Serious games should carry a government health warning

Published on Friday 29 March 2013 by in Blog with no comments

What has business and IT alignment within a pizza company got to do with plastic explosives, smuggling intellectual property, passing off fake currency and company directors being threatened with body searches at international border controls?

Curious? Read on. The story starts like this.“……He awoke after a fitful sleep, sweating. A feeling of panic. Shaking the sleep out of his eyes he could hear whispered voices somewhere in the darkness, and a droning mechanical sound. Disorientated he wondered where he was? Was he in some foreign hotel room? the voices were not English? A strange female voice next to him asked ‘would you like a drink’? Who was this mysterious woman?…What was she doing in his room…..No. It slowly dawned on him. It wasn’t some hotel room. The droning was the noise of the Boeing engines. An A300 airbus travelling  high above the Atlantic Ocean. The female voice was the stewardess asking him once again ‘Would you like a glass of water sir’? He remembered now a feeling of dread, he had to tell somebody. This story had to be told….”

It sounds like a cheap, far fetched thriller novel, conjuring up images of devious dealings, shady corporate values, terrorism and greed. Unfortunately It is nothing so exotic or exciting I’m afraid .The ‘he’ in the story is me, what ties it all together? Read on. I’ll continue the story from the beginning.

“Carrying the Silver case was a bad idea he thought, it makes you stand out. Raising sideways glances from the shuffling line of passengers in the border control queue. Approaching the X-ray machine at the airport as nonchalantly as possible, wondering if the case would mean he would be stopped. Surely, drug dealers, arms smugglers, terrorists and money launderers don’t carry their wares in cases that make a screaming statement ‘stop and search me!’, do they? The bored looking security and border control guards did indeed take a sudden interest when they saw the silver case, they shared fleeting conspiratorial  glances and nodded to each other. The nod obviously meaning the case requires additional attention. The case went first through the X-ray, followed by various items of removed clothing, laptop and carry on. He walked through the body scan without raising any alarms or suspicion. So far so good. Then he saw his worst fears had been realized. A large border control guard with a neck like a tree trunk stood by the silver case. The rest of the guard’s once bulging muscles had all decided to get together and hang around – literally – by his mid section, causing the buttons of his shirt to strain to popping point. The guard tapped the silver case. ‘Yours’?

Yes’ said the man.

Open it’! ordered the guard, pointing to a metal topped table reserved for examining luggage. The X-ray operator whispered something to the guard. The guard put on his white rubber gloves and picked carefully through the case material. He found what he was looking for. A large see-through plastic box, containing bundles of notes piled together, a calculator and a metal power point laser remote control. It obviously  looked like some kind of explosive device to the young, inexperienced X-ray operator. The guard looked disappointed not to find any C5 explosives. Images of being a hero and capturing an international terrorist rapidly disappeared. The guard opened the plastic box and took out some of the piles of notes. He held some up. ”$1000”, “$50.000”.  Maybe he’s not a terrorist thought the guard, but he’s obviously guilty of something. The guard has had years of experience and can ‘smell a guilty person by the look in his eyes’……or whatever. Eager to justify his suspicion the guard asks. “What is this?” holding up the money and pointing at the rest of the materials.

It is a game’ says the man.

‘What? ….a game?…..and what is this …money’!?

Yes, fake money ….like in monopoly….used in the game’?

Fake money’!? The guard is onto something. ‘It is illegal to smuggle fake currency or currency worth more than $10.000 dollars into the country’.

‘It’s obviously not real money’! said the man incredulously. ‘It’s a plain red and white piece of paper with the word $1000 written in large white letters… doesn’t even look like money’!? The guard grudgingly had to concede this fact. He tried a different angle. ‘What sort of game is this? X-box? Play station?… warcraft?’ the guard probed, eager to display his expertise and understanding of the gaming industry. ‘Where’s the software’? he asked finding only paper and plastic materials in the case?

It’s a business game’ the man explained. ‘It’s called Grab@Pizza. A team of business & IT managers get together for a day to manage this fictional pizza company. They learn to communicate with each other, to take decisions and to work together….. there is no software, they play with role cards, and forms to exchange information with each other, plan changes, and report on how well they are doing….it’s more like a board game….but without the board”. The guard thinks about this. “You mean these managers pay you money to play YOUR game for you?….and what’s this toothbrush in here? is this part of the game too’?
No I just forgot to pack it in my luggage so I threw it in the case, I guess they could use it though after eating all those pizzas…he he….he….hmmm’, as soon as the man had said it he realized it wasn’t a good idea.

The guard looked disbelievingly at the man. The man can see the look in the guards questioning eyes thinking to himself ‘Is this guy trying to be funny and take the Micky or something’? Border guards do NOT like to have the Micky taken. Although I am sure they are friendly, fun loving people, kind to animals and children and all the rest of it, many it seems have had a humor bypass….at least at work. It is unwise to try and make jokes in their vicinity.

