The Working Player: Real Life Skills from Video Games

I don’t tell many people I game.  In meatspace, I mean.  People who know my flesh-name.  Here, on good old cyberspace, where I am the Aether, I talk about it all the time.  It’s not that I’m ashamed of my passion.  Far from it.  But there is a problem with the way a lot of people react to it, I’ve learned.  See, people who don’t play video games don’t understand videogames.  Go figure.  And people who don’t understand videogames put a lot of mental baggage on videogames, and that baggage doesn’t fit with the image of the hypercompetent supersexy professional I have to present to most of the world.

So yeah.  Most of the people in my life don’t know that I love video games.  All in the name of getting them to take me more seriously in my work.

Which, after some thinking I’ve been doing recently, seems real ironic.  As it turns out, I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten plenty of my professional skills from gaming.

I was talking with a group of clients recently, discussing the importance of doing a skills inventory on oneself.  Yes, this is boring work stuff, but hold on, we’ll be back to the fun gaming content you know and love soon.  In any case, as I often do, I just dove right into talking about myself, highlighting some of my most marketable skills.  The conversation turned to where those skills came from, and, well, while all of them I have actually spent time developing in the work place, there were some of these that, as I traced the path of where I built them up, seemed to have some definite roots in my life as a player.

And you know, that was really interesting to me.  Obviously that means it’s interesting to you, too.  So let’s take a look at some of the skills my secret superhero identity as a player has helped me with in my professional life.

Regulation/Policy Navigation

In my current job, I work in government, administering a program that ties in federal, state, and county level government actions.  And as you may well know, government loves it some red tape.

In my last job, for the record, I worked for a nonprofit, and a big chunk of it was in helping other people get through the good old bureaucracy as well.

Hell, even beyond just exterior government red tape, I’m great at both navigating and building those within the organization as well.  Building business plans, planning for contingencies, and most of all, keeping all the myriad policies and procedures in mind and calling them up at the appropriate situations, those are all things I’m quite fantastic at.

And I’m great at all of those.  Always have been, even while I was still in college and hadn’t yet entered the real world proper where you never have money or time but find yourself with a hell of a lot more responsibility.  I started my career better at this than people who’ve been working at it for years.

And that’s because it’s something I’ve been working at through gaming ever since I was a child.  Games, whether video or tabletop, are all about the rules.  Deeper games have more rules.  Many games have a lot of rules that only apply in specific situations.  Most have rules that can interplay in odd ways.  Many games, RPGs in particular, have special rules that you can impose on it yourself.

And if you’re going to get any good at these games, you’ll have to learn these rulesets.  Pokemon’s a great example of this.  17 types of Pokemon and attacks which form the foundation for success in the single player games, a deceptively complex system of stats and growth and impacts, and how many people do you know who have that all memorized?  And not just memorized, internalized, to the point they can build their critters just the way they want them and can always call up the right attack to use without even thinking about it?  It’s not just RPGs, either.  Any game, from the big brainiest puzzles to the dumbest of shootbangers have their own rulesets that understanding is absolutely vital to success.

And really, I’ve found that the parellels between understanding the ways a games rulesets work, and the ways an organization’s systems of established behaviours work, are quite strong.  You may not be able to predict the behavior of people based on gaming systems, but the behavior of entities actually go by similar metrics.  It’s all about setting bounds for people who are cooperating with you and within your authority to act within towards a desired overall goal you both share from different perspectives.  Really, from a game designer of a manager/government-crony, it’s all the same.

Perseverance

I’ve been mentioning it over her occasionally, so if you’ve been following us for a while, you know full well that I’d been looking for a new job for quite a while before I landed in my current one.  Over three years, specifically, more than most anyone you’ve ever heard of.  For a good long while, that was the main focus in my life, and I was just failing at that over and over and over and over again.

I stuck with it, however.  That’s a big problem with unemployment from an economic development perspective, that when people stay unemployed for long enough, most everyone will just give up looking for a job, and leave the workforce entirely.  Not me, however, I stuck with it, and eventually, it did work out for me.  My new job is helping people on welfare find jobs.

