Playing video games is often viewed as a sedentary or slothful activity. But as educators, thought leaders and the world’s largest corporations secretly know, gaming is also potentially the best thing to happen to management training since the advent of company off-sites and career workshops. With the world’s largest firms quickly turning to principles of "gamification" to educate new recruits, be forewarned: Blistered thumbs may be a signature hallmark of tomorrow’s most successful executives.
Credit conceptual frameworks and gameplay elements that inherently teach players how to manage limited resources, respond to stressful simulations and problem-solve in real-time within a variety of both plausible and fantasy contexts. Even traditional titles found on GameStop’s shelves teach kids basic everyday management skills, claims Ian Bogost, associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and founder of software maker Persuasive Games. "Look at World of Warcraft: You’ve got 11-year-olds who are learning to delegate responsibility, promote teamwork and steer groups of people toward a common goal."
Gaze beyond the colorful 3D environments, larger-than-life characters and outsized storylines peppering so many digital diversions, experts say, and you’ll clearly observe basic leadership principles at work. Just ask the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), which claims that kids need more, not less, video game play, arguing that video games directly address one of America’s most pressing problems – preparing students for an increasingly competitive global market. "The success of complex video games demonstrates that games can teach higher-order thinking skills such as strategic thinking, interpretative analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and execution, and adaptation to rapid change," the Federation announced in a recent report. "These are the skills U.S. employers increasingly seek in workers and new workforce entrants."
Moreover, future career choices for today’s tots will no doubt be influenced by technology in a way that is difficult for many to imagine. Skills learned and honed playing home console and video games, as well as mobile gaming apps, will undoubtedly prove valuable to students in 2025’s workforce. As Dr. Jeffrey Taekman, director of Duke University's Human Simulation and Patient Safety Center explains, "serious games and virtual environments are the future of education." Besides giving students the ability to freely experiment with plausible real-world scenarios (e.g. dealing with inventory issues or irate customers), such simulations offer myriad upsides, he says. Chief among them, Taekman suggests, are the ability to respond to evolving scenarios, make choices (often made under lifelike duress), immediately see resulting consequences, and shift tactics dynamically as situations dictate.
Beyond allowing for greater scalability and group collaboration than traditional classrooms, every decision made in virtual worlds, he argues, can be tracked and benchmarked against best practices, then standardized or archived for others' review. "The traditional textbook will soon become passé," he insists. "Gaming platforms will offer an interactive way for students [and trainees] to learn and apply information in context."
Small wonder that games are increasingly being used to educate and instruct workers around the globe by governments, trade bodies and today’s largest corporations. From Cisco Systems’ The Cisco Mind Share Game, which facilitates network certification, to Hilton Garden Inn, whose Ultimate Team Play (a 3D hospitality simulation for the PlayStation Portable) teaches customer service, examples continue to grow. Cold Stone Creamery, the U.S. Army, the National Science Foundation and Nortel… all have instituted unique serious games training solutions. And a growing range of startups like Hoopla and DueProps now offer solutions introducing game-like mechanics to boost sales team performance or make workers feel happier and more productive, respectively. Even the U.S. Department of Justice has dabbled with gaming via Incident Commander, in which emergency responders practice coordinating disaster relief efforts. As an Entertainment Software Association study reveals, 70% of major domestic employers have utilized interactive software and games for training purposes, and nearly eight out of ten plan on doing so by 2013.
It’s easy to see why, given how promising early results have been for organizations and educators that have chosen to embrace gaming. Case in point: Recent research by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), which indicates that video games can help adults process information much faster and improve fundamental reasoning and problem-solving abilities. Results show that video game players perform 10% to 20% higher in terms of perceptual and cognitive ability than non-game players. Likewise, after playing a 90-minute hurricane procedural training simulation developed for New York’s Office of Emergency Management, nine in 10 users felt surer of their ability to assist in case of actual disaster.
According to companies like Virtual Heroes, which craft such so-called "advanced learning solutions," games provide safe and encouraging contexts wherein workers can role-play, act out scenarios and experiment with new tactical approaches. This provides new recruits and budding corporate leaders alike with a more engaging and effective forum than bland lectures or presentations within which to tinker with new strategies, apply logic and adjust battle plans in real-time. As such, games and game-like environments provide an ideal platform for building business skills that ultimately prove invaluable to future corporate leaders.
"Games provide a platform to create engaging practice environments where users can engage in risk-free activities that are similar to the ones they encounter in real life," explains Ron Goldman, CEO of training software maker Kognito. "They’re also more fun than sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture or watching a narrated PowerPoint presentation. One of the biggest challenges faced by today’s organizations is how to motivate employees to enroll in training and remain engaged with programs. Games provide a great solution."
"Many organizations also understand that providing employees with a list of tactics on how to negotiate, for example, is unlikely to result in real behavioral change," he continues. "Games provide a tool to bridge the gap between knowledge and application. They also allow companies to take employees through multiple scenarios… and expedite the pace at which they gain experience in how to handle different cases. That reduces the cost of failure to these organizations."
Long story short: If you’ve got your eye set on a high-level management position, besides polishing up your resume, going forward, you may also want to brush up on your button-mashing skills.
—Author Scott Steinberg is a professional keynote speaker, leading high-tech expert and strategic consultant who’s just launched the world’s first high-tech parenting book series, "The Modern Parent’s Guide." You can download first volume The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids and Video Games free now at ParentsGuideBooks.com and VideoGamesandKids.com.
[Image: Flickr user ryanobjc]