The first year I started working, I remember hesitating to buy a game console in order to play in my spare time. Despite the cost, what made me hesitate was the idea that I was an adult and should act as such. Pondering upon this colloquial “rich people problem”, I talked to one of my best friend who told me: “Paul, a man needs the ability to play”; needless to say, these zombies did not see what was coming their way. A little later in life, I was re-introduced to what is now my favorite game, Magic: The Gathering (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a HUGE nerd). I can safely say that this game really changed my professional life. Combined with the reading of Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety from Charlie Hoehn, I decided to spend this week talking about the importance of gaming for your career. A few disclaimers to start. First, I am talking about gaming, and choose not to talk about playing, because playing might infer physical activities, and I think that the benefits of regular physical activities are so evident, they don’t need another blog post about that, plus I believe there is a distinct advantage in sitting down and playing a game as opposed to go outside and play sports; that being said, I realize I’m biased on this aspect since I’m pilling up 10+ hours a week of training every week. Secondly, this article won’t be a breakthrough for many who embrace gaming as part of their everyday life. That being said, coming from a very European mentality, I know that there are still many people who don’t game enough, and that’s why I think it’s important to highlight these points. Finally, I’m talking about casual gamers, not about competitive/professional gamers, although I doubt they read this blog anyway.
1. Reduce Stress
The first item is the most self evident. I was recently at my physician doing a checkup who mentioned that the biggest contributor of me catching colds was stress. To be, having the opportunity to game is almost as good as playing the game itself. Let me explain: life is very demanding, and most of the professional I know agree that the most valuable currency a man can have is time. When you actually carve into your super busy schedule to do something as pointless as spending hours looking for ammunition before getting in the next mission in Fallout 4, it is liberating. It means that during that time, you accomplished nothing of value. One might add you may actually have lost time and money doing this. And this is why it is so powerful: you get to spend time without any objective or worry in mind.
2. Learn to be decision oriented
This skill is probably the best skill I have ever learned from a game. As mentioned in introduction, I play Magic: The Gathering quite a bit. For those who don’t know this game, think about a game of chess, where the rules are exponentially more complicated, the starting pieces are 60 out of 13000 cards (all of which are pieces of art) and you get to cast firebolts, summon demons and bribe your opponent. It’s pretty awesome. But like in every card game, or game for that matter, it encompasses significant variance, which makes some games almost impossible to win. What is interesting is what to do when the outcome of a game (loss or win). The first basic reaction can be to blame it on luck and move on, i.e. not learning anything. The second reaction is often to focus on the outcome rather than the process: oh, I used this card to win, therefore this card is awesome and I should play it all the time. In this case, you are not only basing your judgement on a very limited sample, you are most likely missing the big picture. Which brings me to what I think is the ultimate way to analyze a game: focus on the decision you made during the game. By focusing on decisions, trying to understand what you could have done better, what elements were out of your control, and taking each game and each event during the game as a data point towards your personal improvement, then you can really maximize your journey towards a better player. Yes, I go deep when I play Magic.
I all seriousness, this is an extremely powerful habit: when something happens in your professional career, whether it is a sales opportunity, a failed attempt at an implementation, a complicated discussion about strategy or marketing positioning, rather than focus on the outcome of the activity or blame it on bad luck, look at it from end to end and analyze what worked and did not work. You will then be able to build a framework that will refine overtime and cater to what your career needs.
3. Find inspiration
While our job description does not entitle the creation of pieces of art (I’m sure some of us can recall some pretty horrifying powerpoint presentations), inspiration is an essential piece of our daily life. Finding the write words to send in an email, position the slides to captivate your target audience attention, using the appropriate algorithm that will allow maintainability and scalability, all of our daily endeavors require some amount of inspiration. Gaming helps when you can’t put these words together. Granted, one could argue that anything that takes your head off of the activity for which you are lacking inspiration may help, I find that emerging yourself in a fantasy world that requires interactive actions from yourself is the one of the fastest way to get epiphanies.
4. Extend your social circle
Everyone tends to stay within their eco-chamber. With work and family taking most of our daily life, it’s sometimes hard to put yourself into question and realize that there is a world out there of people that don’t care about why relational database management systems are a technology of the past. Unbelievable. All joking aside, gaming is a very easy way to encounter people that do not live in the same echo chamber as yours, and therefore enrich your view of the world and thus ultimately being better at understanding your professional circle.
5. Stop taking yourself seriously
This is probably one of the best outcome of gaming. Our professional image is often one that was molded by difficult email conversations, argument over solution architectures and so forth, to the point that sometimes your professional self and your personal self are split personalities. I could write a whole post on the fact that if you are not behaving the same at work and outside of work, then you should probably address that. What I’m highlighting here is that when people know about your dorky side (again, huge magic nerd here), you become human to others, which is extremely valuable for your career. And because you become human to others, you have to admit flaws and stop taking yourself seriously. Society is exchanging most of my time and brain power against currency that I use to provide for myself and my family first, but also buying games that have no purpose but amuse myself. That’s far from serious.