Video Games in the Workplace

Abstract

Concentrating for several hours on end without social interaction is a difficult task, and can seem like a mental marathon. Going through such conditions on a daily basis, employees find that the typical, segregated workplace not only discourages communication, but also makes them much more prone to distraction. After searching for a solution for decades, employers may have finally stumbled across the breakthrough they needed. Video games have always been looked down on by the older generation, and dismissed as a waste of time. However, when perceiving them from a new angle, one may recognize their potential use as a form of cognitive exercise.

Main Essay:

I have little doubt that the vast majority of people have been subject to distractions, stress, or other killers of productivity at some point in their life. It is no different in the workplace; employees suffer daily from such problems, and the rise of social media as well as the increasing demands from employers is only further hurting their productivity. Companies like Google and DropBox have been actively trying to combat this problem with employee perks, such as free meals and recreational activities during work hours, but have found that these often have no positive effect. There has, however, been a recent shift of attention to the introduction of interactive entertainment to the industrial world. Fascinatingly, studies have begun to suggest that rigorous mental activities can improve concentration and cognitive performance. For this reason, a new light is being shed on the possibility of integrating video games into the corporate environment. Given enough momentum, this movement will present the key to improving productivity and employee interaction in the workplace.

The biological impact that video games have on the brain offer solutions to many of the issues faced by employers today, primarily concerning distraction and its effects on the performance of employees. In an article published by the Huffington Post, UCI Professor Gloria Mark explains “there’s typically only three minutes of consistent focus before an employee gets interrupted (or self-interrupts)” (Distractions at Work, para 3). These distractions often last as long as a half hour and significantly reduce the ability of employees to make efficient use of their time.

1

(“Infographic by DeskTime Unveils Negative Working Habits”)

Electronic games may offer a solution to this dilemma. Recent studies show that long-term engagement with video games stimulates neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) in regions of the brain that are responsible for spatial orientation, memory formation, strategic planning, and fine motor skills. This results in the enhancement of abilities such as quick thinking, increased concentration, and capacity for multitasking. After conducting a study on the impact of video gaming on the brain, BBC published an interview with Daphne Bavelier, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester, New York, where she reported “The big difference was action video gamers are better at ignoring irrelevant, distracting visual information, and so they made better decisions” (Why Video Games May Be Good for You, para 10). In addition to this, Bavelier points out that, by being able to identify and ignore distractions, gamers can accomplish tasks more efficiently. All of these abilities are useful in the gaming world, and they are also necessary for almost any job. For example, a web programmer at Apple that regularly plays intense video games would eventually see an overall increase in concentration and mental performance at work. Meanwhile the employee that plays pool at one of Google’s recreation centers would merely find a way to socialize without stimulating neurogenesis in their brain.

(TED Talk – Video Games, 8:35 – 9:15)

By deploying video game rooms in the work environment, employers can vastly improve employee efficiency, and thus increase the output of the company as a whole. The tools needed to make this happen are already becoming available. As the fastest growing sector of the entertainment world, the video game industry enjoys popularity amongst users of all ages. Although the common belief is that all of this originates from teens and young adults, contemporary statistics reveal something quite different.

2(“Age breakdown of video game players in the United States in 2014”)

This is a visual representation created by Statista, a very large company with powerful clients such as Microsoft, Google, MIT, and T-Mobile. After merely a cursory glance at the bars representing each age group one will notice the remarkable percent of gamers that are fully-grown adults. Employers do not have to force their employees to become involved with gaming because over two-thirds of them already are. However, there is still a widespread belief that video gamers are overwhelmingly male. With an increasingly female workforce, a movement toward utilizing video games in the workplace would alienate a large employee group. Fortunately, Statista has already visited this topic and produced some clarifying results.

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 3.07.34 PM

(“Gender Split of U.S. Computer and Video Gamers 2014 | Survey”)

Contrary to popular belief, the disparity between male and female gamers has rapidly decreased in recent years, and it is nearly closed now in 2014. Although no corporation can expect all of its employees to be video gamers, and many will thus have to take steps to introduce this concept to some, it will not be as drastic a leap as many would have expected.

Besides exercising the human brain in healthy doses, video games, specifically the multiplayer ones, have an uncanny talent to bring people together. Coincidentally, communication, or the lack thereof, is ranked right next to distraction in the realm of productivity killers in the workplace. This problem stems from the basic human instinct to be shy around unfamiliar people. For this reason, the typical corporate environment filled with cubicle walls only discourages social interaction.
3

(“People in Office Cubicles“)

After presenting an inquiry to my father, President of COHU, Inc, as to what his years of experience have taught him on this subject he responded, “Poor communication at a company leads to mistakes, missed opportunities, and eventually to competitive losses. A company’s worst competitor is itself, and the sooner people realize that and start collaborating with each other, the sooner they will overcome their inherent competition” (Muller, Luis). This is most evident when colleagues working with similar sets of information approach their work differently and make mistake because they choose not to collaborate until the last possible moment. As mentioned previously, however, video games can fix this. By providing an interface that allows one to express themselves in ways that they would not ordinarily do, they encourage people to open up to one another. If one witnesses a group playing Wii Sports, they may find that after a few stressful hours of competing the players will call themselves acquaintances, if not buddies.

