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Donn King


10 Real-World Skills You Develop by Playing MMORPGs

I have long contended you learn more from Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games that you do from school, at least as far as real-world skills are concerned. Parents have legitimate concerns about game addiction and violence, but with my own kids I sought to address those concerns without throwing out the value they gained.

In school, you take a test and get a grade that becomes part of your permanent record. (I realize there are other approaches, but this is what most of us experience/d.) That fosters never taking chances, teaching to the test, never stepping outside of what someone else says is the right answer.

Some may object that in real life, if you die you stay dead. In a game, you resurrect. That's not "real life." While that's true, players recognize that "dead" in a game just means failure. You learn from it. That's more like real life, where you try things and learn from your mistakes. That's the way of thinking we need to foster in our children and ourselves.


    1. Time management

    MMORPGs often require players to balance their real-life responsibilities with their in-game activities, which can include completing quests, raiding, and participating in events. There's a lot of scheduling involved. I mostly soloed my way to three top-level characters in World of Warcraft and five in Guild Wars 2, and even with that I took part in group events and learned to coordinate my work and my gaming. My son has much more experience with this, and it has given him a better sense of balancing responsibilities.

    2. Teamwork

    Many MMORPGs place a strong emphasis on teamwork, as players often need to work together in order to progress through difficult content or defeat powerful enemies. People who worry about games degrading social skills may have it backward. You must learn to work together to achieve success.

    3. Communication

    In order to effectively collaborate with other players, it is important to be able to clearly communicate one's thoughts and intentions. This can involve using in-game chat, voice communication tools, or both. It also involves working out the best way to communicate with your group given the limitations of technology associated with a given game. For instance, although World of Warcraft has in-game audio, most of the groups I took part in preferred to share a Discord channel instead.

    4. Strategic thinking

    Many MMORPGs require players to come up with effective strategies in order to succeed, whether it be in PvE (player vs. environment) or PvP (player vs. player) content. The usual pattern in facing a "boss" (the most difficult fight in a given sequence) is to do a run, get "wiped" (everyone "killed"), confer about what happened, discuss a different strategy, and run it again—usually to get wiped again. But you keep at it until you come up with a strategy that succeeds.

    This was one of the greatest benefits to my son. When he was young, he would see something on TV that the performer made look easy, like juggling. He would try it once, and when it didn't work the way he saw on TV, he would quit—"I can't do that." Through playing MMORPGs (he wasn't a beta player for WoW, but he was one of the first to get it when it came out commercially), he learned the aphorism: "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly while you learn to do it well."

    5. Resource management

    In many MMORPGs, players must manage a variety of resources, such as gold, crafting materials, or even their own character's health and mana. In Guild Wars 2, just simply keeping track of bag space and coins is a challenge. Learning to manage those and leverage your resources develops a genuine transferable skill.

    6. Adaptability

    As MMORPGs are constantly evolving and new content is added, it is important for players to be able to adapt to changes and learn new strategies. Regularly developers will "nerf" abilities. That just means they recognize a given weapon or skill has become too powerful, so they will change things around. That will mean a player will have to change tactics to be successful.

    7. Problem-solving

    MMORPGs often present players with challenging problems or puzzles that require them to think critically in order to overcome. This is also usually part of the "try something; fail; learn; try something else" pattern noted earlier.

    Related to this is researching. When I play games like this, I do my best to solve a problem on my own, but I also will go on the Internet and look for "cheats." They're not cheats; they're learning from other people's experiences. If someone discovers a genuine cheat (for instance, where a given key combination might allow you to access abilities unintended by the developers), those usually get shut down pretty quickly. That's different from someone saying, "I learned that if you skirt around the back of the little shed, you can sneak up on the boss and take him down faster than confronting him directly." That's the kind of mentoring we seek in real life—the ability to learn from those who have gone before.

    8. Decision-making

    Players must often make quick decisions in MMORPGs, whether it be choosing the right abilities to use in combat or deciding which quest to complete next.

    9. Attention to detail

    In order to fully understand and succeed in an MMORPG, players must be able to pay attention to small details and nuances in the game. So this is going to increase your powers of observation.

    10. Patience

    MMORPGs can be very time-consuming, and it can take a long time to progress and achieve certain goals. This requires patience and persistence. "Time-consuming" can be a matter of what they call "grinding," which involves gathering of certain specific resources or completing specific quests. It can also just mean not becoming frustrated that a given fight takes longer than you would like. Persistence by itself doesn't mean much. Persistence in pursuit of a worthwhile goal, however, is a requirement for success, and a key ingredient in such persistence is patience.

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