The guard decides to take on a more aggressive tone to regain control of this dialogue, to show who is in charge and to ensure that micky stays out of the picture.

So this is business material huh?. What is this worth…..this… game’’! asks the guard. He says the word game like you would say the word ‘dog poop’ after having just stepped into some.

Well that depends…’ says the man  ‘If you….’

I don’t want a discussion’! interrupts the guard, ‘I want an answer. It’s a simple question not a philosophical debate…what is it worth’? The guard has raised his aggression level to 2.

I’m going to give you an answer’ the man said, ‘but I can’t, What exactly do you mean by …’?

Don’t argue with me, and you don’t get to ask me questions, I ask the questions and you answer them, now you either answer this question now or I can make life really unpleasant for you… we can go into that room over there’ said the guard pointing with his latex covered index finger  ‘…and  we can do a complete cavity search If I decide it necessary…do you understand me now’!? . The aggression level had now been raised to 3. The man had sudden images of that latex covered index finger and cavity searches and shuddered.

Now for the last time what is it worth’? demanded the guard.

$350 dollars’ answered the man immediately.

You’re lying’!  said the guard, ‘you don’t tell me that you play this game with managers for a day for $350 dollars!…’re in for a long wait Mister. Frank get over here!’ the guard called to his supervisor.

What’s going on’? said Frank, hands on hips, mirroring the stance of the guard and totally ignoring the man.

This guy’s being deliberately unhelpful, misleading and providing false information, obstructing a government officer in the pursuance of performing his duty’! Frank raised one eyebrow slightly, looked at the man and nodded with his chin ‘You’d better comply sir….this man is a government officer performing his duty’. The man couldn’t believe what was happening, he looked around waiting for the candid camera film crew to appear. This isn’t happening he thought. This is a bad script in one of those  TV police programs. This happens to drug dealers, felons and terrorists!

I am trying to comply’  explained the man, ‘..he asked what is it worth. If you ask what is the value of the game case and materials it is $350 dollars, If you ask what do I charge to play a game then it is a few  thousand dollars, if you want to buy the intellectual property rights to the game then it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars……that what I was trying to explain but he wouldn’t LET me answer the question!’ said the man.

There was a moments silence. ‘So this is intellectual property worth more than $10.000 dollars that you are illegally bringing into the country to sell? Is that correct sir’?

No I never said that’, said the man, ‘I said that is what it is worth IF you wanted to buy the Intellectual property, I am coming into the country to demonstrate what the game can teach people at a conference of managers and then I am taking it back with me’!

The guard added ‘I’m not convinced. He says managers pay him money to play his game for him and they can’t make decisions unless they play this game’! By now another Guard – Bill – had ambled over. Bill having failed to find any drugs in the case of a man from Columbia, confiscated about 5 kilos of tomato seeds instead. He decided to see if there was anything more interesting going on here.
Oh yeah…I get it’ said Bill. ‘I see the point, about managers making decisions. I mean when was the last time the shift supervisor made a decision huh’?

When he decided to be a jerk’! said Frank, adding ‘maybe I should play this game with my wife.

My guard wasn’t liking this light hearted joviality, having failed to find anything remotely resembling explosive materials or drug related substances other than my toothbrush he wanted to exert his authority once more, after all its not for nothing security guards have BIG shiny badges and BIG guns as a symbol of their authority. He wanted to make sure I was aware that I was a criminal and he could prosecute me if he so wished.

Where is your form?” asked the guard.

What form’?  queried the man hestitantly. A border guard, also being a governmental bureaucrat is now in his element, he rattled off a series of form numbers and associated regulations, clauses, sub clauses and sub clauses to the sub clauses. ‘The form that says you are bringing it in legally but guarantee to take it out again when you leave the country, you sign the form so that we can prosecute and fine you when you don’t comply… the sub-clause!’.

The man confessed ignorance of the form ….and the sub, sub clauses.

Aha’ said the guard triumphantly, ‘That makes you guilty of clause 5.1, sub clause 3, paragraph 4, version 2.1 of the customs act pertaining to……illegal things to do with stuff!’ The guard finished by pointing his latex covered finger at the man saying ”Right. Your name is going on ‘the list’, you’ll be in the ‘system’. Whenever you visit this country again you’ll be stopped. And if you’ve got this stuff with you again you’ll be fined got it!, now get out of my sight, you’re lucky I’m feeling lenient today?’
The man was tempted to ask whether this ‘stuff’ included the toothbrush but thought better of it.”

….This was the story that woke me up in the plane on the way home. The story I felt I had to write. Believe it or not this is a more or less accurate account of a real life dialogue. An account of how, bringing our business & IT alignment game Grab@Pizza into a not-to-be named-country I almost got arrested and fined.  You could say it’s just a day in the life of being a director of a company that makes games. Maybe our games should carry a Government health warning. ‘Warning this game may seriously damage your health’!

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