Video Games for Learning and Development - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #123

Video Games for Learning and Development

This is one of our free-to-access content pieces. To gain access to all Ideas for Leaders content please Log In Here or if you are not already a Subscriber then Subscribe Here.
Main Image
Main Image


A study by the US Office of Naval Research found that video game players perform 10-20% better in perceptual and cognitive ability than non-game players. Considering most workers today have played video games at some stage of their lives, these are positive findings. Now, organizations are also acknowledging that well-crafted video games can be used to support learning and to develop organizational talent. This Idea explores how.


From the Atari arcade games made popular in the 1970s-80s, to Angry Birds on iPhones across the world, video games have grown significantly in popularity and sophistication over the past few decades. This year sees the 65th birthday of the first patented video game, the ‘Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device’. Most of today’s workers have grown up playing some type of video game and recognizing this, organizations are starting to use gaming technology for talent development.

Take IBM and Farmer’s Insurance, for example; both have used the IBM-developed INNOV8 to teach the effect of business decisions on their organizations’ ecosystems. INNOV8 is a sim-style serious game, where players manipulate their business models to meet profitability, customer satisfaction and environmental goals. Similarly, examples of the use of video games in organizational settings can be found with Cisco, the US Army, Northrop Grumman and others.

Is there a case to be made for organizations to utilize video games more for learning and development? According to a White Paper from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, serious games (i.e. those designed to improve learning) can serve more than just that function; serious games can also be a source for new ideas, helping organizations become more innovative, and can help analyze the abundance of data (such as operational, customer, and sales data) that organizations collect from various sources.

The reason why they can be so effective seems to be because they can closely approximate actual working environments; for example, online games such as massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) can closely match actual work environments and be developed in such a way that the skills required to succeed in the game are similar to leadership skills employers want to see developed. However, unlike actual situations, players are able to safely take risks and are therefore more likely to develop teamwork skills, creatively problem solve, and experiment and innovate.


The use of video games for learning and development can be beneficial for all types of organizations, but even more so for those with a large number of workers from the ‘Millennial’ generation. Depending on the desired outcomes, certain types of games may prove more useful than others. For example, timed games that reinforce speed are not the best option if your desired learning outcomes are based on critical thinking skills.

On the other hand, the popular video game World of Warcraft has been identified in a Harvard Business Review study as encompassing features that will be prevalent in tomorrow’s business world; as such, the game is able to teach participants how to work quickly and efficiently.

World of Warcraft is a type of MMORPG and as mentioned above, MMORPGs are particularly favourable games to use by organizations, as they require cooperation and collaboration among many players to achieve a mission. They can help teach such business skills as recruiting, organizing, motivating and directing others to accomplish a shared goal in a safe environment where risk-taking, critical thinking, and creative problem solving is encouraged. 



Got Game? The Use of Gaming in Learning and Development, Kelly, Kip, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School White Paper (2013)

Ideas for Leaders is a free-to-access site. If you enjoy our content and find it valuable, please consider subscribing to our Developing Leaders Quarterly publication, this presents academic, business and consultant perspectives on leadership issues in a beautifully produced, small volume delivered to your desk four times a year.



Idea conceived

April 10, 2013

Idea posted

Apr 2013
challenge block
Can't find the Idea you are after?
Then 'Challenge Us' to source it.


For the less than the price of a coffee a week you can read over 650 summaries of research that cost universities over $1 billion to produce.

Use our Ideas to:

  • Catalyse conversations with mentors, mentees, peers and colleagues.
  • Keep program participants engaged with leadership thinking when they return to their workplace.
  • Create a common language amongst your colleagues on leadership and management practice
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest thought-leadership from the world’s leading business schools.
  • Drill-down on the original research or even contact the researchers directly

Speak to us on how else you can leverage this content to benefit your organization.