Games. Are. Amazing! They can send us into far off galaxies, help us explore new worlds, travel through time, and rule civilizations. They do such a great job at immersing our imaginations, it’s not surprising that games are often viewed as distractions from the real world. But playing games can actually teach us about ourselves and give us the skills that employers want and need.
Games and education go hand in hand. Teachers use physical and digital games in the classroom to engage students in learning new topics and to help reinforce content. As students play their way through each level, their brains absorb new information, their knowledge grows, and so does their perspective.
Games can simultaneously challenge and entertain students, making them more curious and engaging them more deeply with what they’re learning. They can even play their way to discovering new interests in subjects like coding, architecture, history, or languages.
While teachers can educate through video games, there’s more to games than being a tool for fun content presenting. When digital games are designed well, they have the powerful ability to teach valuable soft skills that are crucial for the future.
The global demand for soft skills is growing
When it comes to soft skills like creativity, adaptability, and collaboration, LinkedIn’s 2019 Global Talent Trends report found that 91% of employers considered them vital to the future of recruiting and HR.
The report recorded 92% of employers saying that soft skills matter much more than hard skills. Of those skills, creativity was the most in-demand but in short supply. The demand for that skill isn’t showing any signs of slowing. A McKinsey study predicted the global demand for higher cognitive skills in the workplace — such as creativity, critical thinking, decision-making, and complex information processing — will rise significantly by 2030.
These reports pair with what experts, like professor Chris Dede of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, see as vital for 21st-century education. Dede told Classcraft that while school systems focus on content knowledge, they miss out on building the character and social skills needed for solving the problems that await in the future. Those problems need “patience, prosocial behavior, and teams of people with different backgrounds and skills working together.”
Dede added, “The organizations who ask me for references know that an effective employee must have the ability to work with people different than them, as well as to be tenacious, caring, and diligent.”
Developing soft skills now will undoubtedly give students an edge in the future. But since our versatile skill set is often learned on a personal level, it can be difficult to teach it in a classroom. That’s where games come into play.
Seriously engaging games
While there are plenty of entertaining and educational video games on the market to choose from, serious educational games work best at teaching soft skills beyond content knowledge. These types of games have been intentionally developed to strike a balance between the entertaining part of gameplay and established learning theories, like constructivism (learning by doing and reflection) or flow (learning by immersion and focus on an activity).
Learning soft skills through play happens when we build persistence by playing a competitive game or develop our communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills in a multiplayer role-playing game.
“What Remains of Edith Finch” is a good example of an intentionally designed game. This humanities-based game explores individual identity, understanding family and connections, and even tackles death positivity, which aims to break the silence around the taboo topics of death and dying. Then there is the simulator game “Gone Home,” which includes environmental exploration as a player investigates the story of the people who lived in an empty house.
Both games are entertaining but they use flow and constructivism to teach students empathy and critical-thinking skills. They also include the element of curiosity, which makes it easier for students to learn and retain information.
Layered with challenges that can be both frustrating and fascinating, games push players to analyze situations and find creative solutions. They encourage them to communicate in complex ways, to take on leadership roles and work together to overcome challenges. They provide space for students to take risks, adapt, and explore their integrity and ethics in ways that don’t impact them in the real world.
Amazingly, no matter how complex the challenges are or how many times they fail, players will come back time and time again until they finally move on to the next level, or master the game. That resiliency is a valuable skill in the workplace.
Hard games for soft skills
It’s straightforward to teach, define, and measure hard skills like reading, math, science, etc. Soft skills are much harder. That’s a problem because, as research — like this from the Ryerson University in Ontario, Canada — has shown, soft skills can predict and causally produce our success in life and in the new global economy.
Playing the right kinds of games now can go a long way to developing traits and attitudes (like growth mindset, resiliency, and collaboration), which are important elements of 21st-century soft skills that can carry over into a success in the real world.
Photo credit: Kirsten Kimasch / Reshot