Category: Gaming

The Future of Video Games at Work: A New Norm for Attracting Gen Z Talent 

The last section of our recent article “It Pays to Play Video Games” touches on the utilization of gaming concepts and the emulation of video game experiences in hybrid/remote work, but there’s even more to that story. Due to the pandemic’s impact on office functionality, the aforementioned “video game experience” has been taken quite literally in some workplaces (and classrooms!) where forward-thinkers are successfully adopting video games into their culture in various ways. With about 86% of Gen Z using “mobile devices as gaming platforms,” all industries—from manufacturing to marketing—would be wise to pay attention to the trends of this up-and-coming workforce, lest they fall behind this tech-savvy generation. 

Keep reading to find out how games have helped to relieve Zoom fatigue, boost productivity, and bring professional teams together since 2020, and how they can continue to attract our country’s newest source of employees, Gen Z.

Gen Z expects digital solutions

It makes sense that modern workspaces are looking to video games for inspiration. First, more jobs have transitioned online and are already perfectly poised to utilize game-like digital spaces. Second, tech-loving Millennials—who themselves comprise a significant portion of the gamer demographic—are beginning to settle into occupations and management positions, bringing their Internet familiarity and tech expectations to the rest of their work. Third, Gen Z has grown up with computers and phones and are called “Zoomers” for good reason: much of their formative years have been moved to online platforms that will continue to grow as immersive workspaces.

Microsoft and Facebook have “both signalled [sic] that tech companies believe virtual reality is no longer just for gamers,” reads one recent article. “For some, the metaverse is the workplace of the future and the only way for colleagues to share immersive experiences with each other without physically being together.” For better or for worse, Gen Z expects a virtual future. 

Recruiters should embrace this anticipation and evolve to accommodate such a future. As this article on construction and technology shows, the “increased adoption of digital solutions has helped draw new talent.… Companies … are seeing the benefit that digital transformation brings, both in terms of productivity and recruitment.” Thus far, we have discussed recruitment of Gen Z in the ensuing workplace, so let’s briefly turn our attention to productivity in the current workplace.

Bring your own avatar

When everyone was stuck at home during the height of the pandemic, game environments became unlikely meeting locations—and even sanctuaries—for some teams. Bart Heird of WebMechanix mentions here that he and his team have “met up” in the safe space supplied by Animal Crossing: New Horizons. (They even matched their avatars with a custom clothing pattern that resembles their company logo.) Lewis Smithingham of MediaMonks also chills with employees and clients alike on his personal island. “My production value is now considerably better in Animal Crossing than it is on Zoom,” he says. Who knew that fishing for sharks beside someone’s avatar could lead to such positive results?

In a similar vein, author and artist Viviane Schwarz basically said, “Team meeting, but then make it cowboys.” Tired of the same-old video call setup, she started organizing meetings held in the wild landscape of Red Dead Redemption. She and her team would speak to each other over voice chat while controlling their individual characters gathered on-screen. “The main technical [hitch] we’ve had,” she explains in this Twitter post, “is that … sitting on the ground is the same button as attempting to strangle the nearest person. Still beats zoom.” It’s worked for Schwarz and her team because they enjoy games, have a sense of humor, and don’t always need to present visuals during their discussions. Schwarz jokes, “A perk of this is that when you agree that the meeting is over you can all jump on your horses and do crime or justice, which is a lot less awkward than everyone smiling at the camera while they’re trying to sign off.”

Executives upping their game at work

Schwarz’s teammates aren’t the only ones riding off into a sunset of pixels. One executive shares how he capitalized on the thrill of Grand Theft Auto to attract and engage an elusive analyst with whom he’d been trying to schedule a meeting for months. It worked. Soon enough, the executive and the analyst were tearing through a virtual Los Angeles for some high-speed fun (and business talk). The New York Times article that covers this story relays, “Eager for an alternative to Zoom, executives are getting together in video games to bond, brainstorm[,] or rampage”—sometimes all at once. Ben Decker, the head of Microsoft’s game services marketing, further demonstrates this sentiment. He often sets sail in the shared online world of Sea of Thieves, routinely joining a Discord executive for discussions amongst a healthy dose of piracy. 

The Times article explains that the goal of this non-traditional meeting style is to “break up a day that is crammed with that … look, sound[,] and feel identical.” What they refer to as an “outing in virtual space” is like the modern business person’s golf round or cafe meet-up: it’s an opportunity to combine work with play and either kickstart relationships with new partners or collaborate with old ones.

Business leaders who combine collaboration and video games have managed to simultaneously seal deals, train new hires, and introduce some fun directly into work. It’s true that smaller teams benefit the most from joining up in-game, but in this new world of distanced collaboration, anyone can profit from the occasional unconventional approach to collaboration and skills development. Riding through the Wild West or fishing on a tropical island probably sound like refreshing alternatives to constant calls or emails.
 

