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Learning Leadership Skills

The exploration of whether individuals can learn leadership skills from their MMORPG experience is important for several reasons. First of all, it demonstrates that actual real-life skills can be learned in virtual settings. Secondly, it allows educators and corporate training creators to think of MMORPGs as more than just games, and shows that MMORPGs should be thought of as potential educational mediums. And finally, it highlights the possibility of a kind of “emergent learning” where the pedagogy isn’t dictated as in traditional training software, but emergent in the sense that it occurs because of the rich system mechanics.

MMORPGs allow for some provocative scenarios. One could imagine asking job candidates to join a group and persuade the group to move to a different hunting spot to gauge a candidate’s persuasion skills. Or alternatively, have an individual join a group and then attempt to take over the leadership role while gaining the loyalty of the existing group members. Of course, these scenarios depend on a more straight-forward rule-set so there isn’t too much domain specific knowledge that doesn’t apply to the real world. As the pervasiveness of MMOGs increase however, these might be a very possible scenarios.

Because the power of MMORPGs is the ability to place individuals in different ad-hoc groups every time they play, it makes sense to explore whether people are able to learn complex social skills from their experiences. Respondents were asked whether they had learned anything or improved their ability in the following 4 leadership skills from their MMORPG experience.

Mediation: Resolving in-group conflicts. Reducing in-group tension.
Persuasion: Convincing the group to move to a different area, or change hunting tactics.
Motivation: Instilling loyalty. Providing encouragement.
Overall Leadership: Overall leadership ability.

The following table shows that almost half of respondents felt that they had learned a little or a lot across all 4 leadership skill areas.

While there were no gender differences, there were significant age differences. In particular, younger players were more likely to feel they had improved their leadership skills from their MMORPG experiences.

Respondents were also asked whether they were in a manager or leadership role in their real-life jobs, and the interesting finding was that this had no effect on whether the individual felt they had learned anything from their MMORPG experiences. In other words, someone who was in a leadership or management role in real life was not any more or less likely to feel they had learned something from their MMORPG experiences.

This data set demonstrates that MMOGs can, and should be, thought of as potential educational mediums for complex social skills. Beyond training, one could imagine MMOGs used as candidate screening tests. Instead of asking candidates to answer Critical Behavioral (CBI) questions, one could imagine observing them behave in stressful group situations instead, which provides a far better assessment tool than the CBI questions where a candidate can provide prepared answers.

Posted on February 11, 2003 | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)


I have often thought an mmorpg would be good training for entrepreneurs or economics classes.The law of supply and demand is very evident in what is going on with the sales of virtual items and other trades. The effects of the server's age, introduction of new things that make old ones obsolete are variables that can affect the market short and long-term, and those who are good at predicting things usually make out like bandits.

You can see that some have a knack for guaging the future trends, and I think you can see in the creative strategies some employ who has the business knack and who isn't quite cut out for it.

Another, less glamorous thing people learn is how to spot scams. There are a variety of players trying to pull off one scam or another. A couple times being the victim and you become much more savvy.

Posted by: Ruby on February 14, 2003 11:59 AM

Personaly ... MMORPG's have helped emmensly with my leadership skills, i was pushed into both being an officer ... and then later leader of a guild on EQ. it was iffy at times ... but thought that experiance ... i feel i've learned mediation, motivation and and persuasion. often there are times when i have to settle matters between my own guild members or between my guild and another ... i play on the rallos zek server on everquest ... so leading and officering in a guild means your constantly trying to avoid wars dealing with kos issues people getting scammed, its not easy ... but it is deffinatly one hellofa learning expeirance

Posted by: kon on February 16, 2003 12:30 PM

As Leader of a guild it gives the game so much more dept. As you plan raids and socialize with members. Also every member has diffrent needs and expectations. The factor: Are able to handle the pressure of being leader? Are you able to guide others and outsource tasks, and so the guild is better oiled when your not around?
Can you handle fame and are you able to overcome heavy storms?
Be a Family guild and socialize or a Commercial guild that goes for the best items and hardest kills?
It's in peoples nature to go for the best, beat the game / beat the system be the best.
But there is always a better item to be found and it will never be easy.
Competition is big and fixation is what people drive into addiction.
People do not talk about what they want, they talk about what they need.

Can you put down, on your CV, you have experience in leadership by a video game?
I think you can, but will your leadership ingame disorder a leadership role in reallife?
I think it will.

I remember a few people being very loyal to me during my leadership of Hated Ones on Prexus. It inspires people to look up to you and follow your idea's about game play. But it also brings a big emotional involvement and pressure. Don't let your leadership role become your fixation in the game.

Posted by: Pickels on February 16, 2003 9:07 PM

After reading the article it came to me that there is a thread of truth to the possiblity that leadership or even ecomonic personality could be learned or developed. As an Educator, I am a teacher by profession, and a player of these MMORPG's. I find that the player drive economics and game play creates a truily full culutral society in which to function. Your reliance on communication is the first skill you must develop in order be successful. I believe that if further developed it could be fully functional paradim for eductional perposes. The first bonus is it removes all real world bias, such as racism. You have no idea who is playing the other character. This removal from normal face to face reaction will play a wonderful secondary role of teaching tolerance. I believe this could be something indeed.

Posted by: Matthew A. Hayden on February 17, 2003 8:08 AM

I think it's interesting that the people in your dataset who feel they learn from mmog tend to be younger than the people who don't.

For me, an older player, I have real world responsibilities, so I had to become proficient in people-managing skills a long time ago. In the absence of real-world opportunity to refine skills, I can see mmog as supporting that function, and it's risk-free, too.
I would resist any attempt to use mmog settings or even VR in general as a personel selection tool, however.

