Can Video Games Contribute to Career Success?
Video games may help gamers develop critical social, cognitive, and leadership skills
The interviewer introduces himself to me as I walk into his office. I smile and shake his hand. He asks me to sit down and we exchange pleasantries. We then get to the questions.
“Tell me about this part on your resume here,” he asks.
I answer, “Oh yes! Well, last year, I led a team of 25 people. I was responsible for lots of things. Some of these included developing strategies to achieve our core objectives and analyzing the problems when stuff didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. I was responsible for the recruiting, staffing, and performance of my team. I was also in charge of fostering an environment where communication, trust, and teamwork was prioritized.”
The interviewer sat back, impressed. “Sounds interesting, leading that team. What was the biggest challenge you faced in that role?”
“Definitely working with people of different backgrounds, experience, and age groups and trying to ensure we get along. We had a mission to achieve, you know?”
The interviewer nods, “Yes, it’s important to make sure collaboration is encouraged. I love your background and experience. I would love to have you on the team. When can you start?”
What do video games teach you?
Based on what you just read about the interview, you might have never guessed we were talking about my experience as a raid leader for my World of Warcraft guild.
You might be confused or surprised — it sounded like a job! And sometimes, video games can be similar to jobs, especially when it comes to the skills learned from them.
There are many misconceptions when people hear the word “gamer.” When some people think about gamers, they might think about teenagers with acne, sitting in their parents’ basements.
Or they might think that gamers' lack of physical interaction with the rest of the world renders them incapable of real social interactions with other human beings. But in reality, it’s quite the opposite!
Throughout my 10+ year career, I’ve been in a variety of leadership roles. According to my peers, I’m easy to get along with, a great team member, and a driven leader. I ensure I’m approachable as a manager and love to develop strategy and action plans.
I credit all of this to being a gamer. Here are all the ways playing video games has helped me develop the critical, social, and cognitive skills needed to be successful.
How to talk to people
As a child, I was majorly introverted and shy. I remember when my family would go out to a restaurant to eat, I would shut down with anxiety if my parents asked me to go ask the waiter for more silverware.
I found my escape in video games. Since my parents worked 60+ hours weekly, I was practically raised by video games. Don’t feel sorry for me!
For one, it was hot as hell in Texas. Playing outside was usually a miserable, sweaty experience. Secondly, I didn’t live in a nice part of town. Playing video games kept me out of trouble. Lastly, I was painfully awkward so I preferred keeping to myself as a child.
In the comfort of my home, I played with friends and strangers alike. Having a sense of anonymity helped eliminate any anxiety I had about perceptions of me. In the online world, people saw me through my words, not what I looked like.
Video games are actually a very social activity. Although some video games can be played by a single person, most people play video games with other people. According to MIT professor Henry Jenkins, “60% of frequent gamers play with friends. 33% play with siblings and 25% play with spouses or parents.”
As I grew older, I played more complex games — games that required more strategy and critical thinking skills.
Most of the games I played in my teenage years such as Counter-Strike or World of Warcraft were online multiplayer games. These games required you to work with others to complete certain objectives. To win online multiplayer games, you had to communicate effectively with your friends and teammates.
I had also befriended fellow gamers whom I’d never even met in person, developing long-lasting friendships in the process. Some of these friendships have lasted to this day. A few of them even ended up being my groomsmen at my wedding!
Whether it was talking to other gamers via chat or microphone, multiplayer video games helped me develop the social skills I needed to engage with and collaborate with others.
How to solve problems
An American Psychologist Association study found that “while one widely held view maintains playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills.”
Additionally, the same study states that “playing video games may also help children develop problem-solving skills.”
Most video games have core objectives, but games usually present challenges to the player in a variety of different ways to prevent them from completing the objective. Gamers are forced to employ critical thinking skills to figure out how to overcome the obstacles and win. The critical thinking skills learned from playing video games can be translated into real-world skills.
In a long-term study in 2013, it was stated that “the more adolescents that reported playing strategic video games, such as role-playing games, the more they improved in school grades the following year.”
Companies and employers value employees who are strategic thinkers and problem solvers. A person that is competent with self-sufficiency and has the ability to handle problems as they arise can increase a team’s overall effectiveness.
It makes sense to help grow children’s capacity to figure stuff out on their own. Critical-thinking activities such as puzzles, books, and video games are all good examples of how to develop problem-solving skills.
How to lead
Video games offer ample opportunities for gamers to develop leadership skills.
In some MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft, large numbers of gamers band together in guilds to help each other with tasks, complete objectives, and socially interact with each other. Like any other organized group, guilds require leaders to ensure order, fairness, and progress.
