For the last few years I’ve been heavily involved with coaching video game studios. Be it as a leadership facilitator, business coach or more permanently, a C-Suite executive of a UK based AAA studio (Splash Damage).
Whilst I play nowhere near the amount of games I used to play as a child growing up in the 70s and 80s (Lemmings, Elite, Jet Set Willy anyone?), I’ve always loved playing almost all of the games that have come my way over the years. I was thinking about games this week, and the things that I’ve learned from them, so I thought I’d share just a few musings.
#1 Failure is a perfectly valid way to learn!
In life, failure is almost always seen as a serious risk. Even from our early lives, we are taught that failure is to be avoided at all costs. It’s a very rare teacher who tells a student “Congratulations. You failed that test. Now we know what you need to work on”. We are taught to avoid failure and many people will start to avoid even attempting tasks that they might fail at.
In a computer game, you know that you will probably fail a few times. You might need to reload a particular boss fight or fall off Rainbow Road a few million times before you really learn how to control your vehicle. Even when you’ve successfully completed your mission, you will sometimes find that the princess is indeed in another castle. Video games teach us to dust ourselves off and to try again.
#2 The tools are always there, if we know where to look.
It might not happen often, but I think everyone has had the experience of finding themselves in a new situation where they feel that they don’t have any of the tools required to deal with it. Whether this situation is a public speaking engagement or your tap suddenly parting company with your sink and water gushing all over the floor, these moments can seem temporarily insurmountable.
A key feature of many video games is the process of looking for the tools we need to overcome the next obstacle. Whether this is opening every chest until we find the boomerang or spending hours fast travelling from city to city until shopkeepers have ebony armour available to buy, the tools are available and computer games teach you to look for them or work to develop them.
Sometimes the tools you need are not obvious, and increasingly we find that it is best to look online or ask others for help. Without the help of the people around you, it might take hours of frustration before you think to change from the player 1 controller to the player 2 slot to defeat the bad guy.
#3 Sometimes, it’s okay to walk away.
Video games are supposed to be fun. But you might not always know that from the stream of angry growls coming from the bedroom of your average teenager trying to perfect their sniper skills.
This may sound trite, but it’s essential that we learn to deal with frustration. We need to know when to persevere and when to walk away and calm down. Even with a game as old school and simple as Space Invaders, you get a real life demonstration of how your stress levels improve performance at lower levels but once they become too high, you start to make unforced errors. Learning when to carry on and when to walk away is a difficult skill, but one it’s well worth cultivating.
#4 The story really matters.
This might be a personal taste thing, but I really love video games where the story is key. I care about people and I care about their stories and events. I appreciate that this only applies to a subset of games, but in some of the best games, understanding the story gives you hints to understanding how best to approach a problem.
An important part of this is that some decisions block off other avenues, and that’s ok. Becoming comfortable with the idea that taking some options means that others are no longer available can be difficult, but it is a lesson more easily learned through games than in real life.
None of these lessons are things that we can’t learn elsewhere, but it does at least make me feel slightly better about spending the next hour or so proving to my teenage son that experience matters when it comes to first-person shooters (his, not mine!)