Use gamer skills to help your career
No matter what industry you're in, the strats you hone playing video games can help you get ahead.
Maxfield Lierow spent a lot of time playing video games as a kid.
“I remember my friend and I tried to beat Star Fox Adventures—we’d spend our weekends and hours after school on the same thing,” he says. “That taught us both patience. The reward of waiting and trying, and continuing to try.”
Today, Lierow uses many of the strategies and principles he learned from games in his professional life as a trading specialist at a media buying company. (The game Returnal, for example, taught him the value of cutting your losses and starting over when it comes to implementing a campaign strategy.)
He’s far from alone — here’s how gaming strategies can help you at work.
Becoming a team player
Lierow is a fan of Rocket League, a game in which you essentially play soccer as a radio control car. Like IRL soccer, most players gravitate to the sexy work of scoring goals. But instead of chasing down the ball, Lierow began hanging back to tend goal. While it wasn’t initially his first choice—scoring goals is more fun—he realized he had a knack for defense.
There’s an easy analogy to be made here to the working world, which often demands we perform tasks or develop skill sets we wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for ourselves but are important to the overall team’s performance. This is particularly true for entry-level roles: Lierow’s first job in advertising involved handling billings. He hated billings and yet it was integral, both for the overall success of his department and his career. (Being proficient at a crucial task most people don’t want to deal with is a good way to secure a better job down the line.)
Developing new skills in a low-stakes environment
Raffael Boccamazzo, a clinical director at a mental health nonprofit, wasn’t diagnosed with autism and ADHD until he was in his mid-30s. As a kid, life was confusing, governed by rules he couldn't see much less master. “Video games became a place where I could feel a sense of empowerment,” he says. “I understood the frameworks of video games, even if I didn't understand the frameworks of social situations.”
A fan of tabletop role-playing games, Boccamazzo painstakingly created charismatic characters—a direct foil to his actual existence, in which “I was bullied to hell and back,” he says. After years of leading this double life, he was hit with a realization: The characters he’d created were not autonomous from his “real” self. If he could be socially engaging in a game, he might be able to replicate it offline, despite the messier dynamics. “It just became a matter of trying to figure out how to adapt those skills that I had in this environment to real life.”
At first, Boccamazzo approached the process like he was designing a game, navigating conversations as if they were story trees. But with practice, social interaction came more naturally—to the point many people at work can’t identify he struggles with non-verbal cues.
Practicing communication and emotional regulation
Most of psychologist Kelli Dunlap’s patients are gamers. Many find keeping a mood log “too fluffy, or they just don't have time,” she says. Asking them to notice the way they feel as they play certain games, however, is an easier lift.
For patients working on anger management or communication issues, Dunlap often recommends the mobile games Spaceteam and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. Both require players to compare intel in order to complete a shared mission. “There's this asynchronous information sharing,” Dunlap says. “Some people have answers. Some people have access, but nobody has both. And so it really requires this kind of teamwork and patience and understanding and clear communication.”
In a controlled environment with structured stakes, the repercussions of expressing uncomfortable emotions or dealing with the aftermath of ugly ones can feel more manageable.
“Games are one of those things that allow us to experience the full range of human emotions that maybe we typically avoid,” Dunlap says.
Thanks for reading the ABK Edit! Subscribe to receive posts like this straight to your inbox.