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.


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.

Random Rantings of a Young Professional

It’s hard in the modern workplace.  For pretty much everyone.  Every single category of workers you could break someone down into faces their own unique challenges in the office.  Take me, for instance.  I graduated college and entered the workforce a few years early, and the place I’ve been working for since has really placed a lot of responsibility on me, so I’ve ended up with a lot more job skills and experience than most my age have.  Youth is definitely an asset.  It’s pretty awesome being young.  If you haven’t yet, you should give it a try sometime.  However, inexperience is a problem, and youth and inexperience often go hand in hand.  And when my organization is making use of one of their key personnel and project managers who isn’t anywhere close to reaching 30, people tend to see the latter far more than the former.

There are a couple things I could be doing about it.  I could foster and make apparent a strong work ethic.  I could make it clear I expect to be taken as seriously as anyone else in my position.  I could start wearing masks to work so nobody could tell my real age.  Or I could cry about it for a while on some out of the way blog that for whatever reason gets a lot more popular when I haven’t posted for a while.  I imagine those would all have the same effect.

From what I’ve gathered, it doesn’t matter what field you’re working in; if you’re young, and in a white-collar job, people who don’t know you will always assume you’re a tech.  Once, I had gone to a presentation at a major industry conference.  As they were setting up, they were running into some technical issues, and all their support staff were off working on something out.  The presenter looked across the crowd, singled me out, and asked me to help him out, assuming that because I was the youngest person in the room I knew how to handle computers.  And that’s far from an isolated incident.  It seems that at any conference or multi-group meeting I and my boss always have to keep emphasizing my job, else people just assume I’m there to talk about computers and nothing else.  Sad thing is, I actually am pretty good at working with tech, but I always feel hesitant to show that publicly, for fear of getting pigeonholed into that role and having nobody take me seriously for anything else.

It’s an odd experience, having an older colleague along to such a gathering and hearing how others will interact with them in regards to me.  I work in an organization that fits a couple different common non-profit subsets, and one thing I’ve noticed in the various fields I interact with is that they really tend to employ the older generation a lot more than other industries might.  And the older generation seems to assume they just can’t get mine, and makes a lot of sweeping generalizations to compensate.  I used to dress a bit more formally than most at industry events, thinking that’d show me as being serious about my work.  I had to stop after everyone kept asking my colleagues if I was goth/alt/whatever subculture they had most recently heard of.

I have long hair.  That might exacerbate my problems.  Or it might not.  I have no idea, because nobody’s ever talked about it with me.  I kind of wish someone would, at least one of these people I’ve been interviewing with, so that at least I might be able to blame that for being the reason I’m unable to switch jobs.   The local Amish community seem to love working with me, though, and if anyone would take issue with my hair, it’d probably be them.  I did have one manager at a partner organization sit down with me at a dinner meeting once, and tell me all about her younger sister who is covered with tattoos and still gets high level work and how great it is that the younger generation is standing their ground and forcing companies to accept non-traditional appearances.  Because apparently women haven’t been showing up at work with long hair for decades.  That was a little awkward.

We host quite a few events.  Which, given my role, means that I do a lot of events management, getting logistics together, arranging speakers, etc.  I don’t know if this is unique to just being young, but my boss gets directly thanked and recognized for a lot of the work I do, while nobody will even mention my name.  Odd thing is I know this irritates her as much as I.

Speaking of events, it’s pretty common for us to be making presentations at various occasions.  I’m actually pretty experienced at getting up and giving a speech to a crowd.  Absolutely nobody expects it.  It’s kind of funny to see the looks on people’s faces when we’re scheduled for a presentation, and rather than the distinguished personnel they were expecting, some twenty-something shows up to speak.  In fact, last week, I was at a forum that my boss was scheduled to introduce the speakers at, except nobody bothered to inform her, so she wasn’t there.  I, of course, would have been the next best option, having worked with the speakers and their project on a number of occasions.  But I’m young, and nobody expects young people to give a coherent speech in front of others.  So they asked some other guy who had never worked with the group before to do it.

And, of course, my age definitely plays into job searching.  My job really values professional development, especially in their key personnel, so I’ve got work experience most people would have to wait a few years to pick up.  I’m not looking to go down a level in my job search, so when I’m applying for jobs, I’m competing against people mostly five to ten years older.  In some cases, inexperience does play a factor.  I’ve been pushed through training and challenging assignments, but there’s still some things you can only truly pick up by putting in the years to learn it, and in those areas, I am truly behind.  But I’ve been starting to wonder if it’s truly an issue of skills.  I’ve often seen people seem obviously thrown off upon seeing me for the first time in an interview, and have had quite a few organizations who seem really interested over the phone turn absolutely disengaged for the in-person interview.  One of the worst was just last week.  I had gone through four stages of the interview process before finally being granted an in-person interview, drove five hours to reach the place, and could just tell upon entering the room that the interviewers had already made up their minds.

Well, that’s just some random thoughts I wanted to get off my mind, and figured I’d take advantage of this forum.  See you next time for some actual quality posts!