4

(“Does Gaming at Work Improve Productivity?”)

By allowing people to express themselves video games can transform a group of strangers into friends and begin to facilitate future relations.

However, this form of interactive entertainment does not come without its dangers. While moderate doses of gaming with others in corporate recreation rooms can develop cognitive functions and introduce a sense of community to the workplace, its abuse may lead to drawbacks that far outweigh these benefits.

5

(“How to Overcome a Gaming Addiction”)

Similarly to alcohol addiction, addiction to video games can cause physical, mental and social harm. The slouched posture that some people develop while using computers, for example, may cause muscular and skeletal disorders, such as tendonitis, nerve compression, and carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, obsession with tasks that do not require any physical work explains the high percentage of obesity among extreme gamers. Sadly, addiction to a screen can consume immense amount of time that could be better spent socializing or being active. For this reason, video game addicts become isolated and never create a life outside of the virtual reality that takes place in their computers. The threat of introducing this to the workplace is inherent attached to the introduction of video games. Employee addictions could severely cut social interaction, and curtail communication as well as individual productivity.

Fortunately, steps can be taken to avoid this, and some companies have already begun to prove it by implementing their own entertainment programs. CEO Todd Thidobeaux of The Computing Technology Industry Association, for example, pushed for the creation of a game room in his company. To successfully implement it and prevent the games from becoming a distraction he created and enforced strict rules about when access to the room was allowed. In doing so he has turned the space into a recreational area, but nothing more. He explains his success with the project in an article to promote gaming at work by stating, “It’s an amazing team-building mechanism, particularly when people from around the company gather around a console in a single room. Also, stress relief really increases productivity, especially at busy times of the year” (Does Gaming at Work Improve Productivity, para 10). As it turns out, he is not alone in this movement.

(“How Gaming Transforms the Workplace”, 0:10 – 0:35).

Dozens of companies have begun to invest in this idea. The Entrepreneur itself, a digital home for corporate news, has begun to promote corporate game rooms and show several examples of successful implementations in the corporate world. In an article covering this topic, the Entrepreneur reports on the actions that FUN Technologies has taken as well as what they discovered; “according to a recent survey by WorldWinner, a subsidiary of FUN Technologies Inc., more than 80 percent of online gamers who play on and off throughout the workday said they are able to better focus on work after playing” (EdelHauser, para 2). The article goes on to address other company names that have become involved in this movement. The consensus amongst all of them has been the same; game rooms are a great way to make employees build relationships, while still exercising their minds in a more relaxed and fun way.

By creating environments that force us to think quickly and make concentrate on an incredible number of variable and objectives, video games train our minds to become sharper and more alert. It is one of the only true workouts for the brain that we generally enjoy, and at the rate at which it is increasing, the video game industry may be in the computers and consoles of almost every American in the next decade. With its proven benefits on the minds of its users it has the potential to become an instrument used to make the workplace a more productive and collaborative place. All that remains is its implementation.

 

Bibliography:

    1. Bavelier, Daphne. “Your Brain on Video Games”. TEDxChuv. TED Conferences, LLC. June 2012. Web. 25 October 2014
    2. DeskTime. “Infographic by DeskTime Unveils Negative Working Habits”. PRWeb. Vocus PRW Holdings, LLC. February 15, 2012. 25 October 2014
    3. Statista. “Age breakdown of video game players in the United States in 2014”. Statista. Statista. 2014. October 25, 2014
    4. Bindley, Katherine. “Distractions At Work: Employees Increasingly Losing Focus; Some Companies Combating The Problem”. Huffington Post. The Huffington Post. December 13, 2012. Web. November 2, 2014
    5. Null, Christopher. “Does Gaming at Work Improve Productivity?”. PCWorld. PCWorld. December 11, 2008. Web. November 3, 2014
    6. “People in Office Cubicles”. GalleryHip. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <6. http://www.worldnewsstand.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/cubefarm.jpg>http://cdn3-www.craveonline.com/assets/uploads/2013/02/file_204587_0_makelovenotwarcraft.jpg
    7. Adair, Cam. “Escaping Video Game Addiction”. TEDxBoulder. TED Conferences, LLC. October 17, 2013. Web. November 3, 2014
    8. “How to Overcome a Gaming Addiction”. WingMan Magazine. Red Snapper Publishing GmbH. Web. November 3, 2014
    9. Fleming, Nic. “Why Video Games May Be Good for You”. BBC Future. BBC. August 26, 2013. Web. November 3, 2014
    10. “How to Avoid Video Game Addiction”. wikiHow. mediaWiki. Web. November 3, 2014.
    11. Smith, Ross. “How Gaming Transforms the Workplace”. Casual Connect. YouTube. August 15, 2011. Web. November 3, 2014
    12. EdelHauser, Kristin. “Video Games at Work?” Entrepreneur. Entrepreneur Media Inc., 4 June 2007. Web. 30 Nov. 2014.
    13. “Gender Split of U.S. Computer and Video Gamers 2014 | Survey.” Statista. 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014

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