It’s manufacturing’s turn to play

Executives like Decker and team leaders like Schwarz prove that anyone can be a gamer. They also prove that the virtual spaces of games can provide much more than passive entertainment. The fact that digital environments are being used to connect employees and employers shows just how pervasive games are in everyone’s daily lives. They’re here to stay; if you want to remain relevant, and if you want to recruit Gen Z, find a way to incorporate video game technology or concepts into your modern business. 

As the manufacturing industry in particular focuses more and more on innovatively navigating the future of recruitment and workplace dynamics, the key to eradicating Gen Z’s misguided preconceived notions of certain career environments will be the leveraging of game-like technology. Right now the medium of gaming is revolutionizing the workspace of the manufacturing industry, and games are already credited with boosting key soft skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity. It’s time to stop viewing virtual environments as a juvenile space for mindless experiences and start realizing its exciting, immersive, and engaging potential for a tech-minded workforce.

Video games will continue to influence work spaces, sometimes through literal games and more often through the technology of them. It’s manufacturing’s time to match Gen Z’s enthusiasm for video games. It’s possible to design the workday to maximize engagement, and it’s possible to build tools for the job that match the controllers/interfaces familiar to Gen Z; this article has illustrated how both can and have been done in the modern workplace. Don’t get left behind. If you can attract Gen Z talent with digital solutions, and if you can improve your team’s remote experience, you can stay ahead of the game.

Care to share some of your strategies for keeping up with Gen Z and new tech norms?

It Pays to Play Video Games

How Young Game Enthusiasts Are Already on the Job


When it comes to skills-based mobile gaming, the factors of self-measurement, competition, pacing, and flexibility listed in our previous post help to engage players and accurately measure their progress, but where can that gameplay actually get them? This post will explain the direct workforce application of video games and how they’re preparing Gen Z for a professional future.


Video games and professional technology

Did you know that single-player controls and gameplay often resemble the technology encountered by the modern professional? A student’s proficiency in tech and their familiarity with video games can actually prepare them to command the technology found in many industries, from advanced manufacturing to construction. Working robotics or operating machinery are tasks that tend to come naturally to Gen Z, who have had some kind of device in their hand for over a decade.

Construction work involves high-tech skill,” says Dr. Mittie Cannon, founder of the nonprofit Power UP Loud, a construction training program for young women. She saw the connection between games and trades skills and—for over five years now—has used video game technology to introduce women to construction. And developers are right there with her. For example, the Building Information Modeling software CtrlWiz is made to function with an Xbox controller, meaning that the commands and movements are intuitive to a gamer and the program itself is more appealing to Gen Z.

Meanwhile, Debbie Dickinson of Crane Industry Services has noticed that “people who are comfortable with video games are very comfortable with … simulation technology,” according to an article by Construction Dive. Many young users of the crane simulation system feel at home with the familiar features of joysticks and foot pedals, thanks to their past engagement with the physical components of video games.

The same can be said for students trying out the VRTEX 360 welding simulator. It familiarizes people with the skilled trade of welding through virtual reality in a game-like space. If students have used a VR headset before—or if they’re comfortable with the concept of one—then they’ve opened up an entire world of training simulation for themselves. 

In general, industries have “increased [the] adoption of digital solutions,” meaning that jobs and training are resembling video games more and more. Barbara Humpton, President and CEO of Siemens Corporation, speaks to this in a recording of the 2021 U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Talent Forward event: “The tools of engineering are becoming very interactive, … so the skills we develop as we play games today … translate directly into the kind of work that needs to be done in the engineering framework of the future.”



Professions and video game technology

Even the style of the modern workplace is trending toward a video game experience that might feel second-nature to players.

Undoubtedly, the ability to work with others—especially when they’re not in the same room as you—is a prized skill in today’s job market. A GamesBeat article by Demian Entrekin of Bluescape, solutions for hybrid teams, compares a hybrid work environment to a single-player focus in a multiplayer game. Entrekin elaborates, “The online world of video games is a shared world. While you have the ability to act independently, your actions will impact other players.” He explains that the beauty of many games is that every player works with the same information and commands in the same digital space—instead of battling the “army of disjointed tools” that many companies have mandated for use in the past.

The rise of remote work has revealed the truth: if employers want their teams to be productive and collaborative, they need to ensure that everyone has easy digital access to the same information, which is a feat made simpler when there’s a universal toolset and a dedicated virtual space for it all (just like in a video game).

“The future of work will be more like this shared virtual world where silos are a thing of the past,” Entrekin says. “The difference will be tools built with a virtual world mindset. … When access to information and the capability to share that information is instantaneous, we’re closer to a video game where sharing and collaboration is as easy as one click of a button.” Entrekin points to Minecraft as a perfect example of a game-turned-digital-tool, as it allows students and teachers to “come together” to learn and create with shared building blocks (literally). More and more will education and occupations integrate digital collaborative technologies, and while this natural development might trip up some people, those who play video games will be able to take both the style of work and the virtual tools in stride.



