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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Gaming-Generation Impact On Business Office Culture: What A Good Playing Attitude Can Do To Your Workplace

Are gamer employees different?   This is the question John Beck and Mitchell Wade answer in Got Game, How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever.

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Photo credit: Liany Cavalaro

They argue that yes, employees who grew up with Nintendo, TurboGrafix and Genesis approach their work in fundamentally different ways than non-gaming workers.

If you grew up with games, you can use this book to teach your boss how to appreciate your gaming abilities in the workplace. (Free 14 page sample, no reg. required).

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1980s-era Nintendo-thumbed teenagers are now adults moving into senior positions in the workforce. As they move up, a cultural rift is forming in the workforce between the old guard who've never held a controller, and those who grew up hunting for the Triforce. Got Game proposes how to bridge this gap.

Beck and Wade argue that a massive culture gap began in the '80s when video game systems like the NES suddenly appeared in tens of millions of households across North America. Games radically reshaped youth for a whole generation by creating a new leisure activity with a distinctive culture. Ever since, gaming has become deeply embedded in our society and in the lives of each cohort over the last two decades.

At its core, Got Game is a guide for senior managers stumped at how to manage their gamer employees. Its purpose is to teach them that they must treat video games as serious preparation for the workforce, and that gamers possess a unique set of skills necessary in the modern business world:

"Anyone who actually looks at the games selling and being played knows that the typical video game is not the blood-spattering, media-grabbing, parent stressing cartoon that makes the nightly news on a slow or tragic day. Instead, it's a massive problem solving exercise wrapped in the veneer of an exotic adventure. Or it's the detailed simulation of an entire civilization, or a pivotal battle that affected the course of world history.

Or it's a serious opportunity to try coaching a sports team or setting military strategy. In short, even if their surface is violent, sexist, or simpleminded (which is not true nearly as often as non-gamers believe), games are incredibly complex computer programs that lead the brain to new combinations of cognitive tasks."

The book is divided into two parts. The first three chapters are a primer for non-gamers, outlining video game culture, dispelling myths, and generally building the case for treating games and gamers seriously. Chapters four through eight, though, are where I thought the most innovative thinking lies. Here the authors draw explicit parallels between the skills people hone to win video games, and those needed in our global, techno-centric workforce. These chapters also go the extra distance by instructing managers on how to restructure their style to harness the skills in their gamer employees.

As a casual gamer, I found these aspects of the book helpful. By outlining the instances where managers and executives from outside the game generation don't see things the way I do, and then translating into terms they can understand, it is possible for me to effectively bridge the culture gap. Building understanding and common language reduces tension, making work less stressful, more fulfilling (and ultimately more like a video game!)

Here are some of the top insights in the book for non-gaming managers:

Tap into the gamer instinct for heroism
Gamers "have a hero's appetite for a challenge that requires full attention. Meeting these needs, giving the potential heroes who work for you a challenge that will inspire extreme efforts - can unleash enormous commitment."

Don't let superficial badges of culture mislead you
"Remember the old fogies who thought men with long hair automatically couldn't be trusted? We boomers now have the chance to replicate the fogies' mistake, or to build on major assets that out less open-minded peers overlook."

Don't dismiss gamers' ability to focus and multitask
"Gamer employees will prefer to be surrounded by extraneous noise and attentional clutter. They might want to have two or three activities assigned to them at once so that when they tire of one, they can move to the next, and then come back to the first when they have something useful to add."

Manage your teams as group video games
"Structure team assignments like a game, providing clear high-level direction but also lots of room to explore. Tell your team, 'here are the boundaries; you can't go outside them, but inside try anything - open all the doors, run into the walls, find a way to succeed.'"

Beck and Wade support their points of view with a commissioned study involving 2,500 business people. Graphed results are presented throughout comparing how gamers and non-games view risk, teamwork, decision-making, and responses to authority. While I realize that providing statistical support of ideas is essential, I didn't find the graphs or conclusions very compelling.

What I do appreciate is that in publishing this book, Harvard Business School Press is sending signals to the business community that video games are an important part of our culture and that we ought to consider the serious impact gaming is having in offices throughout the country.

The scope of this book goes beyond the 'important books for managers' genre. Proactive employees could easily benefit from strategically giving a copy to a boss to kickoff a conversation on refining a working relationship.

For the more adventurous gamer, I'd recommend absorbing the business insights and using them to manage upward and get ahead in the workplace.

This will not be the last book about gamers in the workplace, but it does a good job kicking off the genre. I extend thanks to Beck and Wade for bringing attention to this real phenomenon.




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Reviewer Eli Singer lives in Toronto. Apart from technology consulting, he blogs at singer.to and sends biking tours to Europe. You can purchase Got Game from bn.com.

Eli Singer -
 
 
 
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posted by Robin Good on Sunday, March 13 2005, updated on Friday, February 26 2010


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