The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just changed how we work; it has also forced us to find new ways to play. In most major cities, recreational sports leagues remain closed, public basketball courts are vacant, gyms are dark, and movie theaters are largely empty. With fewer entertainment options outside of our homes, many Americans are turning to a new (yet familiar) outlet for socializing and connecting with friends and loved ones: video games.

Even before the pandemic, gaming was a firmly established American pastime. A 2018 study from the Entertainment Software Association found that 75% of households contained at least one person who spent three or more hours each week playing video games. Despite this growing popularity, many misconceptions about video games persist.

Critics often paint a negative picture of the typical gamer as a socially inept and unmotivated male teenager who spends hours each day in solitude, wasting time shooting at pixels. You wouldn’t want that person working at your company, right? However, research shows that playing video games with co-workers for 45 minutes can improve employee productivity by 20%. If you want to find a new way to bring your team together, you should explore the benefits of gaming.

The Toxic Minority

Some companies are hesitant to implement recreational programs because they worry about potentially toxic behavior. As with almost every other online social platform, gamers are prone to online disinhibition (i.e., the lack of restraint that often accompanies anonymous interactions). In addition to anonymity, individual personality traits contribute to online disinhibition — although disinhibition doesn’t always lead to toxic behavior.

Players who rage over teammate performance or repeat racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs can ruin the collective experience of other gamers who simply want to have fun in a competitive environment. You don’t want to encourage employees to play video games only for them to experience toxicity instead of stress relief and improved productivity. Fortunately, the community is starting to take real action.

Last year, more than 30 major gaming companies joined the Fair Play Alliance in the hopes that “by sharing research, lessons learned, and best practices, the companies will be able to develop a better understanding of why toxicity happens” and how it can be prevented.

Our organization, Mission Control, holds users to the highest standards of behavior on our platform. From within our application, all users can report any inappropriate behavior to Mission Control and their league administrators to resolve issues quickly and effectively. We believe all organizations that support recreational gaming must firmly oppose harmful comments and hold individuals who display this behavior accountable.

Setting and enforcing high standards is the right thing to do, and we know it’s essential for building inclusive communities that people embrace. So, don’t worry about the toxic minority of gamers. There are plenty of safeguards in place to ensure your employees only experience the many benefits of gaming.

The Benefits of Online Gaming

As the video game community becomes more welcoming and less toxic, more businesses can leverage the many positive benefits of playing video games. Here are three ways video games can help in a business setting:

1. Stimulating Cognitive Development

A growing body of research has found that video games can strengthen a range of cognitive skills, including problem-solving ability, spatial attention, multitasking, memory, and more. How does gaming help your brain? Unlike other forms of digital entertainment, games present players with challenging tasks that require quick thinking, strategic planning, and collaborative goal-setting. About 80% of Fortune 500 companies evaluate potential hires using cognitive tests, which shows how valuable these skills are considered in the corporate world. By helping your employees develop them through gaming, you’ll invest in their success.

2. Teaching Communication and Teamwork

Research shows that 39% of employees think their companies aren’t collaborative enough. Even if your employees don’t work on teams, they likely interact (or should be interacting) with people in other departments or on different projects. Flip the script and help your employees creatively develop teamwork skills. Video games encourage teamwork and cooperation when played with others, so a regular gaming opportunity for employees should boost companywide collaboration.

3. Encouraging Social Interaction

Despite common stereotypes, most gamers prefer playing with other people. Adult gamers also tend to be social, using games to stay in touch with old friends and meet new people. Given the clear link between social interaction and overall emotional health, it’s no surprise that more than 40% of gamers in a recent Qutee poll said improvements to emotional well-being were the No. 1 benefit of playing video games. Many professionals are struggling with social isolation during the pandemic, but you can help them feel more connected with a recreational gaming program.

While problematic gaming is an issue that can lead to potentially negative side effects — especially among people who are naturally introverted and inclined to prefer solitude — the overwhelming focus on this relatively small segment of the gaming population tends to drown out other research demonstrating the powerful benefits of gaming. If we work together to counteract toxic behavior online, then everyone can freely enjoy the multiple benefits of online gaming.

Need more reasons to implement a recreational gaming program at your company? Check out the whitepaper on the topic today.