If you're like me, you probably spent a few too many hours playing Overwatch, Candy Crush Saga, or Pokémon Go last week. But don't worry, it turns out all of those hours playing games might even be beneficial. You probably know that people take gaming really seriously, but did you also know you can learn a thing or two and even become more innovative while you game? 

Here are two key ways to make the most of your video game playing and use it to boost your innovation potential at work.

Playful Thinking Together

You may have heard the saying, "people who play together, stay together." Rather than the stereotype of the "lone game player," many games today include team and social elements. For instance, think of your favorite classic board games, social mobile games such as FarmVille, or team-based multiplayer games like Overwatch. These games are supporting interactive, social play

Playing together may even help you bond and connect. Research by Kelly Boudreau and Mia Consalvo suggest that playing games together helps to enhance a "community feel," and raise trust and caring. In other words, playing games can support those warm, fuzzy, "hygge" feelings that also help make us more open to sharing ideas and innovating with each other.

This could be applied to the company "family" as well. Getting ready to ideate on a new project? Try playing some "brainstorming" games together or doing playful activities such as a role-playing exercise or improvisational scenarios. Or, you could always whip out a board game instead of after work drinks.

New Ways to Solve an Old Problem

It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but one way to add in some novelty is through games. One of the issues with solving problems is that we tend to get stuck or fixated on one problem or way of doing something, and you can't think of any other solution. We call this "functional fixedness" or getting fixated on one solution and it happens because we tend to rely on heuristics, or common ways of approaching problems.

Games, however, can help us see old problems in a new way. Take Pokémon Go, for instance, the smash hit location-based augmented reality game. While some people saw their backyard as just a backyard, or their local library as just a place with books, playing a Pokémon Go game in their neighborhoods helped people see them now as a "gym" for a Pokémon showdown, or a treasured spot to find rare Pokémons. The game itself could even become the solution to an old problem. For instance, research by Tim Althoff, Ryen White, and Eric Horvitz suggest that Pokémon Go can support physical activity and walk more together. (Though, some players have also complained of leg pain and other issues from playing the game, too). 

So, do you need a creative solution to a problem? Try playing a game with it. Transform the problem into a "game goal" and add in missions and quests. Or, pretend you are in a new role and try to solve the problem as a fictional character. Even wearing a different hat or costume can help. Sometimes a simple change or a new perspective can change the way we see the world and help us take notice of what we once took for granted.

Of course, sometimes playing a game reveals all the new problems we need to solve, such as how to make sure people don't get arrested for chasing Pokémons by trespassing in people's yards.

Published on: Mar 22, 2018