While writing my second book, Cyber Sober; A Caregiver’s Guide to Video Gaming Addiction, I had the opportunity to speak with Paul Dziadzio, a Gameplay Developer from Baltimore, MD, who has been writing the internal code, for ten years, creating the interactions that make a video game fun to play. 

During our interview, I asked Paul for his thoughts on how, for some players, a video game becomes highly immersive and draws them into the virtual world for excessive amounts of time.

Paul replied, “Video games are unlike other media out there these days, and they captivate players for a wide variety of reasons. Some are immersive stories that involve you directly in the plot and react to your choices and actions. Others are finely crafted experiences that excite you and challenge your skills. Still others provide a framework for you to work together with friends and achieve things much greater than on your own. Once you get the hang of them, games provide a comfortable excitement, and can be an engaging respite from the noise, chaos, and unknowns that reality throws at us. There are a lot of goals and tasks to do in games, and sometimes that might feel simpler or more productive than the uncertainty of the rest of our lives.”

Gaming is not just a source of entertainment, a place to escape into a story, a place of virtual fantasy. I believe that there’s a lot to learn about the skills utilized in complex video games that can also be necessary for engagement in the physical world, away from gaming. Broken down into more detail, these skills may eventually be applied to academic study or career paths for teenage gamers. And I’m not talking about your child becoming a video gaming professional.

It’s important for parents to seek out more information from their child about the video games they are playing. We can look at the passion that drives a person to play, as well as the proficiency needed to successfully complete a virtual quest or mission, and then consider areas in the physical world where these may be implemented. 

It’s important to be able to discern whether or not the gamer is making the connection between the game and the skills they use in the game. Is their mindset one that is purely escapism and numbing of internal pain, or is the gamer’s mindset one of learning. The first mindset is one that is concerning, a red flag that may indicate an addiction may be eminent; the latter is a much healthier approach to play.

Most games require proficiency in micro and macro management. In gaming micro-management, we look at concrete concepts that require split-second decision making and an intrinsic aptitude that develops muscle memory over time. For example, in the combat game, “Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS-GO)” which is a game that requires the player to aim and shoot from a virtual gun, every gun has a path of recoil. Although learning to shoot a gun is not necessarily a life skill, every gun in the game has a specific path that the muzzle follows as one holds it to shoot, and understanding the pattern is important. In order to keep one’s aim steady, the shooter must replicate or mirror, in the game, that same pattern in reverse in order to keep the bullet hitting the same target, despite the recoil. This takes practice and patience, and requires excellent memory recall, skills needed in education and in many career paths.

In macro-management, a player must look at the bigger picture and use large scale strategy within the game. They look at the bigger pieces such as how the team will plant a bomb and defend it from being diffused by the opposing team, where the team members will move and what patterns in their movement will be used for success. This ability to see the whole layout and build a strategy requires some theoretical study. Gamers may also look outside of the game to other online resources to learn these strategies, such as YouTube videos or Reddit posts on the subject matter. 

When a gamer is working within a team, brainstorming may be required to create these strategies. And at times, they’ll need to be able to either lead or take directions, or both, so the opportunity for learning teamwork and effective leadership is available through virtual gaming. Effective communication is also very important. Players must be able to relay information to the team, such as enemy positions and movement, fast and efficiently. Someone with those skills would be a valuable asset in many future jobs.

In simulation-type games, like The Sims, where there is planning involved in macro management, a player looks at what it is they need to accomplish to reach the next stage of simulation. 

In the first phase, the character or avatar is alone; they will need to set up a house, and then form a relationship, and create a family by adding children. That requires macro management, larger-scale planning. And while building their simulation, the player is also required to handle the micro-management such as sending their character to the kitchen to make food because they’re hungry and need to eat. Again, these are important critical thinking skills that can be applied in a player’s life, outside of gaming. 

Children need to learn the skills of basic human needs, such as what is healthy to cook and eat, where to shop for necessities, and how to prepare meals, before they eventually mature and embark on finding housing and living independently. In essence, a child is fulfilling a virtual adult lifestyle while also learning from role modeling and the responsibilities of chores in the family home. There’s no limit to how we can teach valuable independence skills.

From here, we can also look at the type of game a player is drawn to. 

Do they prefer single player games where they are the creator or the shooter? 

Or do they like to play multi-player games where they are a part of a team? 

Do they enjoy games where they can show leadership and provide strategies that are helpful to others? 

Do they enjoy building and creating environments where they can practice their aptitude in design, agriculture, forestry, fashion, or urban planning? 

From here we can start asking curious questions to find out what it is about the game that challenges the player, and how they feel when they reach success in a game. 

Starting a discussion about what a player is learning about themselves within a game can prompt further discussion about how they can see themselves applying all those great in-game proficiencies in the physical world. 

What they learn in a game can help a child feel more capable at handling school, tangible friendships, family relationships, and a future career path.

By staying open-minded and looking at video gaming as a tool for learning, we may discover and can then express to a child that they have impressive ability in teamwork, problem-solving, and/or designing. We can then share some of the ways they can apply those abilities to day to day living or direct them in academic studies that align and can help them towards their eventual career.  

Video games, played recreationally, and within a regulated amount of time, can enhance a child’s life. Play is learning and has many elements of social interactions for a child. 

Ask yourself, as a parent, what can I draw from this form of entertainment to help my child navigate from play to taking on more responsibility and transferring this same learning and passion to their physical world, to their future?