We Could Be Heroes
Issue: Volume: 28 Issue: 3 (March 2005)

We Could Be Heroes

Most of us would not be surprised to learn that video games have had a significant impact on a whole generation of young people who grew up playing them, simply because of their enormous  popularity. Recent studies show that in the US alone, some 90 million adults over age 17 have regularly played video games. And more than 90 percent of children under 17 have regular access to them.

Unfortunately, most assumptions about the effects of video gaming have been negative. Indeed, the medium has been blamed for everything from rotting the brains of our youth to turning them into psycho killers.

But now there’s evidence that the positive effects of gaming may outweigh the possible harmful ones. In a new book titled Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever, authors John Beck and Mitchell Wade report that the experience of growing up surrounded by video games has endowed a new generation of employees with a competitive spirit and some unique cognitive abilities that, if harnessed, could transform the business world as we know it. They also contend that the spoils will go to managers, young or old, who are savvy enough to exploit these differences.

Perhaps the most intriguing finding from Beck and Wade’s survey of more than 2500 people in the US is that gamers want to see themselves as heroes. That’s understandable, for in a great many games, the story is all about heroism. For example, in the new game Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (see “Thriving on Chaos,” pg. 14), the player assumes the role of Sam Fisher, the National Security Agency’s elite secret agent, whose goal is to prevent the next world war. And in the enormously popular Halo 2 (see “The Halo Effect,” January, pg. 16), the player becomes the cybernetically enhanced super-soldier Master Chief, who must defeat an alien race bent on conquering humanity.

During all the hours spent playing games such as these, adolescents become like our image of the ancient Greeks or Native Americans, groups of people who value heroism more than the things that we now assume drive everyone: power, money, and love, say the authors. And the opportunity for service, for accepting a dramatic personal challenge, is what drives their decisions and inspires their highest performance.

So how does one tap into this generation’s instinct for heroism? The best strategy is to find an important task, frame it as dangerous, and provide an opportunity for public praise or failure. One company that succeeded with this approach publicly linked employee efforts to corporate goals. Managers held regular meetings that were more like tribal ceremonies during which teams stood in front of the company and committed to a high-stakes mission. A few weeks later, they’d report on their successes or failures. “This is the kind of pressure gamers are looking for,” state the authors, “and they will reward you with an intensity that is hard to inspire any other way.”

Developers are often challenged to create games that are more practical for education or training. However, in one important way they have already being doing just that. Not only have game developers enticed players to spend hundreds of hours analyzing situations and solving problems in virtual worlds, they have helped create what is perhaps the most highly motivated and heroic generation ever to enter the workforce. Now it’s time for business managers to figure out how to inspire them in the real world.

Phil LoPiccolo