Could Video Game Breaks at Work be the Key to Unlocking Performance?

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Raphael PicturewebWhenever I get the chance, I like to relax at home over a game of Super Smash Brothers. I play this Mario video game frequently, as it always has the ability to make me feel happy and rejuvenated. Moreover, as Super Smash Brothers is a multi-player game, it has always been a fantastic activity to share with my friends.

The other night, after playing a few games of Super Smash Brothers, I began to wonder what role games can have in improving performance and mood at work. After all, our research here at Hot Spots Movement has in recent years uncovered many uses for games in the corporate setting – from using games to identify skills profiles in recruitment efforts, to organisations gamifying their learning platforms.

I decided to do some research to see what evidence there was for the link between games and performance. Here’s what I found…

During a long day of work, we experience cognitive fatigue from stress, anxiety and frustration. Research suggests that playing video games during work breaks can simultaneously reduce stress and improve general morale. In a recent study[1], participants were given a computer-based game called Sushi Cat during a short break at work. Interestingly, the study found that those given this game experienced a significant increase in mood compared to those who did not. A separate 2014 Kansas State University study[2] also supports this finding, indicating that employees who took one to two minute breaks to play Candy Crush or Angry Birds were significantly happier than their peers. In fact, by video games increasing morale and happiness, engagement and ultimately employee retention, also go up[3]. This is because if people are happier at work, they are more likely to feel better about the work itself, increasing engagement and retention.

Secondly, recent research suggests that playing video games during work breaks can also improve intelligence, consciousness and cognitive ability. In fact, a recent MRI study[4] found that playing Super Mario games can actually stimulate neurogenesis and connectivity of certain brain regions such as the right hippocampus and the right prefrontal cortex. This increased level of connectivity and neuroplasticity directly improves our memory formation, spatial orientation, strategic planning and fine motor skills – all incredibly valuable human skills to bring to work. In today’s society especially, where routine tasks continue to be replaced by automation, these human skills are increasingly valuable.

Finally, gaming at work provides an opportunity for employees to collaborate, which translates directly to business outcomes[5].  In addition, some games can also increase empathy for colleagues and increase pro-social behaviour, or any action intended to help other people. For example, a study on American undergraduates[6] found that after playing the pro-social game, Super Mario Sunshine (a game where Mario must clean up environmental pollution), the students became significantly more helpful. By recommending games that encourage pro-social behaviour, companies can help foster more positive relationships amongst their staff.

Whilst there are many benefits to encouraging gaming during work breaks, it is also important to consider reservations that companies may still have. For example, digital distractions – technological tools hampering our ability to manage and balance energy, time and attention – are one of the defining problems of today’s workplace. As such, adding another layer of distractions could contribute to a reduction in productivity. In order to avoid this, it is important for companies to clearly signal that gaming should be an activity specifically reserved for micro-breaks and in a collaborative setting.

Another concern that companies may have is that certain video games that are more violent in nature, such as Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, may foster anti-social behaviours at work. In fact, studies have shown that there is a consistent relation between violent video games and increased aggressive and callous behaviour[7]. In order to avoid this behavioural outcome, and maximise the benefits of gaming during work breaks, it is crucial for companies to carefully select which games are encouraged at their workplace and consider how they reinforce positive behaviours while discouraging negative ones. For example, promoting pro-social games, such as the Mario saga games mentioned above, could be recommended to employees instead.

Encouraging gaming during work breaks, may prove a creative solution to set a company apart. The benefits of gaming go far beyond amusement and, when carefully curated, can be a powerful force in encouraging positive and pro-social behaviours. So, when you’re next considering how to reenergise and reconnect your team, maybe Super Mario is the key.








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