Ahead of the game

As the Siemens Corporation President and CEO says, “Encourage your kids to play video games!” From workforce training, to on-the-job technology, to the very nature of the workplace, video games are being emulated on every professional level. This means that players really are ahead of the game, exercising relevant skills and practicing new technologies every week.


How do you see video game technology being used in the workplace?

The Best Gameplay Style for Skills Development

Single-player? Multiplayer? …or a Bit of Both?



When it comes to gameplay, “single-player” and “multiplayer” may sound like opposing categorizations—and yet they can actually describe the same game. This post will cover the basics of both single-player and multiplayer game modes, ultimately explaining how a blended style of play is perfect for skills-based mobile gaming that gets the next generation to “lean in” to career pathways at a young age.

Before we move on to that perfect blend of game modes, let’s first take a look at what it means for a game to be single-player or multiplayer. These two terms probably sound self-explanatory, and, simply put, they are: a single-player game allows for just one player in the game environment at a time, while a multiplayer game is designed to host more than one. However, as obvious as that distinction might seem, there’s no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to either of these categories. It turns out that the mixed space in the middle combines the best of both. 

Keep reading to find out not only how these different modes can work together but also why that’s crucial for skills development. 


Multiplayer games

A multiplayer game can look like Among Us or Fortnite, in which your experience is fully determined by the presence and activity of other players. In the cases of these two games, the term “multiplayer” makes sense for even the most uninitiated gamer: you control your character while other people control theirs, and you either work together or work against each other. Seems simple enough, right?

But not every multiplayer game sees you running around the environment with other players in real-time. A multiplayer game can also look something like Words with Friends. It relies on alternating gameplay, so Player A might make a move at 2PM, and Player B might not respond until 2AM. Even though a turn-based game like Words with Friends doesn’t guarantee the synced presence of two or more active players, it’s nevertheless considered multiplayer, because people are playing directly “against” one another.


Single-player games

Meanwhile, a single-player game can be something like digital solitaire or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Although they differ drastically, they share a commonality: it’s just you, the person in control of the screen, making decisions and implementing changes in the game. Again, seems simple.

Then you get a game like Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s primarily called a single-player game, but it also includes a feature to invite distant users to your island. When two or more players connect virtually through this feature, they’re hosted in a multiplayer function of a single-player game.


Blending a single-player focus with multiplayer features

That idea of mixed modes—specifically a single-player game with multiplayer features—hits a sweet spot for mobile games geared toward skills development and career growth. Here’s how:

1. Self-measurement. Your experience and success during a level don’t depend on other players. This independence accurately represents your skills and what you’re learning (not what your playing partner knows), which maintains the integrity of skills-based gaming.

Why this matters: The absence of direct multiplayer meddling ensures the credibility of meaningful badging, leaderboard stats, and more.

2. Competition. Regardless of the lack of real-time competitive or cooperative gameplay in single-player, players of a blended game are nevertheless connected through contest and not left entirely alone. With a single-player game that contains multiplayer features like a global leaderboard or weekly competitive challenges, players can see how they stack up against the rest of the field without actively playing with or against another person.

Why this matters: Thanks to multiplayer features, despite solitary gameplay, players can still feel connected to something beyond their own experience and be inspired and pushed by a sense of competition.

3. Pacing. The game is always right where you left it when you need it, because simultaneous play isn’t necessary. You don’t have to wait for other players to join, and you’ll never feel slowed or rushed through gameplay and content.

Why this matters: The blended approach allows players to work through levels at their own pace, which is crucial for learning (and measuring that learning).

4. Flexibility. Short on time or patience? A base game mode of single-player guarantees that you’ll never get locked into a match. The portable, versatile essence of mobile games means that sessions can be played practically any time—anywhere—and the time-agnostic nature of this single-multiplayer blend gives you further freedom to play when and how you need to.

Why this matters: For a game targeting our up-and-coming workforce (that is, an audience of middle and high schoolers), flexibility is key. When the school year gets hectic, players need to be able to pick up a game and put it down quickly, and they can do that easily with single-player rounds.



The best of both worlds for skills development

In short, playing a single-player game containing multiplayer features means that your work is your own and your enjoyment of the game doesn’t rely on strangers, yet the stimulation of outside competition isn’t lost in the absence of “live” multiplayer rounds. For games focused on developing skills and fostering careers, this combination of the independent play of single-player and the competitive environment of multiplayer really does bring together the best of both worlds.


What is your favorite game mode or style of gameplay?

