Balancing Act: Are mobile games a waste of time or a relaxation?

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After a day of negotiating legal contracts, Gail Serota sinks into her couch with her iPad and immerses herself in playing “Candy Crush.” The Miami real estate attorney finds playing the mobile game relaxes her.

Whether for relaxation or diversion, full-time workers are squeezing time into their schedules for mobile games. Spil Games reports about 700 million people play online games, or about 44 percent of the world’s online population. And those numbers are expected to rise.

The habit can be addictive — and not just for actor Alex Baldwin, who was kicked off a plane for refusing to turn off his phone in the middle of a “Words with Friends” match. Other players admit to being so immersed they have left their children stranded at sports practices, gone late to work and even injured themselves.

Ms. Serota of Weiss Serota Helfman reluctantly acknowledges that at times, she has become so caught up in completing a level of “Candy Crush” that she has arrived late at an event. “When you’re in the moment, you’re focusing on the game and you’re just not thinking about other things.”

Not long ago, most gamers were young men playing on at-home consoles. Now, the advent of smartphones and tablets has changed gaming so much so that 46 percent of players are women, according to Spil Games’ 2013 state of online gaming report.

“We have so much on our minds and just want an escape,” said Marci Siegel, a medical recruiter and working mother who enjoys “Candy Crush” and “Words with Friends.” Ms. Siegel estimates she spends about seven hours a week playing the games on her phone. “Sometimes, my day is so crazy that I need a little guilty pleasure.”

Critics contend that playing online games is a time-waster. Gamers argue it brings balance to their lives by offering entertainment, stress relief, social connections and mental stimulation. For players that log in with Facebook or Google Plus, the games allow friendly competition and social interaction.

Recognizing the appeal, employers have begun finding ways to leverage gaming in the workplace. Tapping experts, they are designing games to motivate workers, recruit talent, teach new skills, boost performance and encourage wellness.

Through Facebook, Marriott Hotels has introduced “My Marriott Hotel,” which offers players a virtual chance to manage a hotel restaurant kitchen before moving on to other areas of hotel operations. Marriott said it wanted to harness the exploding popularity of social media gaming to help generate interest in hospitality careers and fill positions worldwide.

Going forward, experts say workplaces likely will show more interest in gamification. In 2012, 20 percent of Forbes Global 2000 companies featured a gamified application. Research firm Gartner predicts that by the end of this year, 70 percent of those companies will have implemented at least one.

Gartner also predicts some attempts will fail. “It’s not a magical elixir,” said Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner and author of the soon-to-be-released book “Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things.”

Cindy Krischer Goodman, CEO of BalanceGal LLC, can be reached at

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