The Job Market Needs More Women Gamers

Study with all-female players shows video games improve important cognitive skills


Who wants to be the next Starbuck?
Starcraft 2 screenshot

It may be an unusual take-away from the latest study that shows how playing video games improve cognitive skills, but the difficulties researchers had putting this one together send an unexpected message: More women should be playing video games. Their career trajectories may thank them for it.

Where am I getting this crazy theory? The Wall Street Journal has the basics:

Playing StarCraft can boost problem solving and creative thinking, according to a new study by researchers at Queen Mary University of London and University College London. Researchers found that those who engaged in the real-time military strategy game improved their "cognitive flexibility," or the ability to adjust their thinking to meet different situations.

The participant pool was composed entirely of 72 female students at the University of Texas at Austin, because researchers were unable to find male participants who played computer games for less than two hours a day.

Yes, that's right. They could not find any college-aged men who barely played video games. [Update: Eugene Volokh politely informed me that the Wall Street Journal misread the initial study (which I stupidly didn't check). It's actually guys who played less than two hours of video games per week, not per day.] They split the women into groups, having some play StarCraft, a very complex, challenging, real-time strategy, sci-fi, combat game, and others play The Sims, which is a game about playing house (I'm not judging; I have both games):

Researchers found that in subsequent psychological tests, volunteers who played the most complex version of StarCraft were the quickest and most accurate in their responses. ….

In testing, participants were evaluated on a number of tasks including memory tests, visual search, and information filtering. The research team concluded that cognitive flexibility can be learned through games that emphasize quick and concurrent management of different types of information.

Authors say the research is the first to link real-time strategy games with cognitive flexibility, which measures a person's ability to switch between tasks and use multiple concepts and ideas to solve problems.

Such skills translate into the workplace, undoubtedly in leadership positions in jobs where quick decision-making is necessary.

Women are playing video games more than ever. They make up about 47 percent of the game market, according to recent industry statistics (pdf).  But given the incredibly lop-sided pool the colleges brought together for the StarCraft study, clearly many women aren't as involved in the same type of video-gaming as men. More should give these strategy games a try.