Yeah, the irony is not lost on me, either.  Turns out, though, I am absolutely fantastic at it.  And I attribute that all to the amount of time I spent failing at my own job search.  The three years I spent job hunting led me to see pretty much everything hirers have going on, and I am an expert of the hiring process like no other, simply because I have gained so much experience at it, through my failure.

I started gaming in an era where games hated you.  Limited tolerance for screw-ups and an abundance of cheap deaths meant if you wanted your fun, you were guaranteed to fail countless times before you made it work.  And games were not just hard, they were punishing.  You screwed up, and it was back to the beginning with you.  As the medium developed and started to become more, the punishment and cheap deaths started to fall away, while tolerance for minor screw-ups increased, but never to the point that failure is not a constant companion with games.  If games are too easy, after all, that starts to sap the fun of it.  And I’ve had a lot of practice picking myself up from my gaming failures.  You all watched me do that over and over again with my Dark Souls run.  Eating those failures, in life, at anything, learning from them, and getting up again, it’s not an easy thing.  And it’s really not an easy thing to be doing constantly.  I wonder if I would have been able to do that if I didn’t already have the years of experience from my gaming.

Also, this totally works for romance too, in case you were wondering.

Resource Management

Yeah, this one’s a relatively simple parallel.  Real world budgeting and resource management is way, way, way more complex than anything I’ve found in video games.  There is absolutely no way, no matter how good your 4X Strategy Empire is running, you can transfer that right over into managing a program budget without some additional education/experience.  But you know, it does at least give you the basic principles to use.  This is not one I’ve really mentally explored enough to explain, but I have found it kind of interesting that I take a similar approach to managing my time and my program’s resources as I do to financial management in plenty of the games I play.

Honestly, a lot of resource management is just fitting pieces of a puzzle together.  Most games that have a resource management aspect have you juggle a lot less puzzle pieces than do your given job, and the puzzles may be a lot more complex, but a lot of the foundation is still there.  Just a measure of learning the additional steps.

Stress Management

Yeah, so this may not so much be a skill as a result from gaming, but I thought I’d include it anyways.  I work in the welfare field.  I deal with people going through some of the worst times in their lives.  Burnout is a constant risk that my organization and many others are contributing a lot of time and energy to try and fight against.  And things aren’t always dandy there.  A good part of the reason my already slow rate of posting has gotten even slower is that there are some days where work has been so rough that I just get home and I cannot do anything productive anymore.

But I’ve found video games to be a great way of refreshing myself.  My clients often unload  an emotional weight on me, and I take that, because, well, that’s my job, and I’m a professional.  But that eats at you, and those emotions need to be worked out, and in a far shorter timeframe than actually solving those problems takes before they deliver harm.

And you know what, I’ve found video games to be invaluable for that.  It’s a little hokey and childish, maybe, but spending that time being absolutely immersed in something else, completely forgetting about myself and what I’m going through, that’s one of the biggest things keeping me refreshed and helping me manage the emotional burdens I find myself carrying.  Because of that, video games are just making me a better worker in general.

All told, with all those skills given, it seems like real life is just the rather disappointing sequel to your favorite video game.

Debriefing the Film Fest

Dubai-Filmfestival-2010

So, last post, I mentioned that my week was not being kind to me.  It was shaking me down for time like a mobster to a dry cleaning store.  There was a reason for that.  For the past while, I’ve been working on a pretty large project.  Getting together a film festival.  Last week, and over the weekend, it happened.  It took a lot of time, a lot of labor, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but it happen.  Although, in retrospect, the blood, sweat, and tears swimming pool was probably less of an attraction than I’d initially expected.  We could have done without that.  Still, I devoted a large portion of my life to pulling off this film festival, and now it’s done with.  That’s good!  But since it put so much of myself into it, even now, the festival’s still riding on my mind, so I wanted to take the opportunity to mentally put this stuff to rest by writing bits of my experience out.  Care to join me?