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 3 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video Games Teach Empathy & Other Hard-to-Teach Skills

Ready to bust some more gaming myths? The second blog in this series combats outdated and unfounded fears of video games by highlighting their universal nature, cooperative space, and potential for skills development. This third installment looks to similar positive traits in a demonstration of video games’ power over the mind and heart as a force for good. 

The incomparable firsthand experiences that video games generate can put players from any background into new circumstances, facilitating the formation of critical social-emotional skills (and global awareness, like I talk about in the last blog post). Video games allow people to interact “firsthand” with concepts, places, and times they otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience, from the streets of modern Hong Kong to the rooftops of Renaissance Venice. We can see the wider world on a very personal level while moving through a story in someone else’s shoes, defying the limits of wherever our own feet can take us. Games have the power to spark conversation, induce awareness, and share a diverse range of voices. 

Social-emotional skills and gaming

It’s why educators are advocating for specially designed video games that teach empathy: “Perspective-taking through player agency drives empathetic thinking.” Games put their audiences in the driver’s seat and provide active engagement with the material, distinguishing playing video games from the more passive experience of watching a video. Because the player has an impact on the game environment to varying extents, and because the player is taking on a new point of view, they are in an ideal position to learn and empathize. 

Indeed, a game designed by University of Wisconsin-Madison for middle schoolers was found to improve empathy in young learners. In this game, Crystals of Kaydor, players assume the role of a crash-landed robot and must successfully identify the emotions of aliens in order to find a way home. Researchers discovered that the kids’ social-emotional skill development through the game actually changed neural connections in their brains. “The realization that these skills are … trainable with video games is important,” lead researcher Tammi Kral says, “because they are predictors of emotional well-being and health throughout life and can be practiced any time.”

This is a big deal. We’re finding that not only can games engage kids with each other, allow them to realize their own creative and intellectual potentials, and meet them wherever they may be; games can also prepare the next generation for the workforce by equipping them with “hard-to-teach” skills. These include soft skills like collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking, as well as social-emotional skills like the abilities to relate with others, make appropriate decisions, maintain awareness of other people’s emotions, and understand one’s own thoughts and feelings.

Professor Matthew Farber (Assistant Professor of Technology, Innovation, and Pedagogy at the University of Northern Colorado) underscores the importance of such skills in his article entitled Teaching Empathy With Video Games.” He calls them “21st-century competencies that students should possess.” Farber poses the question of whether or not playing video games can make children better aware of their own emotions and become more sensitive to the non-verbal behavior of others, and he concludes his article by saying yes, yes they can. As a result of playing games like Crystals of Kaydor and practicing social-emotional skills, students will be able to “compete and innovate in today’s interconnected, global economy,” Farber says.  

Games, empathy, and the next workforce generation

When the player has the ability to make choices in another’s shoes—when they can witness something firsthand and feel like they have a personal stake in the matter—then they can take ownership of their experience and find themself relating to different persons and places. They’re practicing empathy. In games like that, students can exercise the developing parts of their brain, thus making themselves world- and workplace-ready, prepared for tomorrow’s challenges intellectually, socially, and emotionally. 

What hard-to-teach skills do you think every student should learn before high school graduation?

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 2 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video Games Are Preparing Our Next Workforce for Global Leadership

In the last post—the first installment to this series—I talk about how video games have the power to bring people together. They disregard distance. And because of that, video games are also able to bridge the gap between cultural differences large and small, creating truly global communities. What’s more, the collaborative nature of video game production ensures endless teachable moments and exposure to diverse perspectives beyond the bounds of the game. Playing video games and developing them can help students learn about themselves and others while picking up skills that will prepare them for a career in any field they pursue.

high schoolers working on a game

The global impact of video games on under-resourced students 

This past April, Rochester Institute of Technology’s international game prototyping course gave students the chance to collaborate in a virtual cultural exchange program and establish commonalities despite cultural differences. In that same month, the U.S. Department of State announced the conception of a video game diplomacy program, which seeks to connect almost 3,000 students from the US, Bahrain, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. The exchange program will bring under-resourced teens from Detroit, Atlanta, and New York City into partnership with Middle Eastern students for the united purpose of developing social impact games. In a conversation with The Washington Post about the program, Marie Royce, who has served as Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs since 2018, says that “young people have something in common[:] … They play video games. … It’s important to have initiatives around gaming [because] it’s an opportunity to give everybody a chance to have an exchange.” 

