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?