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Video Games for Business Management Training

Did you know that MBA schools in the United States, such as Harvard Business School, use video games as part of their curriculum?

One game used at Harvard is called Everest, which introduces students to a phenomenon called “Process Loss”. Process loss occurs “when teams fail to share information, get trapped by conflicting goals, lose themselves in unproductive arguments, and fall into a pattern of groupthink.” Everest teaches students to engage and overcome these issues as a team. In the book entitled Changing the Game, Everest is described as follows:

“Everest sends MBA students climbing up its namesake mountain. After watching a harrowing video describing the mountain-climbing experience, students are divided into teams of five and assigned roles with individual descriptions and goals, ranging from extreme sports enthusiast to the trip doctor. Over the course of the next hour, teams work their way up the mountain, and are faced with various challenges such as oxygen shortages, terrible weather, and sudden illness. In the end, the only way to win Everest is to work together as a team, share information, and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.”

Uptick, designed by Professors Joshua Coval and Erik Stafford, is another game used at Harvard Business School. According to Professor Stafford, teaching the effects of large groups of people on the market is one of the challenges of teaching finance. Fortunately, video game simulations are perfect for teaching systems-level thinking. “By understanding how the market works by being part of it, students get a better sense of the main lesson of any finance class: ‘It is pretty damn difficult to make money in financial markets’ – even if you are a Harvard Business School graduate.”

Experienced professionals can also benefit from system-level games such as Uptick. Organizations such as Chartered Financial Analyst Institute send its best people to classes that use Uptick. In these classes, what is observed is that “rather than avoiding the mistakes that MBA students encounter, these financial geniuses find themselves falling into exactly the same intuitive traps that come from failing to understand group effects.”

Even commercial games designed for entertainment can be good at training for business. According to research done by IBM and Seriosity (a consulting / software group), people who play MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) such as World of Warcraft learn the same leadership skills that are taught to MBAs. In addition, it was found that many online games echo the skills expected of leaders found in the Sloan Leadership Model.

Changing the Game explains how MMOGs are good at teaching leadership skills:

“To achieve success in an MMOG, players must jointly tackle specific projects (i.e., “We need to kill that dragon”) that require individuals to persuade and lead groups. MMOGs also help leaders with the difficult task of team selection by giving players clear roles and skills. A leader knows they need a teammate who can heal the injured or is capable of flying, and can easily see whether current team members have that skill. Finally MMOGs tend to make incentives very clear (“The warrior wants armor, the wizard wants a staff, and everybody wants gold”), which makes it easy for leaders to align the goals of players on a team. Under these conditions, leadership emerges quickly and naturally.”

Furthermore, in IBM’s surveys, 75% of MMOG gamers said that the leadership skills they learned in games have helped them lead at work.

Interestingly, as I was discussing this with a friend, he talked about his friend who was the Director of Technology of an organization called Media Matters for America, (a media watchdog group in the U.S.). He started out at the lowest level, help desk support, and rose to the highest position in his division in just 3 years. According to his friend, essentially all he had been doing was simply applying the leadership lessons he learned from an old text-based MMOG called Rhydin War Council, a game he had been playing since the age of 12.

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In the past, as it is today, there is a stigma attached to the hobby of playing video games. It has been seen as an activity with no worthwhile benefits, and has been connected to issues such as increased violence in children and even obesity. But as the generation who grew up on video games start becoming leaders, and as the gaming population increases, the stigma will slowly disappear. Once this happens, I can see games becoming a more accepted form of training not just for business, but in all levels of schools and organizations.

As the IBM study concludes: “It’s not a stretch to think resumes that include detailed gaming experience will be landing on the desks of Fortune 500 executives in the very near future. Those hiring managers would do well to look closely at that experience, and not disregard it as mere hobby. After all, that gamer may just be your next CEO.”

All quotes taken from: Changing the Game: How Video Games are Transforming the Future of Business, Chapter 6. Edery and Mollick. 2009. Pearson Education.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, video games can be used for classes. I use examples in my lectures like RTS games such as Warcraft and Starcraft to explain the growth of societies and a dose of sociology slash economics there. RPGs such as Resident Evil can provide situational problems such as dealing with fear, predicaments of space and logic etc. FPS, on the other hand can be used as simulators - CounterStrike can be a perfect simulation or testing ground for military and police operation strategies.

    Why I use video games as examples? I can connect faster with my students - were the majority are also gamers - like me. :P


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