These recent efforts to utilize the universal medium of games build upon previous initiatives like Digital Play for Global Citizens, a publication from Sesame Workshop and the Center for Global Education at Asia Society. Digital Play for Global Citizens introduces a “vast landscape of digital resources … and suggests some innovative ways to nurture our young learners into macro-minded citizens.” In this increasingly connected world, our up-and-coming workforce must be prepared to answer questions and resolve issues that span the globe, and video games have proven to be effective tools for teaching students collaborative and inclusive practices.

students playing on phones

Game development promotes skills development

Cultural exchange projects help to promote peace, growth, and understanding, and through the State Department’s Game Exchange program (in partnership with the nonprofit Games for Change), Royce hopes to foster diplomacy while also building essential skills in students here at home, no matter their income level or personal identity. She addresses the future of Gen Z, stating, “In creating video games, people develop tremendous skills…. [They’re] able to think critically [and] develop STEM skills and … leadership skills.” Collaboration, communication, and compromise are essential to video game production, as creators must work together to realize a cohesive vision, but those soft skills aren’t all that young leaders can grow. Like Royce says, game development gives students the chance to practice math, art, logic, storytelling, coding, and more, because it’s a cross-section of so many different disciplines—disciplines that are needed in the wider world right now.

Gen Z has entered the game, championing diversity and inclusion

In order for the U.S. to ensure the success of our next generation of leaders, workers, and creators, we need to advocate for inclusivity and big-picture thinking alongside the hard skills that get so much attention in schools. Video games—as illustrated by the RIT virtual exchange course, the U.S. State Department’s Game Exchange diplomacy program, and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s Digital Play for Global Citizens—can “promote global citizenship,” let us explore new “boundaries, borders, and geography,” and help us all develop “empathy and understanding of diversity.” Game development encourages cooperation with others near and far at the same time it teaches critical skills. 

As the president of Games for Change, Susanna Pollack, explains to The Washington Post, video games can transcend mere entertainment and “be significant drivers of social impact,” because they are not confined within any one nation for any one kind of person. “Like other forms of media,” Pollack continues, “games can address important social topics and meet people where they are”—whether that’s in a high school in the USA or one in the UAE. By bringing together people across the globe and empowering students with new skills and knowledge, video game diplomacy programs are achieving a unique blend of civic engagement and practical application that illustrates the versatility of games and their positive impacts around the world. 

What talents would you like to see more of in the workforce right now? Collaboration, inclusion, STEM skills, global citizenship…?

Changing Behavior Through Video Games Comes Down to These Four Things

As mobile video games gain greater reach and sophistication levels that deliver more realistic, entertaining, and challenging experiences, unprecedented narrative is being incorporated into gameplay that influences players’ behavior in meaningful ways. As we leverage this preferred medium to prepare our next generation for meaningful careers in previously stigmatized industries within manufacturing, including life sciences, cyber/IT, aerospace, and auto, many behaviorists agree on incorporating these four disciplines into gameplay to affect change.

Four In-Game Disciplines that Can Change Behavior in Gen Z

1. Motivation

Self-determination theory identifies three primary psychological needs that drive most behaviors: 

• the need for competence, or a feeling of effectiveness at completing tasks

• the need for autonomy, or the sense of freedom to choose one’s own behavior

• the need for relatedness, or of feeling tied to others through relationships and shared values.

These basic needs tend to motivate behavior in an individual, independent of extrinsic rewards. By design, video games check each of these boxes via challenges that can be repurposed with increased difficulty, directly promoting and improving desired skills development, which can make workforce readiness a lot more rewarding…and fun.

2. Reinforcement

In contrast to intrinsic motivation, video games can also use extrinsic rewards to reinforce desired behaviors, including task-noncontingent rewards, and rewards of glory. The former can consist of kudos and likes from other players in the game, or by in-game mentorship from industry and educators, all of which promote feelings of relatedness and autonomy. Rewards of glory consist of points, achievements, badges, or animations, and can support competence needs by providing feedback and shareable bragging rights. 

3. Personalization

Gen Z is more likely to devote cognitive effort and attention toward an activity they perceive to be personally relevant. By tailoring game narrative to align with their values, game designers — and industry — can persuade players in a way other forms of persuasion may not. Creating game characters a player identifies with, or by casting the player themselves as the main character is one way. Another way is to incorporate desired goals into the game narrative. As an example, BeatNic Boulevard is a new simulation-style, free-to-play mobile game where students in San Bernardino County, California — in collaboration with Stanford University’s Tobacco Prevention Toolkit — learn the importance of living a tobacco-free lifestyle. As students play the video game, they learn and recognize the impact of tobacco-use, vaping and how the sale of these products negatively affect schools and communities, eradicating false perceptions perpetuated by the tobacco industry.  

4. Proteus Effect

The Proteus Effect represents the experience of embodying an avatar in a virtual environment, which affects multiple aspects of cognition and behavior of the player. Being in a virtual world allows users to control many aspects of their appearance they cannot easily change in the real world, allowing a player to “try things on” in an arena void of stereotypes. This is especially powerful in breaking down stereotypes within trade-specific careers.

Mobile Gaming is a Viable Skills-Training Medium

The number of active mobile gamers worldwide is over 2.2 billion today. As industry, states, and regions look to grow their workforce-ready talent pools, mobile gaming should be at the top of their list as a proven, customizable training and recruitment tool that can scale to reach this entire next generation.

