My 16 year old son loves playing video games, as most teenagers are. His game of choice is Halo which is a first person shooter where you play as a futuristic soldier battling aliens with your squad. There is both solo (you and computer AIs) and online multiplayer games to play. In watching him and listening to him talk about all the thought, time and preparation that goes into a game. This, in turn, has made me curious as to whether playing games like this can actually help individuals improve their skills in the area of leadership.
Gentile (2007) found seven properties that video games help players learn. First, games give a clear set of objectives and the ability to adapt the difficulty level to the player. Second, playing a video game requires active learning which implements practice and feedback to help player’s master skills. Third, once the skill is mastered it is still continually used to the point of becoming automatized. Fourth, the mastery of skills is rewarded both extrinsically and intrinsically by way of points, weapons upgrades and the self-esteem boost for completing tasks. Fifth, a game is set up so that each consecutive level is a bit more difficult and faster paced then the last. Sixth, a game encourages practice through feedback and rewards regardless of how skilled the player is. Finally, seventh, skills that are practiced in multiple ways in multiple contexts are more likely to be learned.
Video games do a good job of following of following Katz’s (1955) Three Skills Model. The game starts with working on a player’s technical skill through practice of basic concepts like shooting, delivering orders and moving around. As these skills are mastered, a player can venture into multiplayer games where they work on human skills such as cooperation. Finally, a player can move into conceptual skills by creating their own missions to follow.
The military has already begun implementing the use of video games in training and recruitment. While I am not sure that video games would be effective in all forms of leadership, I do think it could be utilized effectively in skill development in many situations.
Gentile, D. A., & Gentile, J. R. (2008). Violent video games as exemplary teachers: A conceptual analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(2), 127-141.
Katz, R.L. (1955). Skills of an effective administrator. Harvard Business Review, 33(1), 33-42.