What I learnt from my 9yo…. and how video games can improve your business.

What I learnt from my 9yo…. and how video games can improve your business.

Video games are helping me………… say what!!!!!!

I know everyone is waiting for the punch line, but there isn’t one. Gaming is a massive industry, projected to be around US$100 Billion by 2018, and it is not confined to teenagers. I have some middle age friends who are gaming freaks and I see 3yo’s sitting in their pram playing with Mum or Dad’s iPhone. When it comes to gaming there doesn’t seem to be an age limit.

Which brings me to my 9yo son, who is a video game fanatic. If he could, he would drop out of school and play video games full time. At this stage of his life his sole ambition is to own EB Games. However it isn’t all fun and games; there is a serious side to what he does and what we can learn from him.

His games of choice are strategy games. I call them strategy games, although I now realise I am wrong in calling them that. I am often told, ‘no Dad they are Sandbox’, or ‘Platformers’….wtf is a platformer? For clarity Minecraft is a Sandbox game, Mario is a Platform game.

According to Wikipedia:

Platform games (or platformers) are set in a vertically exaggerated environment. Players navigate their environment by jumping and climbing on platforms, while avoiding obstacles and battling enemies in order to advance. They often involve unrealistic physics and special movement abilities.

Sandbox: A game wherein the player has been freed from the traditional structure and direction typically found in video games, and is instead given the ability to choose what, when, and how they want to approach the available choices in content. The term is in reference to a child’s sandbox in which no rules are present and play is derived from open-ended choice.

The way wiki describes it we can certainly see the correlation between games and business. My son is very much like a lot of others his age, who have been brought up in a household with self-employed parents (we both work on our business). He understands the priorities of our business, he understands that sometimes Mum & Dad can’t be disturbed but he also understands that he is more important than our work. Recently though I watched him on his PS4 and Switch (yes he has a collection) and found myself intrigued by what he was doing- you see whilst his games are essentially fun, he also treats them as a challenge, sets himself goals and celebrates when he achieves.

According to Business Insider, people who play action based games make accurate decisions 25% faster, a driving game improves memory, focus & multitasking ability in older adults, and children with dyslexia had better reading ability after playing video games – as well as a myriad other benefits but what I want to talk about is business.

So my son started out early morning – he knew he had a free day ahead of him – by setting goals, which he shared with us. The goals he stated would be very challenging (he had been trying for weeks to succeed) and if he could achieve them that day, then he would be stoked. I took an active interest in why he was setting the goal, what he hoped to achieve from reaching it, and how this was going to improve his experience.

What it came down to was that he wanted to reach a challenging target so he could prove to himself that he was capable of ‘playing with the big boys’- able to compete with those older and more experienced than he is or was. In business I would think that is what many do or are trying to do. There are not many that are at the absolute top of their profession and there are very few in the world who can confess to being near the top. So in my business I know there are others above me, I know exactly what I need to do to get to their level and have set goals accordingly- not unrealistic goals but those forward steps we all need to take to get to where we would like to be.

Next I watched him in the game- it was very strategic. I regularly asked why he was doing it that way when it seemed logical to do it another way. His reply was that he had learnt from his mistakes. Experience told him that if he kept trying to do it the ‘easy’ way then he was going to burn unnecessary energy and have unnecessary stress than if he just did it the right way. He had previously tried what seemed like the easy way, but there was always something missing and he had to start again. I am sure we’ve all been there in business- tried to take short cuts, tried for the easy way but if there is a lesson to be learned here, it is to make sure you do it the right way.

As is my want, I kept interrupting suggesting he go after certain high value objects, but he reminded me not to get distracted from what his real goal was- finishing off this project to earn himself ‘experience points’ allowing him to move up a level. We’ve all been guilty of getting distracted by bright shiny objects. In business that is one of the challenges- surveys state that the average worker gets distracted 11 times an hour- mostly with ‘urgent’ emails. Staying focused is necessary in business.

My son took regular breaks from his gaming, ranging from 5 minutes to an half an hour. I asked whether he was frustrated or sick of the game. He replied “no”, and told me that it helped him focus by taking breaks. He asked for my advice, I gave it, for what it was worth. It helped him solve a problem. Micro breaks are essential in a business day- whether it is to get coffee, chat with someone in the office or simply to spit-ball an idea. We all need it- unless you have a limitless supply of dopamine.

Then it happened- he achieved what he set out to do. He reached his goal. It allowed him to start playing with serious gamers. He celebrated, he ran around the house and my wife and I, the neighbours, the kids two streets away all knew something great had happened. He was beside himself, and we as parents were close to tears. Seeing your child at the peak of happiness, after everything he had worked for. Because you see this was no easy ride.  He was stressed, he did at times feel defeated, he verbalised that he had felt he ‘simply wasn’t good enough’, and some days it felt like he would never reach his goal. But he did – and it was a massive event for all of us to share.

Once he reached his goal he levelled up, he started playing with the big boys, and a strange thing happened. He realised all these big players with all their experience were no different to him. They went about things similarly and with practice achieved their own goals. Some of those who were really good at what they did just went about things differently- they weren’t necessarily better but they were different. He reached his goal then looked around. Everyone else had their own goals, their own dreams, their own aspirations but at the heart of what they did they were the same; they loved what they were doing and mostly the only people they were competing against were themselves, probably the hardest foe anyone will ever have.

You see my son set goals, he had a strategy, he stayed focussed, he took breaks and collaborated when needed and he celebrated success. And at the heart of it, he realised the only person he needed to beat was himself, his own preconceptions, his own doubts, his own fears.

There is no doubt there is a lesson there for all of us, in business and in life.