How Gaming Can Build a Post-Pandemic Future

by | Feb 7, 2022 | Art, Business, Content Marketing

Videogames have long struggled to shed a negative image that dates back to their arrival on the consumer market in the 1980s. Mainstream news media’s response to video gaming has rarely focused on the industry’s technological marvels, nor the deeply interactive multimedia storytelling made possible by the medium. Instead, videogames were dismissed as useless toys or attacked as harmful, expensive distractions. This is to say nothing of gamers themselves, who for decades were defined by the unflattering stereotype of an unwashed, antisocial nerd with no ambitions beyond superficial digital thrills.

Even now, with gaming having outgrown its subculture to become a ubiquitous, all-ages hobby throughout much of the world, authorities continue to argue about its supposed inherent dangers. Screen time, overstimulation, exposure to online communities, and the influence of popular-but-violent franchises like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty all remain hotly contested issues in the fields of parenting, psychology, and education.

A New Day for Gaming’s Public Perception

Today, a parallel narrative about video games has emerged, which is less antagonistic and more nuanced. Thanks to the convergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, advances in social science, and a critical mass of adult gamers entering the workforce, people are asking a very different question: are video games actually… good for you?!

As any fan of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing will be quick to tell you, video games played a crucial role in helping people cling to some semblance of sanity throughout the turmoil and uncertainty of a global pandemic. Since Covid-19’s arrival, I have personally done more online gaming than ever before as a fun way to stay connected with friends and family, and I’ve even logged a couple hundred new hours with my long-lost favorite, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (a fact that I am only very mildly ashamed of).

The Millenials and Gen Z people in my own life consume video games almost like comfort food during trying times. That generational shift in attitudes has done a lot to normalize gaming, both as an effective stress-reliever and a valid form of media (dare we say art). As it turns out, however, the positive benefits of video games go far beyond helping you unwind after a hard day at the office. In fact, your elite gamer status can help you have a successful day from the moment you arrive (or login) to work.

Gamers in the Workforce

While I wouldn’t include Mario and Sonic as references on your next job application just yet, the Covid-19 pandemic has undeniably increased the speed and scope of the worldwide digital revolution. It’s becoming clear that gamers possess unique skills that can effectively translate to that real-world grind.

Here are five ways videogames help prepare us for an increasingly-online world:

1. Coding Skills

It’s almost a cliché at this point to say playing video games makes someone good at coding. On its surface, this statement is no more logical than calling someone a master painter because they enjoy looking at art. There are nonetheless undeniable links between certain videogame skills and the highly technical programming abilities today’s employers need:

  • In-Game Puzzles: The elaborate puzzles found in video games can often be compared to coding problems, at least in an abstract way. Puzzles are a staple in many videogame genres and can take many forms, like unlocking secret doors in an action-adventure RPG, calculating the winning play in a card-based battle game, or casual mobile games that are just massive collections of brain teasers. Most videogame puzzles involve recognizing a pattern, manipulating elements of a larger system to change its output, balancing a visual representation of some sort of equation, or following highly arcane and convoluted instructions—all crucial skills for people who work developing tech.

  • Games Spark Interest in Coding: Just like someone who loves movies is more likely to go to film school, passion for videogames has been sufficient to send many a gamer to a coding boot camp or computer science degree program. Most never make their living in the videogame industry, but its education can open all sorts of other doors. Every industry in the modern world requires people with programming and web development skills.

  • Modding: Some gamers blur the line between gaming and coding by modifying their favorite games. The technical architecture of PC-based games sometimes allows users (intentionally or otherwise) to access and manipulate elements of the game through the back-end, such as by replacing or editing game files or writing entirely new scripts to add functionality. Modding is a great way to ease yourself into coding because fellow modders can be a great source of knowledge, and many mods are open source so that you can play around with someone else’s work (modding a mod, in essence) before trying to write your own from scratch. Major studio games often spawn large, dedicated modding communities, many of which remain active years or even decades after the game’s release (e.g., Skyrim, Minecraft). While “hacking” your favorite game in this way might sound risky or intimidating, it can be easy to get started, depending on the game. The Sims 4, as an example, allows players to add a massive amount of user-created content by simply downloading files and placing them in the correct folder.

2. Reduced Biases

We could all use more understanding and objectivity in these heated times. The stereotype of the angry preteen gamer screaming threats into his Xbox Live headset might lead you to believe video games are in opposition to these values. While there are certainly toxic elements in gamer culture (serious issues with gamers spreading hate speech are well documented), the actual relationship between gaming and bias is more nuanced and may surprise you.