What skills development or behavioral change would you like to see incorporated into mobile games? Comment below.

Gen Z Busts the Myths of Gaming – 1 of 3

By Beth Ann Townsend, Narrative Designer at skillsgapp //  

Video games build community

Dark basement. Empty chip bags. One guy staring at a bright screen, maniacally pressing buttons on a controller. I don’t know when or how this stereotype got started—much less reinforced—but at some point it came to represent the quintessential “gamer.” Nowadays that perception is changing as old fears are dismissed and more people recognize the value of video games. 

In this blog series, we’ll bust some still lingering gaming myths by exploring and correcting misperceptions about video games and the people who play them, specifically our future workforce, Gen Z. There are already plenty of articles written by professional research teams and scientists detailing how games can improve manual and mental dexterity, teach problem-solving skills and creativity, relieve stress while stimulating the brain, inspire players of all ages, introduce educational topics, and—maybe most importantly—foster community, so I’ll share something only I can: my own experience.

Family game nights: generations of memories

Video games have always been important to the members of my family, even my grandparents. 

My Papa Donald had a squeaky SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), and sometimes all six of us grandkids could be found piled in his living room squeaking away, collectively trying to beat Donkey Kong Country. It was a similar thing with my Pop Pop and the King’s Quest point-and-click adventures: for years my sister Addie and I spectated his gameplay while consulting the cheat book on his behalf. 

Then there was my dad and Luigi’s Mansion. Terrified of the ghosts, my sister and I solo-played only rooms that my dad had already cleared. But the fun for me didn’t come from saving the day as Luigi; it came from spending time with the two of them.

With my mom, our game was Animal Crossing. She’d catch bugs, I’d fulfill the American dream of paying off a mortgage. We also used to write each other in-game updates despite sitting right next to each other. There was something special about communicating through such a unique medium.

As a kid, I didn’t know that all these little moments with my family would matter—these moments that games created—and yet we were reinforcing our relationships with every press of a button.

Plugging in to stay connected

My sister and I are now 20 and 22, respectively, so we’re on the upper end of Gen Z and have grown up playing games like so many others our age: games on the TV, computer, DS, iPad, and now mobile phone. By gaming, I’ve stayed close to my sister through college to today. She and I bond over video games that champion the story. For example, Vampire: the Masquerade – Bloodlines was our Christmas break go-to, and throughout my last semester of school I played Dishonored for her via Discord’s screen-sharing feature. It’s become clear to me that games are a powerful means of making and preserving memories. They let us stay connected no matter the distance, and that’s been particularly important this past year.

Our story isn’t unique, especially not amongst the younger half of our generation who started early with mobile games. Games have always linked people together, and with the advent and popularity of online and mobile gaming, they’re now able to achieve that person-to-person connection on an even broader scale. Because 90% of Gen Z is engaging with mobile gaming, chances are high a large percentage of your future workforce is playing and connecting right now.

Games, fellowship, and friendship

Gaming isn’t a lonely hobby. I don’t think it was ever intended to be. Game nights are some of the most vivid memories I have with friends, from zooming through Mario Kart Wii in middle school to scrambling around on Overcooked! in college. Yeah, maybe at times we were in a dark basement eating chips, but we were all there with each other, laughing and shouting and building upon our friendships, practicing cooperative skills and making our time together last. Ultimately, it’s not just about the games; it’s about the communities they strengthen.


Do you have a favorite video game from childhood? If so, I would love to hear about it below
!

Beth Ann Townsend recently graduated from Washington & Lee University with a double major in English and Classics, a combination of interests she’s excited to bring to skillsgapp. She’s always loved telling stories, solving problems, studying what has been, and imagining what could be. Now a narrative designer at skillsgapp, she can puzzle out the best ways to marry the “what” and “why” of the game with the “how,” working alongside a team that’s dedicated to uplifting our next workforce generation

Everyone’s a Gamer

Gaming habits continue to skyrocket in 2021 and beyond.

Over the past few decades, the term “gamer” has been loosely used to categorize the maligned, often-misunderstood group of people that regularly engage in video, computer, or tabletop games. But the truth is, we’re all gamers today, as the immersive power of gaming has sprinkled its magic fairy dust on our otherwise linear, more traditional methods of entertainment and learning, and there’s no shame in that.

The demographics of gaming are changing. 

No longer is it just teenage boys scraping up change for the latest Call of Duty, but instead the gaming market has exploded in all directions. Mobile gaming, esports, VR/AR, social gaming, and gaming streaming have all attracted new audiences. Take Netflix, the COVID-crowned king of binging’s latest announcement of adding video games to its service. It’s the everyday mainstream population they’re responding to – our preferences, our peak hours, and our penchant for interactivity. Sitting on the sofa as a voyeur to other people’s narrative is no longer enough for us, according to their research. 

