What HR Technology Can Learn from Minecraft

Minecraft, a video game that lets you build things with virtual blocks, has been a huge sensation since it hit the market in 2009. Everyone, children, and adults, seems to be obsessed with it; the game currently boasts more than 100 million players. Of course, there are behavioral and parental experts concerned that too much screen time playing Minecraft may affect social skills. However, contrary to this belief, experts have found that video games can offer quite a few benefits—including building social skills.

Building social skills is important for children, but children aren’t the only ones who can benefit from the extra interaction. Many Millennials lack the soft skills they need to succeed, which creates real challenges for employers and employees alike. Human resources managers would do well to pay attention to the success of games like Minecraft and the valuable clues these games offer.

The World of Minecraft

Minecraft uses vintage, 16-bit-style graphics in an open world where players can build almost anything they can imagine. The point of the game, basically, is to be creative. As a player, you create an entire world for yourself, building houses and other elements entirely from scratch. You can dig to the center of the earth to mine for materials, or construct a high tower that sprays a waterfall of kittens.

However, you aren’t the only one in this virtual world; there are other players, and you can connect with them. Using avatars, you can interact and make friends—or enemies. You can team up and play games with other people. It’s these interactions that offer valuable lessons for HR technology. 

Learn Real-Life Lessons from the Virtual World

Minecraft echoes the real world in many ways. Like any social environment, there are friendships and disagreements. There are bullies and victims. For example, players can acquire TNT and use it to destroy other people’s creations—something that happens a lot in the game. You can also sneak into another person’s world and steal their supplies.

By playing the game, people learn how to respond to aggressors; to use creative problem solving and resourcefulness to design a trap or a hidden stash—or to retaliate.

Or both.

Much like real life, many players learn that balance between being nice and being tough seems to do the trick. Be nice to people. Build relationships. However, when someone slights you, let them know it is not okay. Being too nice may lead people to take advantage of you while being too mean can cause you to lose friends.

That doesn’t sound so different from life on the playground, does it?

Over time, Minecraft players learn the basis of all human interactions. They learn to identify who is trustworthy and who is not. They learn how to deal with aggressors by using problem-solving skills. Finally, they learn how they can be successful.

Of course, in Minecraft, you’re not thinking about this as building valuable life skills—you’re just trying to stop someone from toppling your kitten-waterfall-tower while having a good time.

Tap into Game Mechanics

So exactly how does this translate into HR technology? The simple answer: Gamification.

Gamification takes gaming concepts—reward systems and other mechanics that make games entertaining—and uses them for other purposes, ones that aren’t typically as much fun, like training. It’s been a buzzword for years, but the HR world hasn’t taken it as seriously as it needs to.

I’ve seen quite a bit of research on the effectiveness of gamification, and the results are impressive. One such survey found that 89 percent of people using eLearning platforms feel they would be more engaged by a gamified process.

Gamification has serious potential to help Millennials build critical soft skills. According to one study, 44 percent of corporate executives feel the biggest workplace gaps are skills like communication, team collaboration, and creativity. Sure, Millennials are talented and highly intelligent, but without these vital soft skills, that talent cannot be fully realized. The real kicker is that soft skills aren’t explicitly taught in college or school, where the focus is on hard skills.

Clearly, we need a different strategy—or virtual world—to serve as a sandbox.

Build Employee Soft Skills the Fun Way

I’m not saying Minecraft should be mandatory for workers or students, nor do I think it’s the perfect training tool. But HR professionals should consider gamification as a very real—and very effective—way to develop soft skills. These skills—creativity, communication, and teamwork—are the same concepts that are the foundation of games like Minecraft.

Check into gamification. Try playing Minecraft or something similar. Then, consider offering employee training in a fun and rewarding way, in an environment that’s virtual yet socially oriented. It will make learning seem much more fun—and much less like work.

And everyone will win!

photo credit: Parts and Crafts Fall 2014 via photopin (license)

 This article was first published on Millennial CEO last 2/9/2016