A study published in 2016 used videogames in testing for six specific bias problems that impact good decision-making:

  • Confirmation Bias – evaluating the available evidence in a way that confirms what you already believe.
  • Projection – believing everyone’s thoughts, beliefs, values, and reactions are (or ought to be) the same as yours.
  • Bias Blind Spots – believing that bias exists but that you are personally above being affected by it.
  • Attribution Errors – attributing someone’s behavior to their identity and personality (e.g., “that’s just the way they are”) with no regard for the influence of environmental or situational factors.
  • Anchoring – weighing the first piece of information you receive about an issue more heavily than any subsequent information (i.e., making a snap judgment about a situation and not evolving your viewpoint as new information becomes available).
  • Representativeness – relying on reductive or over-simplistic “rules” to interpret events.

Subjects who played interactive videogames addressing these bias issues consistently demonstrated less bias in decision-making tests than participants who were instead shown non-interactive videos covering the same concepts. The gamer group experienced an impressive 31% reduction in bias following the experiment. That reduction remained significant at 23% when re-tested three months later.

3. Improved Motor Skills

I remember trying “videogames actually improve hand-eye coordination” on my own parents back in the 90s, but the science behind the claim remains solid. A 2016 study used a driving simulator to measure the ability of participants to keep a vehicle in its proper lane under windy conditions. Experienced gamers routinely performed better than non-gamers.

Considering its long legacy, it’s not surprising this classic pro-gaming argument can also be applied to many “old school” jobs. For example, fast physical reaction times in a hazardous industrial environment could help a worker avoid injury, death, or damage to equipment.

In our modern workforce, these same quick-twitch motor skills can translate to a high degree of competence in several areas, such as operating machinery with complex or sensitive controls. Flying a drone is a prime example.

4. Increased Cognitive Abilities

This one won’t go over well with your disapproving aunt who insists video games are “rotting your brain,” but it turns out gamers actually have enhanced attention spans, memories, and problem-solving skills when compared to the average non-gamer.

The website Healthygamer compiled an impressive list of studies that speak to the various effects of video games on the human brain and came to the conclusion that gaming actually “improve[s] the cognitive abilities that society values.”

Some of the more specialized mental benefits of gaming that have been identified include:

  • Ability to focus on a task for extended periods despite distracting stimuli
  • Ability to track moving objects at high speed
  • Enhanced ability to form memories (in addition to better memory recall)

Even the first-person shooter genre, long maligned for its realistic violence and crude objective (i.e., “shoot the other player”), is being reconsidered in light of some surprising research. An analysis of available studies in 2013 concluded that first-person shooter games greatly improve a player’s ability to think in three-dimensional space (as well as their memory, perception, and reasoning). Interestingly, this enhanced spatial awareness was not observed when studying “brainier” genres like RPGs or puzzle games—meanwhile, first-person shooters improved three-dimensional thinking just as well as academic courses specifically designed to teach those skills.

According to preliminary research, gamers might even be better protected against Alzheimer’s and other degenerative mental conditions.

5. Networking, Branding, and Marketing

Modern gaming is social. It defies the popular perception of the gamer locked alone in the basement with a sweaty death-grip on their PlayStation controller, no connection to the world beyond, measuring the passage of time through emptied Mountain Dew bottles.

Our new, content-driven economy means that just about any activity that other people enjoy can be live-streamed and monetized. Videogames, with their flashy visuals and dedicated fan communities, are a perfect fit for that model.

Platforms like Twitch and YouTube get hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of new gaming content uploaded every single day, and the most popular channels have millions of viewers. For a gamer to turn themselves into a successful streaming brand, however, doesn’t just require them to slay at Fortnite. Effective streamers are those who develop the same self-promotion and networking skills that would be used when starting a business or trying to climb the proverbial corporate ladder.

What really is a Twitch stream anyway? Just a Zoom call with explosions and sick graphics.

Leo Siren

Leo Siren

Leo Siren is a freelance content creator from Michigan's Upper Peninsula drawing on his multifaceted experience as a public librarian, assistant harbormaster, financial software systems analyst, and forklift operator to deliver innovative, high performing content in a range of text and audio formats. His personal interests include the electric banjo, referencing Elder Scrolls lore in everyday conversations, attempting to identify wild mushrooms, and various other things that upset the people around him.