economic context (Spitzeck et al. 2009). This vision for ­human-centered, life-conducive organizing (Pirson 2009) leads to specific normative orientations and practices regarding employees (workers), managers, organizations/firms, and the full constellation of other stakeholders. Organizations that adopt principles of humanistic management may be characterized as protecting the dignity and promoting the ­well-being of all stakeholders within the planetary boundaries (Pirson 2015; Pirson and Lawrence 2010). Such organizations can take many forms, ranging from traditional corporations (for-profit) that “have found financially attractive business models or practices that respect human dignity” (Spitzeck et al. 2009 as cited in Spitzeck 2011, p. 56), to social enterprises that combine economic outcomes with the delivery of social or environmental benefits that can support the development of individuals and society (Haugh 2007). Particular hope and attention has been associated with social enterprise as a potential humanistic organizational form (Austin 2006; Pirson 2009) as elaborated in the following paragraphs.

Humanistic Management Priorities and Implications for Humanistic Management Education

Humanistic management critiques and contests deeply taken-for-granted assumptions—which are often codified and reinforced in business school training—about an economic order with a dominant emphasis on financial metrics, shareholder wealth, and functionalistic thinking (Spitzeck et al. 2009). Humanistic management advances an alternative economic paradigm that seeks to protect human dignity and promote human well-being in the context of organizing. The Humanistic Management Network’s vision (2016) includes this sentiment succinctly:

Our vision is a global economy that protects human dignity and promotes human well-being in an economic system in which all stakeholders are equally respected so that market mechanisms are applied to maximize societal benefits rather than individual profits; an economy in which economic rationality is applied as a means rather than an end in itself.

The fundamental goal for social enterprise is consistent with the humanistic management principle to expand wealth creation beyond conventional and narrow economic measures of profit maximization to include both financial and societal benefits. One of the main inquires for the Humanistic Management Network reflects directly on this intersection: “How can we continue to reap the benefits of free market economies whilst becoming more effective in creating shared benefits and prosperity?”

Gaming and Social Gaming

The canon and pedagogical methods for social entrepreneurship are quite broad. The majority of university courses are typically taught in a face-to-face format, although examples of social entrepreneurship online courses and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) do exist (e.g., Coursera offerings via University of Pennsylvania and Copenhagen Business School, circa 2015). The social gaming activity in this chapter was developed for an online unit in a hybrid course (⅔ face to face and ⅓ virtual instruction) and is well suited for online, hybrid, and traditional face-to-face learning. Gamification is a new approach to teaching and learning, which applies “typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to other areas of activity, typically as an online marketing technique to encourage engagement with a product or service” (Oxford Dictionary 2013).

Gaming facilitates the education of social benefits that are identified through many different platforms, which include but are not limited to social games, serious games, and alternative reality games (“ARGs”). A benefit of using gaming as an alternative learning style is the variety of game types and volume of games available. When using a gamification approach, it is important to utilize the style that will most directly align with the subject matter and classroom learning objectives. “Serious Games are any piece of software that merges a non-entertaining purpose (serious) with a video game structure (game)” (Djaouti, Alvarez, and ­Jessel 2012). Social gaming “facilitates different levels and types of interactions between players engaged with games...” (Molyneux 2015, p. 383). This platform of gaming has grown, as technology has advanced in such a way that it now allows people to play games together when they are not in the same room (Molyneux 2015, p. 383).

ARGs are games that engage in transmedia storytelling (Jenkins 2006, as cited by Jagoda 2015). They commonly use the real world as a storytelling platform and distribute clues, puzzles, narrative revelations, and opportunities for play across everyday situations and technologies. (Kim 2009, as cited by Jagoda 2015)

One of the most well-known serious games portals is Games for Change: “Founded in 2004, Games for Change facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts” (Games for Change 2016). The games available on this site are generally classified as serious games, but some can also be considered ARGs. Games for Change games vary in cost and utilization sources (X-Box, CD, desktop, etc.) and include a variety of discipline topics. There are other serious games available from other independent sources (e.g., World Without Oil) and serious game portals (e.g., Serious Game Classification) that include some humanitarian topics.

Serious Game Resources: Games for Change and Other Resources

With over 137 games to play on the Games for Change site, there are an abundance of disciplines and “humanitarian topics” that can be explored. The domain of serious games is constantly evolving and there are other ­serious game resources beyond the Game for Change website. This includes lists such as the Serious Game Classification ­(http://serious.­ and the Alternative Realty Games List ( and other specialized portals such as Games for Health ( of potential interest to health care management instructors. Of note, increasingly individual games are released by developers, gaming collectives, and other organizations such as World Without Oil ( and the forthcoming Huni Kuin ( developed by the Kaxinawa people, an indigenous tribe in Brazil, to explain their culture and history (featured on BBC News 2015).

Activity Description

Serious games covering a broad and increasing array of topics offer humanistic management instructors a variety of possibilities.

Serious Gaming: The Social Entrepreneurship Course “Games for Change” Assignment

  1. Visit the “Games for Change Website”:
  2. Pick any game that you want to play and conduct a game review. You can choose any game you like. Try to review a game that is not covered yet by the class, so we get a wide range of games. You are encouraged to choose a game that you can relate to your specific field of study.
  3. Post your review and answer the following questions:
    • What “humanistic and/or societal topics” does this game address?
    • How was this problem identified and then eventually resolved?
    • What explicit or implicit social entrepreneurship concepts can you identify (name, cite, define, give example, and link)?
  4. It is encouraged that you review your peers’ posts and respond with feedback and suggestions.


Tackling wicked problems in the classroom, regardless of discipline, is a tall order. Contemplating the behaviors and systems contributing to issues such as poverty, inequity, and global warming requires cognitive sophistication to comprehend the complexity of these challenges as well as the emotional capacity to empathize with those impacted in these contexts. In this chapter we describe the use of serious games as a playful and alternative means to introduce students to a variety of ecological and social problems—all of which are of central concern to humanistic management.


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