We want in.

Even Peleton, the bike that pedaled so many of us through the pandemic from our living rooms is upping their game by adding Lanebreak to their repertoire. Similar to your typical rhythm and dance games, here you’re incentivized to pedal at a certain cadence or resistance along a Tron-like virtual highway. 

We play to slim.

Learning games are earning more than points.

Mobile games in education have also taken a giant leap forward as of late. Hands-on skills development is now, literally, in the palm of middle and high schoolers hands, offering engaging ways for kids to gain career-making skills and connections, and for industry to grow a work-ready talent pool, even in under-resourced communities.

We play for our future.

Even though video games have been a part of the popular culture since the early 1980’s, no one could foresee how important gaming would become in the 21st century. So as we begin to shed the gaming stigma of yesteryear, it’s time to embrace this new era of game-changing connectivity that offers real-time, real-life rewards.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Do you have a favorite game? If so, please share below!

The “Lean-Forward” Advantage of Mobile Games in Workforce Development

One of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, Abraham Maslow, established “the hierarchy of motivation”, theorizing that in any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth, or to step back into safety. Both are immersive actions but inspired by disparate levels of ambition. The same dichotomy arguably holds true with how we choose to experience our downtime, too. Even before the pandemic, Netflix unleashed a franchise phenomenon of cozy socks and loungewear, designed to support a feet-up, laid-back escape from the everyday. Mobile gaming, by contrast – while also a pastime catapulted into the billions by the at-home dynamic of COVID-19 – commands an entirely different posture. Phone in hand, elbows on knees, with eyes on the screen the player is alert and at the ready. The late film and music editor Norman Hollyn calls this the “Lean Forward Moment”, where the audience has an emotional reaction that causes him or her to lean forward and pay more attention.

“The gamer lean has become a universal meme, but until now, the science behind its benefits were completely unknown,” says Tom Fairey, CEO, and founder of Stakester, an online gaming platform. One of their most popular games is soccer-inspired FIFA, which researchers from the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Leeds reported a leaning forward advantage of  4 minutes and 41 seconds per game to ensure a victory. Moving your main sensory system – your eyes – closer helps you focus and concentrate, they proved, and that leaning forward has a positive impact on sharpening players’ instincts.

Imagine swapping soccer out for gaming content that supports skills for the everyday. Rewards and incentives to reach different kinds of goals that are fun still command the same focus and attention, just with a different outcome. Here lies the ‘aha’ moment for parents, educators, and industry looking to prepare our next generation with the tools to succeed as the next workforce. By transforming skills development, career awareness, and job opportunities into mobile gaming technology, we can revolutionize how the next generation actively “leans in” to career pathways at an earlier age. 

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comprises a five-tier model of human needs: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The desire to level up, according to science, is simply in our DNA. This is what makes mobile gaming a profoundly powerful medium to perpetuate a step – or lean – forward to growth, instead of a step back to the safety of the same old tools and tactics for workforce development.

The Neuroscience of Gaming: Persuasion Techniques Behind Skills Development Games

blog author By Aminata N. Mbodj

Part 2 of 2

By their very structure, video games trigger effective learning paradigms[1] through elements such as experiential and inquiry-based learning, self-efficacy and goal-setting, as well as continuous feedback and cooperation. Effective video games not only leverage brain chemistry but enhance it through gradual challenges and reward mechanisms. Thus, they manage to increase focus and time on tasks so as to yield higher learning outcomes.

A study depicted in Merrilea Mayo’s article on Games for science and engineering education goes as follows:

[…] a middle school class was divided into two groups. The control group (32 students) learned electrostatics through interactive lectures, experiments, observations, and teacher demonstrations. The second group (58 students), with the same teacher, mostly played an electrostatics game called Supercharged during class time while also receiving lectures and handouts. The 32 in the control group improved their understanding by 15% over their pre-test scores; those who played the game improved their understanding by 28%. Much more impressive was how the simulation contributed to girls’ achievement; among girls, the control group improved on their pre-test scores by only 5% and the game group by 23%. 

Evidence from this research not only seems to suggest that video games added to normal lectures and handouts contribute to higher learning outcomes, but it also demonstrates that video games may improve learning outcomes in specific demographics which might have been underrepresented and underperforming, especially in STEM fields. 

Games and Personalization, a Whole New World

The case study above, most importantly perhaps, suggests that video games can, quite literally, widen access to talent which, otherwise, would not have had access to the traditional workforce pipeline. In gameplay, just as in early workforce training, the individual must move forward with a sentiment of purpose and personal responsibility when engaging in skill acquisition; an effective training system must make space for variations among trainees, especially if the desired result is a holistic, performant, and innovative workforce.

