There was a point in time where videogames were simply a fun and entertaining activity for people to enjoy. The accessibility of early titles such as Pong and Galaga allowed for anyone to jump in and start playing, and created a shared interest between casual and methodical players. Of course, as time progressed so did the video games people had available to them. The idea of complex and competitive titles gradually became more popular and eventually became commonplace in the industry. And while casual gaming experiences have not gone anywhere, it seems competitive games are leading the world of videogames in many ways. First and foremost, videogames are meant to be fun, but the shift in their nature has introduced an additional benefit for players in the form of technical attributes known as STEM skills.
STEM skills are abilities needed in many aspects of life, primarily school and the workplace, that allow individuals to become more proficient in these environments. The acronym STEM represents science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and encapsulates many of the integral skills that everyone will need to have at some point in their lives. There isn't an entirely universal list of these skills, but some of the most prominent ones include problem solving, creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and intellectual curiosity. The need for these attributes is common in playing the biggest video game titles and the rise of competitiveness and esports has become a quality, but often overlooked avenue for learning them.
Many games are based on presenting the player with an obstacle to overcome or a task to complete in order to progress. It can range from a simple enemy in the pathway to the next part of the game to an extensive and difficult puzzle that must be solved. Conquering these obstacles often requires the player to make sense of the variables in front of them and deliberately develop possible solutions to use through trial and error. The same concept applies to both individual and team-based esports where opposing parties are competing against one another. The puzzle or enemy is replaced with another person, but the required process is all the same. Having to process the adversity in front of you and efficiently work around it is something that happens frequently.
Directly tied to problem solving, creativity is a necessary component to gaming as well. Like solving problems in the real world, many of the applicable solutions aren’t ones that are right in front of you. Expanding your creativity can allow for new and unique ways to approach a task. If a player is stuck on a level or is struggling to score on their opponent, they may not be considering all of the possible options. A player thinking creatively or thinking outside the box about the situation they are in is going to develop solutions unknown to those who don’t think creatively. This can be valuable in many branches of life as well, allowing someone to think about things in a more dynamic fashion before making a decision.
Chances are, everyone will need to work in pairs or in groups throughout their lives. Collaboration is an important and useful way to bring together multiple perspectives and mindsets to achieve a common goal. However, the tricky part is doing so effectively. Like anything else, it’s a skill that must be developed over time through practice. A significant portion of gaming and esports requires players to collaborate with one another to win the game they are playing. Certain games rely heavily on a team’s ability to work well together and find synergy through communication. In these games, improving and finding success is directly tied to the players becoming more efficient collaborators and better team players. Understanding how to learn, listen, and communicate with team members is a lifelong skill.
Critical thinking involves conceptualizing, analyzing, evaluating, and applying information. It may not always seem that way from the outside, but many videogames are throwing a lot of information at the players constantly, making it difficult to properly process it and act accordingly. Regardless if the player is playing at the pro level or is a beginner, knowing how to gather information, analyze it, and make the appropriate decision or conclusion is something that happens in a split second. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by masses of information, and being able to calmly and quickly react to it can be very important both inside and out of the games. We live in a world that is flooded with new information at high speeds and having the skill to think critically with all that we consume is important to learn.
The idea behind intellectual curiosity is that an individual can excel and grow through continuous learning and improving on past mistakes. Looking at failure as an opportunity to improve in the future can be a very valuable mindset and can lead to becoming more proficient in different ways. Commonly referred to skill ceilings, each videogame has a different skill level that a player can achieve based on the various limitations the game has. Some games have higher skill ceilings than others, but all games are opportunities for players to play, fail to some extent, learn what they did wrong or could do better, and apply what they learned in the future. Being in a competition with other players can serve as the driving force for players to improve and will in tandem develop the mindset of wanting to continuously improve in other aspects of life.
All of these STEM skills are important abilities to have as people progress through their education, experience new things in life, and make their way into and through the professional workforce. Finding opportunities to hone them and grow in each area can contribute to becoming a well-rounded and developed person. Esports and gaming might not always be the first on the list of ways to develop STEM skills, but they are nonetheless useful in doing so. Gaming has grown into a complex activity that exposes those involved to things such as problem solving and critical thinking, even in subtle ways.