Stuck in the Gamer Closet


The Penny Arcade Report had an article that caught my eye recently.  Well, it’s less of a real article and more of just them reporting on what their readers tell them, but hey, they’re trying.  Anyways, the feature, covering the stigma behind being known as a gamer in the workplace, drew my attention because it’s something I can specifically relate to.  As you may be able to guess from reading this blog, I really enjoy my video games.  If you’ve made your way to this post, I’m guessing you do too.  So I’m sure both you and I know well the dirty looks and awkward conversations one can get once it’s known that they know their way around the control.  Well, I know from experience that stigma only gets worse in the white color workplace, and I figured I’d take the opportunity to make my own history with the subject known.

My workplace gives me free reign on a lot of things.  I’m a male, yet I have the longest hair in the office.  I usually show up with earrings in and my shirts unbuttoned enough to show off a fair bit of chest.  I generally work with metal music playing on my office computer.  I am constantly distracting my coworkers with my incredible good looks.  What I’m trying to say here is that my workplace is far from strict about almost any aspect of my behavior.  In fact, they’ve occasionally encouraged my dress and actions, in situations where it’s helpful to emphasize my youth and “hipness”, as they put it.  One thing they won’t tolerate, however, is me being open about playing video games.

It wasn’t always this way.  Once upon a time, I was 17 years old, and just starting with the organization.  Back then, I was really only interested in two things, girls and video games, and in spite of what television would have you believe, talking about women gets boring really quickly.  So I mostly chatted with my fellows about video games.  Eventually though, I graduated college, most people wrongly assumed I had matured, and I was promoted to a managerial role withing the organization.  I quickly learned then to just shut up about video games.  Nobody’s ever gone the lengths discussed in the Penny Arcade Report Feature; I was never bullied or given extra work because of my hobby.  But it was made very clear to me that I have to keep it to myself.  Don’t talk about it at the office, don’t have my name connected with anything online about video games, basically keep my hobby out of sight of any of our clients or anyone involved in our organization.

The need for that is pretty apparent to me.  Many times, I’ve had some of our more talkative clients assume that because I’m a professional, that means I don’t have any fun, and regale me with tales of how video games are corrupting our youth and are turning Obama into the antichrist or something like that.  I don’t know how many people believe that, but the perception is there, including among the people I need to be catering to.  Even among those that don’t think that video games are literally spawned from Hell, gaming is still seen as very unprofessional.  At best, it’s seen as just a waste of time, and at worst, video games are still little toys for stupid babies who still need their diapers.  And yes, even with those who are not actively against video games, that perception is still rampant.

The only other medium that seems to get this treatment is comics.  I can talk about whatever movies I want freely.  I’m a very well known fan in the office of fantasy and sci-fi literature, and nobody’s had a problem with that.  Yet video games and comics are supposed to be beneath me.

Part of it is that perceptions of video games have not caught up with reality.  Video games can handle some very advanced subject matter, can spawn some serious thought, and have been studied more and more over the years.  Yet they’re still viewed as immature diversions by the general public.  Another part is that our community, well, the most visible of us are not always doing the best things.  There are those who think that the people who respond to any criticism of games with rape/death threats truly represent all of us.  And I’m sure there are a lot more factors going into this perception, some of which are in our control, many of which aren’t.  But the fact remains that’s it’s hard to be an open gamer in general society, and even harder to do so in a supposedly professional workplace.

The Work-Induced Writer’s Block


I like to write.  It’s kind of a strange thing I feel.  I don’t normally seek to have my work read.  Usually, anything creative I make is for my eyes alone, or that of a small group of close friends.  I don’t really crave an audience for my work, but I like to write anyway.  I like to create worlds, characters, and stories, I like putting my thoughts into words, I like slipping blatant remarks about how good I look into blocks of text, and I like taking what’s in my mind and giving it a more permanent form.  It’s an activity I find very engaging, and it really gives me a lot of fulfillment.

Sometimes, I have to do a lot of writing for my job.  And not the fun kind of writing.  I’m not in the right industry for that.  I get to do a lot of writing for foundation grants, government paperwork, and various other pieces of bureaucratic necessity.  And lately, it’s been hitting the time of year where it seems that all I’m doing for eight hours a day is stare at a word processor while my fingers numbly type words onto the screen.  In small amounts, I don’t mind it.  It’s just part of the job, and while it may not be the most fun thing to do, it’s something that’s well within my abilities.  The problems only come up when I’m spending hours upon hours of doing that.  Is it possible to get writing fatigue?  If so, it feels like that’s what I have.  After a long enough time of being forced to write the most droll things imaginable, it gets to the point where I’m just numbly typing words onto the screen.  I lose the feeling of a good piece of prose just being “right” for the idea I’m trying to get across, and anything I type feels dull, bland, and just slightly off the mark of what I was trying to convey, no matter how good the work actually is upon review.

The worst part is, this feeling follows me home.  Writing too much at work leaves me too burnt out to do any quality writing for enjoyment.  Just yesterday, I was working on one of the large blog posts I have planned, and I had to can most everything I did because it all feels just slightly wrong.  I have been putting too many words on the page over the past week, and they’re all starting to run together in my head.  It’s not a problem with ideas, I know exactly what I’m wanting to get down.  It’s a problem with finding the words.  Everything I write just seems to fail at getting the idea across.

I know I’m not alone in this problem.  Talking to others, I’ve heard several accounts of people just writing too much of the wrong thing, and not being able to mentally switch tracks back to what they really want to write.  What do you do about it, though?  That’s one thing I haven’t heard a solid answer to.  Me?  Apparently, I write blog posts about writer’s block.  Let’s see if that fixes anything.