In an old comic strip, parents watch their son play video games and envision of a future of lucrative job prospects based on this expertise. That was the joke, back in 1990.

But could that cartoon, from Gary Larson’s iconic The Far Side, be prescient after all? Could video games be a marketable career skill?

The answer to that is an obvious yes, as noted in an article from the Pacific Standard. You don’t have to know your Minecraft from your Fortnite to see that electronic gaming is a ginormous industry with tournaments and cash prizes and competitive players.

But besides entertainment—and the business of designing, promoting, and merchandizing that entertainment—what other practical value is there in video gaming? Potentially quite a bit.

That’s what many are saying, including a piece from Deseret News titled Team video games in the workplace might increase productivity, new BYU research states. But if you did into the research paper itself, the analysis is far muddier.

First: We found that the team video gaming (TVG) treatment proved significantly more effective than both the control treatment and the goal training treatment in improving team performance. This result provides evidence that TVG may truly be a viable—and perhaps even optimal—alternative for team building. This finding also concurs with entrainment theory and all prior research on team-building activities in that the beneficial effects of the TVG team-building treatment carried over to subsequent work tasks.

In short: a round of team video gaming was followed by better team performance. Sounds good, right? The authors continue:

The results show that, while TVG had a significant effect on team cohesion, the goal training treatment appeared to have a stronger effect than TVG. We attribute this finding to the fact that the participants in the goal training treatment spent their time doing things directly related to developing team cohesion. Specifically, they examined the effectiveness of the team’s work process, how they allocated one another to tasks, how well team members communicated and coordinated their work, and whether each person gave their best effort. Plus, they spent this time in face-to-face discussion, which also likely helped with social cohesion. Conversely, the teams in the TVG treatment spent the time cooperating on a challenging and enjoyable video game.

Summarizing: playing video games together helps improve team cohesion (no surprise there), but collaborating together on work-related goals is even better.

Hawthorne Strikes Again
I’m not out to discredit the work of these and other researchers into group dynamics and video games. But I will point out that before you run to buy the latest edition of Super Mario Bros. for your office, there’s probably a more fundamental phenomena in the mix here. It’s called The Hawthorne Effect and it’s probably more important for every manager to know than how to use the espresso machine in the breakroom.

To summarize: The Hawthorne Effect is the notion that sometimes you can get more productivity out of a team simply by telling that team that you want to try some different experiments that you think might help productivity. This is because people like feeling appreciated, and may work better as a result.

The Hidden Message
The reason the Hawthorne Effect is surprising is because it tells us that much of time, people do not feel valued at work. (Which actually shouldn’t be news, since almost everyone hates their job.) Showing them you care a little can lead to a bump in output.

Crazy idea, caring about your employees, eh? Which gets us back to video games. Perhaps there is something to be learned from these experiments. But how about this: ask people for feedback and take it seriously.

That could be bigger in scope than the entire video game industry. And all we have to do is try it.


Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. 

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