You know what leading thinkers at Google, Glassdoor and US presidential campaigns have in common? They are die-hard gamers. Not just play-GTA-V-for-an-entire-weekend gamers, but invest-years-of-their-lives-into-their-World-of-Warcraft-guild gamers. The real deal. While their peers ramped up college credits in high school, polished their resume by volunteering in senior citizen homes and suffered through parent-pleasing piano-lessons, these guys went all-in on Mountain Dew-fueled, Doritos-powered,
sock-pooped, night-long raids.
Plenty of stories have been written about careers in the video game industry. This isn’t one one of them. Instead, this is a look the careers gamers excel at. A great many of those careers aren’t what people expect – least of all the people who shake their collective heads when gamers try to explain why ‘you can’t just log off now and continue raiding later’. It’s also an exploration of how playing games (including Pokémon Go!) can end up being a big bonus when putting together your next job application.
- 1 Explaining the Success of Gamers
- 2 Careers for Gamers
- 3 Startups for Gamers
- 4 What About Pokémon Go?
- 5 What Does That Mean for You?
Explaining the Success of Gamers
To outsiders, the success of gamers is often understood as a success despite, rather than because of, playing video games. Seeing games as a contributing factor in the success of high achievers appears to be counter-intuitive. But what exactly are the benefits that playing video games conveys?
Video games have been shown to have a positive impact on skill and personality development – including spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception. But the list also extends to problem solving skills and creativity. While all of those feature heavily in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the benefits extend beyond the traditional subjects we like to lump together with the mental image of the nerdy gamer. If you need a source on the benefits of video games, here is one for each word in this sentence.
More than just conveying skills, video games reveal talents and abilities that otherwise remain hidden and overlooked at school or work. People who struggle in their academic pursuits or in the job market can discover their potential through one of the most encouraging and forgiving environments known to mankind: video games. When it comes to long-term behavioral changes, positive reinforcement is what moves the needle – and few billion dollar industries are more focused on positive reinforcement than the gaming industry.
Careers for Gamers
Gamers don’t need to (and often shouldn’t) work in video games. Gamer-friendly career paths span a much wider field and not rarely include the top tier management levels of them. The list of game-to-career skill transfer opportunities provided below is by no means is exhaustive. It does however provide a starting point for thinking about the opportunities that may be waiting out there for serious gamers.
Killer Games: A Career Workshop For Digital Artists
Every time the media report on a psychologically ill person playing a shooter game like Doom or Call of Duty before going on a rampage, the gamer community collectively rolls its eyes: Moving around a mouse and pressing a few keys all day long doesn’t make you good at killing people. But it does make you good at moving around a mouse and pressing a few keys all day long.
Interestingly enough, scarily nicknamed ‘killer games’ have this in common with much more intriguing sounding ‘real-time strategy games‘ like the immensely popular Starcraft series. Top tier real-time strategy players can process more than 400 individual actions per minute. And this is what that looks like. Not every player reaches that level, but the intuitive familiarity with input devices is something that comes to gamers with an alien-seeming ease.
There are a lot of careers where speed, hand-eye coordination and intuitive usage of a user interface provides a huge advantage. It’s a big deal for digital artists as well as audio engineers where input proficiency has a significant impact on productivity. You’ll notice the difference, regardless if you produce The Tim Ferriss Show or draw Batman comics. Not enough money in that? How about traders?
Running an Interstellar Empires Helps You Create a Planetary One
This one may be a bit unfair to the anti-gamer crowd. While EVE Online is technically a game, it does have the reputation of being ‘spreadsheets in space‘. The connection between learning how to do that well and excelling in a more down-to-earth career is fairly easy to make.
EVE Online features extensive resource management and trading between players. The similarity to real-world economic activity extends to organizational politics within player-organized groups, or, as these are referred to in the game: Cooperations. While the complexity and richness of those game dynamics are taken to an exceptional level in EVE Online, the elements themselves are hardly unique to this game alone.
In the aptly named Civilization series, resource management lies at the heart of a player’s success. Nowadays even sports games like FIFA or NBA go beyond mere controller input and heavily feature trading between players. Some players go as far as calling the World of Warcraft auction house a training camp for future Amazon sellers.
An astounding number of games incorporate these elements and offer the opportunity to get ahead by understanding the numbers involved. From seeing the value of market opportunities, to cutting out middle men, to optimizing pricing: It might not be rocket science, but ‘business school’ is definitely in the cards.
Can You Get 20 People to Work for Free? Why Yes, That’s a Business Skill.
Games are fun. To a point. And then they become work. Talking to die-hard gamers, you notice that at some point, a casual hobby becomes a competitive pursuit that is approached with the sincerity you’d expect from a professional athlete or a diligent accountant.
In the gaming world, there are people that organize these elf athletes and orc accountants. Sometimes even commercially (at which point you’re getting into eSports). Yet, even among non-professional gamers, volunteer groups of people who create their own organizations are often the norm rather than the exception.