It takes good management skills to wrangle together different gamers of different backgrounds, ages, schedules, and experiences to work together cohesively.
Reflecting on my experiences, I remember the stress in holding my teammates or guildmates accountable for showing up on time for scrimmage nights on Counter-Strike or raid nights in World of Warcraft.
I remember all the times I had to provide feedback to my fellow gamers who were underperforming, playing poorly, and holding back the group’s progress.
I learned how to convince others that my plan to defeat a boss was better than someone else’s plan.
I learned how to comb through applications on the website. Other gamers who wanted to join our guild had to apply and go through an initiation process.
Sometimes, guilds were so large that it required a small group of leaders to help run the day-to-day tasks. They were called officers. They were assigned different roles and responsibilities. And they functioned as an executive leadership team of the guild.
I rotated through many different roles as a guild officer. I was CEO, CFO, HR Manager, mentor, coach, ombudsman. All of this experience at the age of 16.
John Hagel from Deloitte studied the impact of video games on young leaders. Hagel “cites Stephen Gillet, a gamer who became chief information officer of Starbucks while still in his 20s.” Hagel concluded that Gillet developed the skills needed to influence and motivate others from World of Warcraft.
How to deal with failures
“Game Over” are the two words that every gamer is all too familiar with. Playing and losing at video games inevitably brings about frequent bouts of mistakes, failures, and frustration. I know I’ve accidentally broken a mouse or two in frustration after losing in games sometimes. (Nobody said games were relaxing!)
But what is helpful for gamers who fail is the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Video games offer a chance for the players to figure out new ways to persevere. Video games help teach resilience to players.
Push X to restart from the last save point.
New round started, let’s go!
Okay, run back and let’s get ready for the next attempt.
In an article by Association for Middle Level Education that discusses the benefits of video games for students, it highlights gamers that deal with “adversity, setbacks, or changing conditions” are more effective in learning “resilience in the face of failure.”
Gamers can bounce back repeatedly after failures and not give up, helping them build emotional resilience that they can translate to real life. Resilience for future rejected sales calls, interviews, and failed projects. And the opportunities to learn from those failures.
For me personally, video games helped me get past my insecurities and self-doubt. Video games helped give me confidence in my ability to get anything done.
How to build relationships with others
Video games are full of activities that involve many people working towards a common goal. Whether it’s a group quest or a 5v5 team match, teamwork is something that every gamer experiences.
Working with others in video games can help foster positive relationship-building skills too. Gamers are a very diverse group of people, ranging from race or young to old or poor to rich. Research shows that when gamers from “different social groups cooperate in playing a video game attitudes towards each other improve and prejudices diminish.”
Personally, I’ve played with gamers all around the world from China to Australia. It’s always been a wonderful experience socializing and learning from others from other places in the world.
Video games help connect us across long distances to each other. I even met my wife on World of Warcraft! I would have never met her had I not played video games.
Working with others in video games builds collaboration skills that can easily be learned in other real-life group activities such as team sports and school study groups.
Ability to learn effectively
Gamers are constantly learning how to do new stuff, whether it be picking up new games or trying out new things in their current games. Gamers are frequently put into positions where they have to adapt to new environments, react to the unpredicted, and demonstrate on-the-fly decision making.
In a Psychology Today article by Peter Gray, he declares that gamers have more improved job performance skills, “especially for jobs that require good eye-hand coordination, attention, excellent working memory, and quick decision-making.”
Gray goes on to cite several studies on how gamers compare to non-gamers with certain job expectations. For example, it was found that gamers were better than non-gamers in their ability to fly aerial drones, which made them more suitable to be pilots, and doctors performing surgeries.
Additionally, another paper that studied the impact of video games had on Millennial managers. They found that the more likely someone was to play video games, the more comfortable they were with technology. This, in turn, helped Millennial managers, who were more likely to play more video games than older generations, adapt quickly in their careers.
Video games have long endured scrutiny and criticism about its overall negative impacts on society, especially children. Understandably, the depiction of violence, the threat of addiction, and increased chances of obesity while playing video games are concerning issues.
But like everything else, moderation is key when it comes to video game consumption. The pros of video games outweigh the cons, especially in regards to the benefits that stem from video games.
Video games helped me be more sociable, more confident in myself, and more collaborative with others. I was able to translate the leadership skills I learned from managing guilds in a video game to my professional career from managing teams.
If a job applicant ever lists guild or team management experience from video games in their resume, I won’t hesitate to consider them more seriously. To me, gamers have an advantage. I know they are more likely to have the leadership skills needed to succeed.