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 The second blog in this series combats outdated and unfounded fears of video games by highlighting their universal nature, cooperative space, and potential for skills development.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…?