Parents often worry that their kids are spending too much time playing video games, but the latest research suggests that the skills they pick up from gaming could actually improve their employment prospects.
We’ve all been there. It’s dinner time and your teen has been glued to her gaming headset for four hours.
“Turn that off and engage with your family!” you shout. But have you ever considered that you might be damaging her career prospects by forcing her to shut down her computer?
Irina Agafonova, academic and CEO of Game Academy, wants parents to start thinking differently about their children’s video gaming habits. She’s been mapping the skill sets and career paths of adult gamers to the games they enjoy playing and believes that the video games our children love to play are developing the soft skills they need in the future.
“Sometimes they’re also called 21st Century skills,” she says. “Things like problem solving, decision making and communication.”
Ms Agafonova predicts that teen gamers will be in high demand for future jobs because of the skills they are developing now.
“If you look into the job market – and we predict based on the trends what the jobs will look like in five and 10 years – we can see that it’s coming closer to the skills that gamers develop.”
Game today, succeed tomorrow
All types of gamer share one big career advantage, Ms Agafonova says.
“Overall, gamers, on average, are more digitally minded than the population of non-gamers. This is needed in the market,” she explains.
But the company’s algorithm has also spotted different skills that are developed by playing different types of games – skills that ready today’s gamers and learners for various professions in future.
“We identified 16 skills, like problem solving, decision making, system thinking, and ability to learn,” she says.
Rachel Mills, Animation Lecturer at the University of the West of England, and founder of EdTech company Buttercup Learning, says that the students she sees who are proficient at online gaming have developed valuable skills.
“I’ve seen first hand that students who grew up gaming with online friends are much more comfortable with working in teams and can solve any communication difficulties quickly,” Ms Mills says.
“The gaming students had an advantage over their non-gaming peers during the lockdown. They were already comfortable chatting online, both through chat boxes and on camera. That will continue to give them an advantage in a hybrid working world.”
James Bore, technology expert at Bores Security Consultancy, agrees.
“Gaming of all sorts can help to develop social and problem-solving skills which are vital to the world of work. Multiplayer collaborative games help to develop clear communication, delegation, and strategy skills in an environment where failure has fewer permanent consequences,” he says.
“Even outside of the classic teamwork games that people often think of, there are unexpected skills that can be developed through games. As an example, Minecraft can not only develop teamwork, strategic, and other impact skills, but also provide fundamentals of computer science and engineering.”
Gamers with a preference for certain types of games have strong correlations with particular professions, having developed these skills.
For example, those who prefer tower defence games – where the player defends a military base or other territory from attackers – are likely to be software engineers, while those who like to play building games like Minecraft have a stronger correlation with creative industries.
Other games appear to appeal to those who are born to lead, including strategy games like empire-building Civilization or dynasty-building Crusader Kings.
“These have correlations with management jobs,” the Game Academy CEO says.
The power of intention
Game Academy is harnessing these findings to help young gamers find the right careers and hone their employability.
When a gamer signs up to Game Academy, they share their gaming profile from platforms like Steam, Playstation Network or Xbox network. The Academy then looks at what games they choose and how long they play.
“We give them a report back, a bit like a personality report. Things that motivate them, soft skills, and then potential occupations,” Ms Agafonova says.
Game Academy also sets participant challenges that can hone these skills, through an online programme of quests within games to carry out certain tasks.
“This is our first programme to try to sharpen the skills further,” she explains.
As an example, Ms Agafonova says that the programme might challenge a participant to seek out a particular character and kill it in the first five minutes of the game.
“When people navigate their game experience, it makes it more fun and we help them to learn the skills faster, in a navigated way.”
The aim, she says, is to help people to play with intention, and to be very aware of what they are doing.
“Consciousness is important. We promote conscious gaming.”
So powerful is the skills-building function of gaming that Ms Agafonova is asking parents to relax a bit when it comes to the amount of time children are spending on their machines.
Understanding the types of game your child plays is a start, she says, as well as knowing how, and when, to interrupt.
“Maybe work with your own prejudice,” she advises. “It would be good for a parent to understand what types of games the child is playing.
“If there is a very important team session, the parent shouldn’t just come in the middle of it and turn the laptop off. This is the worst thing that can happen,” she says. “Depending on the genre, sometimes you might need to play in bulk.”
Understanding a child’s motivation when gaming will help you to know whether they are gaining skills or simply drifting.
“If you see that the child plays unconsciously, and cannot explain the rationale, and you see that it’s not challenging, and the child is not learning something, developing or overcoming some barriers, then this might be a trigger that you would need to look deeper into.
“Maybe there is too much escapism there, or the child doesn’t know what else to do.”
This might be the point at which a parent could intervene and suggest new challenges in gaming to the child that they could find more fulfilling or help to develop skills, she says.
Aside from that, though, Ms Agafonova urges parents to see the positive side of gaming for a child’s future career. There have already been high-profile campaigns from some marketing agencies. The British military is targeting gamers, and she predicts that online careers fairs could take place on gaming platforms in future.
“It’s important to understand that games are not going anywhere,” she advises parents. “So it’s how you navigate this world” that matters.
“You know, Elon Musk is a gamer, Mark Zuckerberg is a gamer, and look what they’ve achieved because of their mindset.”
It’s certainly worth considering it before you pull the power cable out of your child’s game console before tea.