Game on: How playing video games could level up your career

Far from being lazy or a waste of time, gaming can build important transferable skills

This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of IT Pro 20/20, available here. To receive each new issue in your inbox, click here.

Video gaming is an extremely popular leisure-time activity with more than two billion users worldwide, yet it’s a hobby that’s often looked upon unfavourably. Reports in the popular press have suggested that playing violent games can lead children to develop aggressive behaviours, while others have warned about the “addictive” nature of video games and the consequences this can create. 

There's much stronger evidence, however, that video games could actually be beneficial. An American Psychologist Association (APA) study, for example, found that “video games provide youth with immersive and compelling social, cognitive, and emotional experiences. Further, these experiences may have the potential to enhance mental health and well-being in children and adolescents”.

It's not just children who can benefit from playing video games, either – the cognitive, motivational, emotional and social benefits they offer are the very definition of transferable skills in the workplace.

1-up your skills

The APA research explains that while most video games have core objectives, they typically 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, which can then be deployed in real world situations.

This is something Sarah Danzl, skills expert at education technology company Degreed, agrees with: “It may seem odd to equate gaming with skill-building, but given the types of skills that IT roles are increasingly demanding, picking up a PlayStation controller might be just the thing to grow your cognitive and social skills. 

“A recent report, The State of Skills 2021:Endangered, shows that the top 10 endangered skills IT professionals should focus on in 2021 include leadership, complex information processing and analysis, initiative-taking and advanced communication.”

“Several of these skills are cognitive and social in nature,” Danzl continues, “particularly communication, negotiation, initiative-taking, and leadership and managing others. Playing games like League of Legends, Fortnite and Overcooked! are perfect for building such skills as players will have to communicate and work together to beat bosses and cook burritos.”

Danzl also believes that the repetitive nature of gaming can help reinforce these skills. Typically, people have forgotten 50% of the information they learned within one hour, a figure that rises to 70% in 24 hours unless they are regularly practicing these skills.

“The nature of gaming, which is easy to engage with daily, lends itself well to continuous skill development and reinforcement, helping IT professionals learn vital cognitive and social skills and retain that knowledge simultaneously,” Danzl adds. 

Becoming co-operative

Critical thinking skills isn’t the only benefit of playing video games, according to research. A separate study by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology found that World of Warcraft players have skills and traits that successfully translate to working in virtual workplace teams – something that has become far more commonplace as a result of the global pandemic.

The study found that players of the multiplayer online role-playing game, which requires gamers to complete quests and interact with other players, tend to share qualities including extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism, which are the core personality traits and what psychologists refer to as the "Big Five." 

"The more achievements you have in-game, the more technology savvy you are in real life," Short said in a statement. "And that’s a good thing, especially in virtual communication teams and workplaces."

Additionally, World of Warcraft players have the type of computer-mediated communication skills and technology-readiness skills that help employees excel when working on virtual teams.

"I like the idea that there are aspects of gaming that help and strengthen a person with skills, knowledge, and abilities to be able to transfer those skills into the workplace," saod Elizabeth Short, one of the study's authors.

Make an impression

World of Warcraft isn’t the only game that can help to boost your career. A study from Robert Half Technology found that nearly one-quarter of CIOs believe that playing video games is an activity that can increase the chances of new graduates landing an IT-related job. The study also found other tech-related hobbies or activities that increase recent graduates' appeal to employers include web or app development, participation in hackathons, and Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or microcomputer project creation.  

Mohammed Rehman, head of Computing at Arden University, tells IT Pro that the military, for example, has started viewing video gamers are more attractive candidates: “The military recognises that gamers have improved reaction times. From an IT industry perspective, it's acknowledged in a number of reports that graduates in IT tend to lack the soft skills required by employers, for example communication and interpersonal skills, problem-solving and leadership. 

“Among Us, where teams must find the imposter in the group, involves deduction, persuasion, communication and collaboration. Call of Duty involves teamwork and leadership. There's an inherent social nature to these games that can help students in IT to develop skills that transfer to the workplace.”

Become a professional gamer

Video gaming has also created an alternative career path for the most talented in the realm of e-sports. In 2019, e-sports earned more than $1 billion (£745 million)  in global revenue, an increase of 27% from 2018, and for players who join leagues, the average salary is $3,000–$5,000 (£2,237–£3,729) per month.

This growth of e-sports and the potential skills it can help gamers to develop, haven’t gone unnoticed. France’s Emlyon Business School, for example, has become one of the first business schools in the world to offer academic credits to students in management programmes for competing in e-sports

Mickael Romezy, director of the Sports Makers programme at the institution, tells IT Pro: “Playing e-sports to a high-level requires a lot of training and the development of managerial skills that can be transposed into a corporate environment. These skills can easily be transferred in a professional career. Skills that are transferable include capacity for strategic analysis, risk calculation, leadership, team spirit, stress management, decision making and performance management. These are many qualities expected from future managers and executives in companies.

“E-sports players also have an appetite for digital, skills-oriented teamwork, efficient communication, risk calculation and decision making under stress. E-sports players know how to grasp a new model and quickly integrate its codes and values to become efficient, and many will know how to adapt to learn models that are still unknown, meaning they’ll likely be agile managers, capable of anticipating and adapting to market disruptions and changes in business sectors later in life.”

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