Tobold's Blog
Friday, August 14, 2015
Training useless skills

Jessica from Herding Cats reports on 5 ways being into games have helped her career. Things like networking, podcasting, raid organization and guild leadership provided her with skills that were applicable to real world situations, and thus helped her career. What struck me about the list, and similar lists I've seem over the years, is that all the skills listed that you can learn from playing a MMORPG are skills that are ancillary to the game.

A large number of players will play the same MMORPG *without* ever learning speaking skills from a podcast, writing skills from a blog, or leadership skills from organizing a raid guild. You'll rarely be asked for those skills if you apply in a top guild. Instead the main skill required to be a top raider is hand-eye coordination: Seeing what happens on the screen and pressing the appropriate key within a short reaction time. That is a skill that is trained by a number of different video games. And there are very few real world jobs in which that skill is of much use (fighter pilot?).

A "seriouz gamer" will look down with disdain on games like hidden object games, which are rather popular (especially with a female audience) on various online or mobile platforms. Or the various match 3 games or other puzzle games. But I would say that those games are more likely to train skills that are useful in the real world than the core skills of most hardcore games. Even Angry Birds teaches you more about physics than a shooter. And you'd better not try to survive in the wild with the "skills" you picked up playing DayZ.

I don't believe that violent games turn people violent. If games would influence real life behavior strongly, I'd be more worried about racing games, because it is more likely that a gamer is behind the wheel of a real car than at the trigger of a real Kalashnikov. However I do believe that games can teach you things and train certain skills. So my main criticism of violent hardcore games isn't that they might affect players negatively, but that I think they fail to affect players positively, they don't teach them useful skills.

I think you are severely underestimating the necessary social skills learned in being a "top raider." For example, the #1 skill isn't hand-eye coordination, the #1 skill is being able to follow instructions. Good reflexes are important, but if you are not where you are supposed to be, or not switch to the adds when the raid leader tells you to, then you are frequently less than useless. Then you have to learn to actually get along with these other individuals in a high-pressure environment, or at least keep drama to a minimum. Then there are time management skills, including showing up every Tuesday at 8pm, using off-days to farm extra gear/flasks/whatever and so on.

Although I ended up being a GM and Raid Leader for most of my WoW time, another skill that has certainly came in handy in my present career is being able to compartmentalize my disdain for someone as an individual and yet get along with them to accomplish goals. That guy with the grating personality? Yeah, you need him right now to down this boss. Maybe you can /gkick him after the raid, but otherwise there isn't time to find a replacement.

Ironically, Blizzard has been making kicking these players easier and easier with the Flex raid system.
I did very poorly in English at school, D- average, barely passed. It wasn't until I started playing "Dragon's Gate" in 1993 and started using GEnie's bulletin board service that I took English seriously and made an effort to learn the things I SHOULD have learned in high school. I'm sure I'm no whiz at it today, but I try.

I like to put learning opportunities in games. In a space game I wrote, I made the ship's velocity display in "Micro Parsecs per Hour (ups/H)" because, if you do the math, the orbit of the earth fits nicely into a grid of micro-parsecs 10 across. You didn't have to do the math, you didn't even have to care, your speed was just a number that you could compare with other speeds. I just did it on the off chance someone would notice and try to figure it out. I have no idea if anyone did.
I've written about it 5 years ago (damn, it's been a while):

The main point is: The task (bossfight) is completely repetitive, does not need any intelligent thinking. No one expects more from you than the McDonalds manager expect from the workers: read the not so complicated user's manual, stick to it, do what your direct manager says, have your uniform on, don't be late, don't be drunk, don't slack.

WoW is a blue-collar simulator and teaches good skills for a blue collar. I would definitely pick a "pro gamer" if I'd want to hire a technician, a farmhand or shopkeeper, because he has proven work ethic and discipline. You seem to forget that most of the workers of the planet are still blue collars.
Languages, languages, languages. Playing in a large world in which people communicate in a specific language is a great way to practice it. With many MMOs having localized servers and clients, you can even choose from a fairly wide range of major European languages.
You do have to wonder just how useful the skills a more intelligent game really teaches you.

I really love playing Kerbal Space Program, and I've learned so much more about orbital mechanics and the space program for having played it. But this knowledge is utterly inapplicable to my life. It doesn't in any way benefit me. I play the game for fun, I enjoy learning these things because learning the system is fun, not because I derive benefit. I love managing cities, organizing supply chains, or leading a nation to global dominance, but these aren't really skills I can apply well in my day to day life.

But then you look at a typical moba or mmo with a toxic community and the takeaway lesson is often 'How can I work with a group of people I don't know well, and generally dislike, and yet still accomplish my goal?' That's a skill you'll spend the rest of your life exercising. Worth thinking about.
Always worth noting that you can develop actual job-applicable skills at an actual job, while getting paid for it. I do get that some people are in a unique situation, however, and might pick up some skills of benefit across a spectrum where they might not otherwise be able to....but such individuals in my experience already face a severe learning curve in terms of whatever problems they specifically face (organizational, social, what-not).

@Tobold on the risk of car games and bad driving: I gather you don't play those games much.....the worst I could say about them (I accidentally discovered that I really enjoyed this genre of games around 2008-2009) is they might inspire you to drive a bit more, but the physics of every car game I have ever played, along with the limited player perspective and the problem that in games you bounce back while in real life you don't, makes actually correlating a virtual driving experience with a real one pretty much impossible, and IMO less problematic than FPSes....which capitalize on the glory and concept of guns regardless of whether they depict anything "real."

Keep in mind I was a compulsive street racer in 1990-1992ish and even did some pretty risky stuff that in retrospect I can't believe I thought was remotely smart. Today I'm ridiculously safe on the times change. My only hope for my son is that by the time he can drive in 2027 self-driving cars are standard protocol.
WoW doesn't even train hand eye coordination!

Anybody who played WoW for six months exclusively will get CREAMED if they go back to shooters or any game with real hand-eye coordination demands. Just slaughtered. It was terrible.

Only guild officers/raid leaders will gain anything from WoW in terms of something they can take away from the game. I think shooters do help a bit with actual firearms use, but not, you know, more than spending 10 minutes at the range. I do suspect that I picked up turkey calling relatively easily because I was used to making small gestures with my hands due to those knobs on consoles. I think sports games help you understand the game better.

But yeah, not a lot of crossover skills.
I listed 'raid leading in WoW' on my business school application. It worked.
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