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Do You Want To Play a Game?

Do You Want To Play a Game?

I can still hear that old-fashioned digital voice asking the question, “Do You Want to Play a Game?” If you remember this famous phrase from the movie War Games, it will bring back memories of a very young Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy and Dabney Coleman creating a very big problem with a computer program built to play out World War III game scenarios.  If you don’t remember the phrase or movie, I give you permission to check out this guilty pleasure. You’ll get a kick out of what was considered bleeding edge computer technology in 1983.

Games and gaming are also important for building and maintaining both creativity and problem-solving skills. Sure poker night with the boys and a run to Vegas or the local Indian casino is acceptable behavior, but admitting that you still play games can earn you curious looks from your co-workers. I think it’s time that we are proud to play strategy games.

What Games Teach Us

Games teach us real-world lessons without real-world consequences. Gaming provides participants with a chance to make decisions at both tactical and strategic levels. After a decision is made, participants receive immediate feedback from either a computer or other human participants.

In the business world, the People Express game allows participants to manage a virtual airline, while the Vaporware game lets participants create and manage a product. The players make decisions on product attributes, hiring policies, etc. and the simulator provides feedback on their decisions. Does your market evaporate due to pricing and product changes or do you grab more market share by stressing your ability to supply that market? It’s great to have the answer to this question without risking real capital!

The games that are available to teach business principles range from the more complex games mentioned above to simulations built for pre-teens and teens. The simulations run the gamut from being a chocolatier to becoming a real estate tycoon to running your own railroad.

Games aren’t just for kids

Early strategy games were not intended for children but for training leaders of people. The word strategy comes from the Greek word strategos, which means the art of the general. In his famous book, Art of War, Sun Tzu enforces the idea that strategy is an art.

Strategy and strategy games were also used to train generals between conflicts. Chess is one of the earliest strategy games. It is believed that modern chess was developed out of a game originating in India sometime before the seventh century. It has become a classic game of strategy played today by all classes and nationalities.

When Germany became a nation in the mid-nineteenth century, one of the traditions that it incorporated from Prussia was the creation of the General Staff. Their purpose was to engage in a continuous study of war.  As part of that study, the General Staff would draw plans and role-play conflicts with officers acting as opposing armies.

The Germans also rotated field commanders through positions on the General Staff. This rotation taught and re-enforced strategic thinking throughout the army. While the General Staff acted as the brain, the field officers who completed rotations on the General Staff acted as the nervous system of the army. And, as such, they provided both quick feedback to the brain and decisive action in the field of battle.

The use of the General Staff gave Germany such a strategic advantage from unification through WWI that one of the provisions of the WWI peace treaty was that Germany had to dissolve the use of the General Staff. Dissolving the General Staff was just one of many non-enforceable conditions of that peace treaty.

I’m not suggesting that you need to implement a General Staff in your organization, but it is a good illustration of the effectiveness of playing strategic games. As a matter of fact, most countries either refined existing strategic planning or adopted the General Staff model for their own militaries after the World Wars.

Go ahead, play!

Playing strategic games can teach us valuable lessons, including:

  • Challenging bias and assumptions about our capabilities and the capabilities of opponents (competitors).
  • Exposing risk acceptance or aversion.
  • Determining whether we are strategic or tactical thinkers (big picture v. details).
  • Identifying how well we adjust to changing rules or circumstances.

In addition to learning and practicing strategies, there are other benefits to playing games. Gaming in and of itself can be a benefit. Many studies have quantified the benefits of children playing. I believe there are also many benefits of gameplay for adults.

While I am not giving license to play endless rounds of solitaire or minefield at work, I am suggesting that it’s productive to work some level of gaming into your schedule. While you may not be interested in business simulations or war games, there are many other strategy games that will stretch your imagination and enhance your strategic thinking abilities.

Coach’s Wrap Up

Games are important for adults to engage in if – then scenarios without reaping real-world consequences. Games and gaming are important in many aspects of business and government life. I have been involved in games with our county and state Emergency Management Services where we simulate natural disasters.  After the game, we debriefed and went over the critical lessons that then became part of the county emergency procedures.

Games not only allow for learning what to do and not to do in a given circumstance, they also exercise our creative muscles. So, go ahead, take some time and enjoy a game or two this week. If anyone asks what you are doing, let them know your coach said it was alright!


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