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How Video Games Teach Communication Skills

Communication is a vital skill. Whether you’re at home with family, out with friends, or having discussions at work or school, the ability to convey your ideas, needs, feelings, and thoughts is crucial. There’s many different ways to communicate – from writing an email to body language to signing to speaking – but regardless of how you communicate, all young learners need to practice and hone this skill.

Digital communication has become even more prominent and important over the past few years, especially given COVID-19’s impact on our preparedness for face-to-face interactions. In this blog, we’ll explore how video games operate as a tool to boost young people’s communication skills.

via Giphy

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Games serve as shared interests and cultural touchpoints of conversation

Gaming is a pastime that many young people share, and this prevalent common ground can facilitate communication, friendship, and more – just ask researchers! A survey conducted by the National Literacy Trust in the UK suggests that video games may contribute positively to the literacy and communication skills of children, fostering overall mental well-being. 

The survey, involving 4,626 participants aged 11 to 16, revealed that more than a third (35.3%) of children who play video games believe that gaming enhances their reading abilities. This group of gamers, comprising 79.4% of respondents, actively engages with gaming-related materials monthly, including in-game communications, reviews, and books.

This study emphasized the importance of the “shared cultural experience” of gaming among young people, noting that 76.3% of young players engage in conversations about video games with friends, surpassing the 29.4% who discuss books. This social interaction, both in real life and online, plays a crucial role in building positive communication skills among youth.

Researchers also observed that the strong communication and social connections established through video games contribute to enhanced mental well-being. Many young participants expressed that gaming serves as a means to cope with stress and navigate challenging emotions, particularly relevant during circumstances like the COVID-19 lockdowns.

While the survey did not delve into specific game genres or duration of play, the findings challenge stereotypes and highlight the social benefits of gaming. As research psychologist Rachel Kowert points out, video games provide a multifaceted platform for maintaining friendships through collaboration and competition, offering a valuable outlet during times of anxiety and limited social access. Parents echoed these sentiments, with 69.6% stating that communication within the gaming context has positively impacted their children’s mental well-being.

Multiplayer games that necessitate direct communication 

Multiplayer games, whether in the form of cooperative missions or competitive challenges, require players to communicate, strategize, and execute plans as a team. The games below, for instance, encourage players to articulate their ideas, coordinate movements, and share resources – all essential elements of effective communication.

Three commercial titles in particular stand out to us as multiplayer games require meaningful communication between players to win. Overcooked 2, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and It Takes Two prove that effective communication is a necessity to success.

In Overcooked 2, for instance, the premise is deceptively simple: prepare dishes and serve them to waiting guests. However, the magic—and madness—unfolds when multiple players attempt to navigate the kitchen simultaneously. Here, effective communication becomes the secret ingredient to success. Players must coordinate tasks, strategize, and avoid the pitfalls of miscommunication. The levels crank up the difficulty, demanding seamless teamwork and swift communication to conquer the challenges of this game.

Meanwhile, in Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, players find themselves in the nerve-wracking scenario of defusing a bomb, and the catch? Only one player can see the bomb while the other guides them through the intricate process. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a game where every piece of information matters. One player must quickly tell the other player complex details, testing their ability to sift through the chaos and execute the defusal process accurately. Oh, and did we mention that this game can be played in virtual reality? That adds an extra layer of realism, intensifying players’ need for effective communication to avert disaster. This game transforms tension into communication-driven problem-solving, or BOOM

Lastly, It Takes Two is a tale of a couple on the brink of divorce transformed into sentient puppets. This co-op game catapults players into a diverse array of gameplay challenges, from platforming to puzzles. What sets It Takes Two apart is its demand for synchronized action—players must coordinate their moves to overcome obstacles and mend the fractured relationship of the protagonists. While the narrative might be an acquired taste, the varied gameplay loops shine, illustrating the profound impact of communication in navigating the complexities of the virtual (and real) world.

Social-emotional learning, video games, and effective communication 

As players navigate environments in games, they encounter challenges that not only strengthen their strategic prowess, but also their emotional intelligence. In many games, empathy, teamwork, and understanding are inherent components of successful gameplay, and these skills translate into real-world communication proficiency.

Role-playing games (RPGs) in particular require players to embody diverse characters and engage in dialogues that explore nuanced emotions and perspectives. This unique facet of games helps develop empathy, as players must understand and respond to characters’ feelings and motivations. For example, Brooklyn Game Lab’s innovative program employs role-playing games to nurture SEL skills in a generation grappling with pandemic-induced social isolation. At the lab, students ages 5 to 16 practice their communication and emotional regulation skills through Dungeons and Dragons. 

However, it’s not just tabletop games or board games that can facilitate this type of learning. Esports, with their dynamic and social nature, provide many opportunities for students to build social connections and nurture their communication skills. Tyler Hahn, director of the Cherokee Public Library in Iowa, tells the School Library Journal that he introduces esports to middle schoolers because they foster communication, collaboration, and creative thinking. Hahn asserts that the esports environment provides a social haven for students who might not engage in traditional extracurricular activities.

via School Library Journal

As we’ve noted in a prior blog about video games and social emotional learning, games like Florence or What Remains of Edith Finch provide poignant examples of how gaming narratives can evoke deep emotional responses in players and provide them with examples of how to navigate communication in difficult situations. 

Despite being single player games, these virtual environments provide a risk-free space for students to practice emotional regulation, learn from failure, and build resilience. By pairing video games with guided discussions, parents, teachers, or educators can create spaces for young people to have meaningful conversations about identity, relationships, self-awareness, and more.

Communication is more than just a skill—it’s a bridge connecting individuals in various aspects of life, from home to work and beyond. Games are a unique conduit for young learners honing their soft skills for the 21st century

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