Unfortunately, our film festival was nowhere near as sexy as the picture above.  We’re still a very young festival, only in our second year, hosted in a small, rural location in a quiet mountain community.  We had booked one of the largest auditoriums in the area, and we could still only seat a few hundred people per showing without getting the fire department saying some very nasty things about us.  We’re a small event, is what I’m saying.  Still, that’s not entirely a bad thing.  We get enough people in that it’s worth us to show the films, worth the filmmakers screening the films, and worth the community to learn a bit of culture.  Trust me, that last one?  We need it here.

Anyways as a small operation, we have a pretty small team.  Last year we had about sizeable group managing the project, each taking up a different part of the duties and making sure the thing went off without a hitch.  This year?  Less than half of that.  We had the same amount of work to do, but with far less people to do so.  We did have a team of volunteers to help review films and work at the festival itself, but all the prep, organization, and heavy lifting?  Done by a fairly small committee.  That did have its benefits.  Last year we had the problem in that we just weren’t organized.  People were just taking whatever tasks they wanted, which left some areas with way more people than they needed, and some weren’t covered at all.  We ran a far smoother ship this year.  On the other hand… yeah.  Everyone was doing at least 2-3 different jobs.  FWhich, considering I was supposed to be doing this on a volunteer basis was a bit much.  I am really, really glad my employer was one of the sponsors of the event, because if they didn’t bend the rules and let me take care of this stuff on work time, I never would have been able to get through it.  We desperately needed another 2-3 people joining us on this project, just to take the load off of us.  I burnt out on it a couple of weeks before it actually started, and I can’t imagine I was the only one.

I’ve handled finances before for a wide variety of projects.  This was the first time that I’ve done so with a committee that wasn’t run by people with a lot of business/project management experience, however.  And that flipped things way the hell on its head.  One of the first things I learned this year is that I had to play the finances really close to the chest.  Money’s a powerful thing.  Money can change people.  Last year’s festival, we built it up from scratch.  This year’s festival, we had resources.  And that stuck in people’s heads.  I don’t normally like to keep people in the dark about what we’re able to do, but I had to this year.  Basically myself and the board of the festival’s parent organization were the only ones with a complete idea of the budget, everyone else had to be kept mostly in the dark.  Which, honestly ended up working out rather well.  The board was relatively flexible to what people wanted, but it did mean that they had to work out reasonable costs, what they think they could get approved rather than spending all of the money forever.  Things actually worked a bit more smoothly the less people knew of the total budget, which was quite the opposite of what I thought would actually happen.

Marketing was probably the biggest responsibility leading up to the festival, at least on my plate.  I was getting word out there pretty much every way I could think of.  The most effective marketing ended up coming from a pretty surprising source, however.  We got our program guides printed a week earlier than I expected, so I decided to use the extra time and get those out there with all the rest of the material.  And that probably got more people there than anyone else.  Everywhere I dropped them off with ran out.  Everyone I talked to about the festival left with a program.  I barely had enough for the festival itself.  It makes sense, telling people they can watch some cool films is one thing, but telling them they can watch these cool films is another.  Still, printing the programs was one of our biggest expenses, and I had thought that dollar for dollar, we’d be getting more worth elsewhere.  Nope, the festival programs probably brought in more people than any 3-4 marketing techniques combined.    Newspaper, radio, online ads, none of that worked so well as talking to people and handing them little pieces of paper stapled together.  Who knew.

One big revelation that I had already kind of suspected: the place I live is full of uncultured boors!  One thing that really seemed odd to me is that a lot of people wanted to live in the type of place that has a film festival more than they actually wanted to go to a film festival.  We’re still not big enough to be able to run the whole event off of our profits, so we have a lot of community groups and organizations providing grants and sponsorships, simply because they want the festival.  I sent all of them free festival passes as a thank you.  Not one of them got used.  And I should have expected it, but most of the locals were really only interested in films that affected them.  The two screenings I considered to be the best, most powerful ones were also the least attended.  The ones with the highest attendance were generally lighter, more surface-level stuff that were either made by local filmmakers with lots of connections or were made about local matters.