Personalization, as a result of identity-centric gameplay, is a pillar for creating particularly engaging and immersive game experiences. Tondello et al[2] propose different personalization factors to consider in making games more appealing and effective; these factors include personality types, age, gender, player types, culture or nationality, or again individual susceptibility to persuasive attempts. 

Tondello et al claim: “personalization is more effective than standardization to create behavior change.” Indeed, the above-cited factors, when properly and ethically leveraged, increase individual involvement in the games’ narratives[3], and thus make players more receptive to behavior change suggestions and more likely to experience the game as an immersive simulation

As one of the most scalable digital media to date, video games have a massive reach with more than 2.6 Billion people said to play them worldwide. Personalization features developed atop factors such as those cited above further expand reach across demographic lines; for manufacturing, and in the context of skill-building games, this means access to the right talent, no matter where it is located, no matter what it looks like. 

Rewarding Behavior: From Novice to Skilled

Skills development games are specifically designed to optimize the processes of learning, technical upskilling, and soft skills acquisition. Using the personalization factors, the player is taken through a reward fueled “persuasion pipeline” geared towards transforming them from novice to skilled. The following excerpts from an article on the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, on Video Games and Rehabilitation[4], give us an insight as to the mechanisms triggered by effective gameplay:

One of the insights … on the neuroscience of reward and motivation, is the discovery that the limbic system, in particular the nucleus accumbens (NA), is critical to learning new behaviors, especially those associated with the pursuit of rewards. At the beginning of a game, players desire a low level of challenge to meet a correspondingly low level of ability and familiarity with the game. With an increase in experience, the greater challenge keeps players on the edge of their ability to accomplish tasks. Physiologically, when the same action is no longer guaranteed to produce the same level of reward, the magnitude of reward prediction error is also increased. This desirable increase could be achieved by … increasing the level of challenge offered by a game or by changing the game. 

Reward Prediction Error might be the new term that we take away from the above excerpt; it measures the degree to which what was expected differed from what was obtained. While Lohse’s research explores how rewarding a given action is; other researchers, such as Dalhousie University’s Rita Orji, are set to optimize the very nature of these in-game actions so as to maximize reward[5].

Cialdini’s Persuasion Strategies

Persuasion strategies are the backbone of behavior change research; Cialdini’s six persuasion strategies, exploring Reciprocity, Scarcity, Authority, Commitment, and Consistency, as well as Consensus and Liking, are among the most widely adopted. Orji et al ran a large-scale case study (1108 individuals) using various Persuasive Technologies, which have been defined as “a class of technologies that are intentionally designed to change people’s attitude or behavior”, to test these strategies across the Gender and Age lines.

The results showed that, across the board, commitment and reciprocity emerged as the most persuasive. Furthermore,  according to Orji et al, there are three pivotal aspects that are critical to long-term engagement and thus behavior change: competition, feedback, and presence. Skill development games aim to maximize these aspects, respectively, through a subtle mix of Badges & Certifications, On-demand Analytics Reporting, and In-game Live Events.

As the immersive technology par excellence, skill development games offer today’s manufacturing industry a unique opportunity to combine specialized training and cutting edge behavior change techniques into highly captivating and impactful learning experiences. Furthermore, with all this evidence showing not only the extent to which video games are taking up ever-larger chunks of our already active screen life but also their special ability to promote skill acquisition and knowledge retention, using them as the primary tool to reach new industry talent simply stands as the logical next step for manufacturing.


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Aminata N. Mbodj A First-Year PhD Candidate in Human-Centered Computing at Clemson University, Aminata is deeply fascinated by the humbling process of learning. Three questions keep her up at night: “Which cognitive processes do we use to build mental models of the world as we experience it?”, “To what extent can we use algorithms to map these structures out?”, “What resulting computing solutions are accessible, so as to optimize our everyday learning?”

1 Merrilea J. Mayo. 2007. Games for science and engineering education. Commun. ACM 50, 7 (July 2007), 30–35. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/1272516.1272536 
2 Gustavo F. Tondello, Rita Orji, and Lennart E. Nacke. 2017. Recommender Systems for Personalized Gamification. In Adjunct Publication of the 25th Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization (UMAP ’17). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, 425–430. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1145/3099023.3099114
3 Moyer-Gusé, E. (2008). Toward a theory of entertainment persuasion: Explaining the persuasive effects of entertainment-education messages. Communication Theory, 18(3), 407-425. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2008.00328.x
4 Lohse, K., Shirzad, N., Verster, A., Hodges, N., & Van Der Loos, H. (2013). Video games and rehabilitation: Using design principles to enhance engagement in physical therapy. Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, 37(4). doi:10.1097/NPT.0000000000000017
5 Orji, R., Mandryk, R., & Vassileva, J. (2015). Gender, age, and responsiveness to Cialdini’s persuasion strategies. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including Subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics), 147-159. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-20306-5_14