Leaders of these organizations – usually referred to as guilds or clans – face the same pitfalls and challenges that are often found in their real-world equivalents. They make them believe in a shared objective, coordinate efforts and design schedules. They run a project of volunteers who they do not meet in person, can rarely provide with material incentives and yet have to convince to commit significant hours to following stringent requirements. Compared to that, what is it leading people who actually get paid?
Startups for Gamers
It’s not too far-fetched to explain to people that games can be an outlet for stress. But beyond providing stress relief after a long work day, games can create and reveal the potential for launching your own business. In my case, it was this very connection with games that allowed me to start a successful business that pays for anything from my employees’ health insurance to the hosting for the very blog you are reading.
Gaming Consoles Not Only Console The Unemployed
Hardened criminals on television? Playing PlayStation is usually the most harmless thing you see them doing. Doesn’t that make you wonder if murders were prevented by the potential murderers being too busy playing video games? Turns out, that’s indeed the case: Violent video games reduce crime. It appears drug dealer or career criminal are bad moves for hardcore gamers.
But gaming consoles are not only enjoyed by criminals. Ever heard of Travis Kalanick? He founded a tiny start-up called Uber. While getting that thing off the ground, he managed to tie for #2 Wii tennis player. Worldwide. I don’t think his Wii tennis skills were a necessity for the success of Uber. However, games can reveal the competitive, sometimes obsessive, single-minded focus in individuals. It’s part of a particular kind of weirdness that venture capitalist Chris Sacca seeks in the entrepreneurs he decides to fund.
It’s easy to dismiss an obsession with games as a lack of social skills, a lack of ‘real’ hobbies or a lack of opportunities. However, for some people, rather than being a sign of lacking ability, it may very well indicate that specific weirdness and single-minded focus that’s needed to get something as demanding as an ambitious startup off the ground.
Putting Your 10,000 Hours of Practice to Good Use
Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers sold 1.6 million copies. Its most famous quote? “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.” It refers to the estimated time it takes someone to become an expert in their chosen field.
In what does someone who is just about to enter the workforce have 10,000 hours of experience? Studying is one example. Which is why more people than ever continue doing exactly that. Alternative fields of expertise where graduates have 10,000 hours of experience tend to be things they do out of joy. And for a great many, that’s playing video games.
Gamers don’t need to work in games. But they certainly can. And the beauty of the game industry is that entry barriers are significantly lower than in many other industries: Making a website for your World of Warcraft guild can turn into a USD 58 million, venture capital-backed, company that gets acquired by Amazon. Posting YouTube videos of you playing games for fun can end up in a net worth of USD 78 million.
Very few players will see that kind of success. But the opportunity to give it a shot is open to all. Having extensive experience in an industry where you can start your own thing with little to no investment required is about as even of a playing field as you’ll ever find. Of course I might be biased, because it’s this very gaming experience that allowed me to start my own company.
What About Pokémon Go?
Even games that seemingly convey little cognitive benefits have the potential to contribute to your career. Case in point: Pokémon Go. There’s an app developer from New York who was flown around the world for being the first player to catch all North American Pokémon. While that’s a cool few thousand dollars worth of free travel, the publicity his employer received as a consequence of this probably outweighs that benefit by a magnitude or two. Then there’s the British Mathematician who used part of his summer off to catch ’em all.
Yes, those are people with extra time on their hands. But they also work in some pretty demanding careers – and it seems the skills that those careers require came in quite handy in achieving those game accomplishments. If career skills help you succeed in games, why is it a stretch to think that it works the other way around as well?
Game-savy CEOs and hiring managers may recognize these points. However, the entry-level employee (or algorithm) scanning your resume for keywords might not see it that way. So you’ll have to do a bit of a workaround to get your point and game-inspired qualifications across.
If you think in positive terms about your interactions with games, you may start noticing the soft skills you gained from them. Do you run a YouTube channel covering your Pokémon exploits? That’s initial media experience. Wrote an in-depth forum post about the best way to hatch eggs? Congratulations, you’re on the road to becoming a technical writer. Are you in charge of your clan’s teamspeak server? Excellent, you know a thing or two about VoIP. Did you set up your guild website? Those are your first steps to becoming a web designer. Do you head a top tier raiding guild? If that’s not practical leadership experience, I don’t know what is.
If that sounds a bit over the top, don’t worry – so do personal statements. Selling yourself means recognizing that the skills and experience you accumulated are of value. Putting that value into terms that other people will recognize only means you receive credit where credit is due. Rather than see the time you spent on video games as a waste, consider them as a showcase for your own skills and personality traits that you can advertise as such.
What Does That Mean for You?
Does this mean that if you’re good at Starcraft, you’ll have to draw webcomics or edit podcasts? Not necessarily. Will playing the latest mobile game five hours a day provides you with more job security? Probably not. Should you go through your Steam library before putting together a resume? Okay, maybe.
More importantly though, it means you can stop feeling bad for playing video games. There are already plenty of people out there who think you should do so. You don’t need to add yourself to that group of critics. Games can benefit you and contribute to your future career. Plus, games are plain, awesome, fun. People who don’t recognize that will ultimately lose out on talent, miss out on great colleagues and possibly even harm their own careers.