Saving is so easy a kid can do it. Maybe we can learn from them, incorporating play, challenges, and success into retirement saving education. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Word has it the World Health Organization will add “Gaming Disorder” to its official list of mental illnesses.

Don’t mistake this to mean playing video games harms you, just “excessive” game playing. It’s similar to the idea that not everyone who goes to a casino is a compulsive (i.e., “addicted”) gambler. Indeed, if it weren’t for games of chance, adherents of Modern Portfolio Theory wouldn’t have the Monte Carlo Method.

But I digress.

The point is, we can learn from games, (see “Child IRA Chapter Excerpt: ‘Gaming & Saving’,” FiduciaryNews.com, January 23, 2018). More importantly, we can learn from what makes games addictive.

What if we could distill that knowledge, bottle it, then distribute it as needed to retirement savers? What if we could get people addicted to saving?

Perhaps you have heard of dopamine. It’s a neurotransmitter released by the brain whenever you find yourself in a rewarding situation. Well, not always. A study in The Journal of Neuroscience showed slot machine players experience a spike in dopamine even when they didn’t win but experienced a “near miss.” But this could be useful information for our purpose, too.

Chemicals alone, however, do not a gaming addiction make. It requires two other elements: Escapism and a worthy challenge. Let’s break each down as it applies to games, and how it might apply to encouraging retirement saving.

What do gambling, video games, and mind-altering substances all have in common? Wait. All those things sound bad.

Let me ask it another way. What do love, motivation, and problem solving all have in common? All of these – both the good and the bad – allow you to escape from whatever reality happens to be holding you back.

Escapism isn’t limited to entertainment and leisure. You don’t escape work just by going on vacation. You can escape work while you’re at work – and I’m not talking about playing Solitaire on your laptop.

This is one of the reasons why people like brainstorming sessions. Brainstorming can occur at work in the conference room. This physical relocation enhances your ability to think outside the box (i.e., escape the reality of work).

Hmm, meeting in the conference room. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t that where employees go for their 401(k)  education meetings?

Sure, this sounds like the makings of escapism, but it’s just the physical aspect. They’ll need a mental adjustment, too – and more than just skipping work for an hour.

How can we permit their minds to escape along with their bodies? Unfortunately, too many seminar leaders try to do this by relying on pictures of plush golf courses, beaches of white sand, or empty Adirondack Chairs overlooking a crystal blue lake.

The trouble is, showing the ideal retirement might induce stress if the attendees feel its out of their reach.

Here’s a better idea to complete the mental escape. Remember those ice breakers you reluctantly participated in at that management training workshop? You thought it was silly. Until you thought you were having fun.

Pretty soon, the last thing you were thinking about was your work, driving your kids to dance lessons, or the fact your team didn’t make it to the Superbowl. That’s what escapism is, Charlie Brown.

The second crucial element is the challenge. Smart video game creators create challenges that entice players to continue playing. That means the challenge must appear attainable yet isn’t easily attainable. (Sounds a lot like retirement, doesn’t it?)

To emphasize the challenge of retirement, this is where you can use those pictures. Just don’t stress them out.

Gently prod them to get excited about the possibility. “Just like others, you can get there.” Then issue the bold challenge: “Are you willing to do what it takes to get there?”

One final trick: To keep players playing, they have to pass through several levels before getting to the “Boss Fight” (aka the challenge, not fisticuffs with managers). But I’m already past my word count, so we’ll have to leave that discussion for another day.