Playing Video Games Isn’t a Waste of Time, After All

This past holiday season, parents who buy Sony Corp.’s PlayStation 3, Nintendo Co.’s Wii, Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox 360 or the latest online game need not feel guilty. Turns out that young people – and adults – aren’t wasting time when they’re playing video games. We got the Wii!!!

Whether they’re tapping away on video game controllers or the keys of their computers in increasingly popular online games, today’s game players are acquiring the skills that companies increasingly value as the gaming generation enters the workforce.

In fact, the skills needed to succeed in gaming can help young people “to be more sociable, develop strategic thinking and become better leaders in life,” according to a book, “The Kids are Alright: How the Gamer Generation is Changing the Workplace.” The authors, John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade, say that games “deserve” a role in helping young people grow into adults because they require them to use different mental and social skills, often simultaneously.

With that in mind, thousands of universities around the world now have access to Innov8, IBM’s new “serious game,” available at no charge. We developed the game to help university students and young professionals develop a combination of business and information IT skills, important attributes needed to compete in a global economy.

Over the past two decades, IT professionals have had to break out of their comfort with proprietary systems as the industry moved to client-server computing and then to open computing. Today’s move to Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is asking both IT and line of business professionals to acquire cross-over skills in each other’s domains. That’s why the game stresses learning activities that combine IT acumen with business skills.

Much like pilots who use flight simulators to learn how to fly airplanes, students of IT management studies who grew up playing video games can benefit from engaging in learning activities in the way they like to learn.

By interacting with the video game, students can make decisions about real-life business situations, such as re-designing a call center process. They can see the results of their decisions right away, and if they make a mistake, it’s much more private than “failing” in front of a classroom of their colleagues. Because a love of gaming is shared around the world, professors have told us the game can help to bridge cultural barriers.

The trend is spreading.

According to The Apply Group, a marketing consultant, at least 100 of the Global Fortune 500 will use gaming to educate their employees by 2012, with the United States, United Kingdom and Germany leading the way.

While it’s too soon to measure the full implications, there’s a new business environment emerging. If hundreds of thousands of players organize themselves to successfully complete specific endeavors during their “play” time, will they be content during work hours in organizational structures used since the Industrial Revolution, with central command and control? Chances are they’re more likely to want to work on virtual teams distributed around the world, undertaking multiple endeavors, taking advantage of the thought processes that succeeded for them in online gaming.

As employers, we cannot ignore the changing group dynamics. In fact, we should tap into the most innovative ideas to redefine the fundamental nature of computing. Just as games present us with situations that invite players to make choices, consider the advantage of using graphics and decision-making steps of games in business. Supply chain software and customer relationship software could allow decision makers to immerse themselves in the real-world simulations, judging cause and effect before making decisions.

The possibilities are huge — and not just for business.

The application of serious gaming techniques in science, medicine and other industries could help us solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.

The term “serious gaming” no longer is an oxymoron. Not just competition for employees’ attention, there’s endless opportunity if we harness the power of games to get work done.

Who else is going Gaming? Check out what we are doing!