Video games have made the news multiple times by being associated with violence, gambling addiction, toxic behavior and a few other not very good examples. While many of these statements can easily be proven wrong, there is an interesting perspective at video games and their positive impact on personal growth and development, which foster growth at a professional level too.
I’ve been playing games for over 20 years now; over the last couple of years I’ve realized that a lot of the skills and behaviors I need for my job as a software engineer, both as developer and as a manager, were somehow leveraged by many hours playing different video games, which became a tool for self improvement regarding cognitive, communication, social and leadership skills.
In order to do that, I’ll go through a list of games and highlight the value I retained from it and how it maps to my professional life. There will be a lot of games left out, of course, but the focus will be on the ones that really helped me prepare for a career in software engineering as a manager.
1. The Sims
This may be a surprise for the first game, but at 10-11 years old, this was an incredible tool to learn English. I’m from Portugal and at this age I was going to start having English lessons at school, but playing The Sims in English really helped me grow my vocabulary, especially around household objects, jobs, and other random words that I could easily visualize in game. I still remember to this day when I discovered by clicking on a staircase, the words “upstairs” and “downstairs” which I associated with going up or down. By the time we got English lessons, most every day words were already on my head, which eventually allowed me to do really well in English and now use it as a primary language.
2. Flash games
Introduction to programming
During middle school my friends and I would play these a lot during classes, but my curiosity to understand how those “small” games were made lead me to research and find out that there was software (back then we didn’t call them apps) called Flash that essentially allowed you to design and code games all in a single place. This is was what made me really interested in software development, so I just downloaded a Macromedia Flash trial and learned my way around it by following tutorials and eventually made half a dozen of stupid but really funny games. At 13 years old, I was really proud of myself.
My final project in high school was also a Flash game targeted at elementary school children. During a school event, we had a guest elementary school visiting and the students got to play my game. Seeing them engaged playing it and all the excitement made me realize that was what I wanted to do with my life; create something that users would love and get something from. This is still my passion and the reason I work at OutSystems.
Given the above context, it’s not really a surprise that my first job was developing Flash games that came with the school books for children. It was a walk in the park since I was so comfortable with the tool and language.
3. Grand Theft Auto
How to drive in public
Not really; Sometimes games can just have a fun factor and be a way to blow off some steam without too much thinking. After a long day of work, hours of meetings and/or hard discussions, jumping into a videogame and relaxing a bit always worked very well for me.
4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
A few years ago I played Call of Duty competitively, mostly in European tournaments. During this time I was chosen by the team to be the squad leader, which is a role with a certain degree of responsibility. The squad leader selects players for competition, defines tactics, analyses opponents and does the overall management of the team.
This role required me to develop some interesting skills regarding people management. I had to work with my team, take advantage of their best skills, assign them to the role they would perform the best, and help them grow both individually and at a team level.
Fast forward 10 years: I’m a team lead at OutSystems and some of my key responsibilities are related to people management, team and individual growth, working with them to create a high performance team.
5. League of Legends
Fortunately today we have a whole team and a style guide for this, but back when I first joined OutSystems, my team was the owner of a very specific product area. Back then we just wrote our own release notes. Thankfully I already had read so many release notes in video games and other types of software, that writing my own came naturally. Without even thinking, I was already committing code in a format that represented release notes that users would easily read and understand.
Usually in video games, if we want to rewatch some gameplay, recording a full video of 30-40 minutes will take a lot of disk space. Video games use a different approach, they record key movements and actions throughout time as a script, then play that script in the game engine. This results in having full 40 minute games recorded in very small replay files (less than 5 MB most of the time).
When we first introduced the Silk UI Mobile Theme Customizer, we wanted to be able to track usage metrics, but most importantly, to see which themes were being developed and how developers interacted with the tool. So what we did was a replay system for the tool, just like video games do. We were able to select any anonymous customization session and have a replay of what the user did, step by step on the tool.
6. Call of Duty: CoD Warzone
Almost every day a group of fellow OutSystems team mates get together to play some Call of Duty. This type of game requires a lot of coordination, individual skill, and leadership to make fast decisions. What I quickly noticed is that our behavior in game is exactly the same behavior I observe at the office.
As a group, we improved our communication skills incredibly because we have to provide information really fast and only when necessary, like saying there is an enemy at location X.
On an individual level, the key characteristics of each team member really show in the game. The quiet guy at work that does his job really well? He is the same in the game. The leading figure that always has a plan and a solution (even if not always the best one)? He’s there too. Funny guy who really gets the team in the right mood? Yup, there too. The game was just an extension of our personalities at work, and the improvements we could make, could be made through a different tool other than the usual feedback meetings and such.
7. Among Us
After COVID hit and we were all sent home, we lost a lot of precious team time. We’re a very close group that usually hangs out after work, we had specific methods (beers) to onboard new people — all that went to hell with remote work. Playing online games was a game changer (ha) for us.
You see, having a game as a tool to break the ice between team members and create room for a few jokes and laughs is gold for remote teams. Among Us allowed us to know people better out of a work context, of all the tasks and estimates and commitments, not pressure, just humans having fun.
8. FIFA 21
Self awareness and self improvement
I’m a big football (the real one) fan, I’ve always played PES and FIFA, but this year I wanted to perform better and improve my skills while playing online with other players. I defined my goals, I identified my flaws in gameplay and traced a plan to work on those flaws to eventually reach my goal. One example of a tool for self improvement was to rewatch my own games to see where I made mistakes and then improve from there.
There have been a few examples of meetings where I had a chance to pitch something, share ideas or provide feedback that did not go so well. So what I did was to rewatch the recording and identify my mistakes for instance on my communication skills or on the examples I used, trying to improve and do better next time.
Bonus: It Takes Two and Overcooked
Having your SO playing with you
At the time I’m writing this content, most of us are in some kind of lockdown due to COVID-19. Besides all the skills and behaviors mentioned above which I explained at a professional level, it’s very important to also keep a healthy work/life balance. If you’re looking into some nice couch co-op games to play with your wife/husband/kids/friends, It Takes Two and Overcooked offer some of the best fun you can have by requiring players to work together to achieve common goals. I’ve played both with my wife and it was both rewarding and stressful.