Posted by: Wynnde on February 17, 2003 12:38 PM

I agree with Wyndde that those of us who are older have already learned/developed our leadership skills. As a classroom teacher and teacher association leader for nearly 4 decades, I've honed all those skills on many knotty issues both with students and with adminstration/board of education.

So instead of learning skills, I am using skills, and -- I hope! -- modeling them for the younger members of my guild (which is very much a family guild though we're growing into a raiding guild as well).

I think if you did a more complete breakdown by age and occupation you'd find that those who are already using leadership skills IRL are the ones least likely to say they learned them ingame.

As far as using MMORPGs as personnel evaluation tools I think it's an amazing and potentially very viable idea!

Posted by: Mari Bonomi on February 18, 2003 2:53 PM

You might want to investigate the guild dynamics more than casual grouping dynamics to get info on leadership. Social issues spanning a year or more are a much better descriptor of people's social experiences.

Posted by: Kurt Harland on February 18, 2003 3:33 PM

Maybe part of the reason that youth correlates to leadership learning here is that there is possibly a higher awareness of, and desire for, learning at a younger age. As other comments above point out, those of us who are older have already had the chance to learn and practice these skills and may be less concerned with our 'performance' in them.

I would be very wary of using MMORPGs as aids without further investigation. For example would people who interacted with the 'high learners' agree that their leadership skills had improved or not ? It maybe (especially given the distant and imaginary world that MMORPGs build) that certain behaviours are tolerated and indeed reinforced which are NOT conducive to good leadership skills in the outside world. For example, I personally have noticed a high degree of dominance, control-orientation and expert-advice-giving within the game. Those showing these behaviours may believe that these are leadership skills, although I would rate higher such things as pragmatism, negotiation, relationship-building and diplomacy.

Posted by: Mamine on February 19, 2003 11:11 AM

I think I have learned a ton about leadership from this game. I'm only 21 but have had significant leadership experience in real life. I've been the president of several student organizations, organized meetings and clubs, and even sat for 2 years on the Board of Directors for a $10M corporation. There I learned a lot about motivating people, and getting things done. It never ceased to amaze me how you could manipulate 40 people into doing what you want... and the power of that never ceases to scare me either. However in EQ I've learned a different side of leadership. Since skills are more apparent in Everquest than real life, I've now seen the value of training and mentorship. I've spent countless hours training a player to split mobs, chose which spells to use, or crowd control several mobs. All these experiences have set me back in achieving my own goals, but made a world of difference in the gameplay of a new character. Also I am now more likely to ask help from a more experienced player, and in general I am more patient with people that are learning. Now I apply these things in real life, and find that they work there as well. I think that the adults who claim not to learn much about leadership just haven't opened their minds to applying what they have learned in game to real life.

Posted by: Mike on March 4, 2003 4:47 PM

"I remember a few people being very loyal to me during my leadership of Hated Ones on Prexus."

Very odd, myself and my brother were part of Hated Ones on Prexus. Poffis, Pickels, the whole gang.. Those were the days.

Just happened to find your website.. So very odd.

Posted by: Top_Catx on June 3, 2003 1:27 PM

I agree to some degree. Leadership in an online MMORPG is more like running a soup kitchen where you manage volunteers to support your causes, rather than a business where the participants are guaranteed a financial payout for their loyalty and hard work.

It is infinitely more rewarding to see people succeed under your leadership in this aspect because you know they've done it from their own free will.

Posted by: Raina on February 25, 2004 1:21 PM

I can understand how an MMO can teach people basic economics and could even, under the guidence of an economics / business professor, produce favorable result in teaching advanced economics.

But leadership is much harder to do. People in MMOs (like myself) are there to play, have fun, socialize. Leadership is not about being pals with someone, it is about taking responsibility for the success or not of a goal. Leaders in the real world can make hard decisions and count on their subordinates to follow them because... most of the time we follow orders. From the military soldier following his officer's orders (or it is mutiny), to the accounting clerk following the orders of his boss (or it is his job).

MMOs simply dont have a "penalty" for not following orders, and leadership must, at some point, be absolute. One can go a long way with a good word and a freidnly encouragement, but when I'm facing an army of enemies (mobs or players) no leader can "order" me to do something. I will simply do what I have learned from experience and expect others to do that too (clerics to heal, mages to mezz and blast, warriors to charge, rogues to sneak etc.)

Even in a non-combat situation, a guild leader cannot tell me to do something, he can suggest only. Guild leaders who act as order-givers (as leaders in the real world do - I dont mean that in a totalitarian way, but when the leader, any leader, makes up his mind, all follow it, no matter what or how many suggestions were introduced before) are not respected, because an MMO's purpose is to have fun.

Posted by: Ioannis Bazianas on January 8, 2006 4:52 AM

Ioannis, I understand what you are saying. However, MMO's may require you to be in a strong well organized guild in order to obtain certain goals or achievements in the game.

If a player chooses to go this route, he/she may, indeed sacrifice some "fun" or freedom to do things however they choose. I can asure you also, that there are "penalties" that a guild of this nature can (and often do) impose upon them that will greatly influence them to do exactly what their leaders want. Especially if they had worked/played so hard to get where they are.

Posted by: Vonvon Vonagain on March 4, 2006 11:24 AM

I guess I find being a good leader in a MMO in some ways can show greater skills than a good leader in real life. In a MMO they have the option with no penalty to leave at any time. Where in a job you have the penalty and threat of loss of income to keep you there and following orders.

Posted by: Gertog on July 16, 2008 11:05 PM

My feelings regarding being a guildleader in online games would be that your leadership skills could be possibly greatly enhanced, this due to the mix of rl people you are 'managing' and their characters. As we all know you can 'be who you want to be on the internet', therefore it can be argued the leadership skills are persuasive, cohersive and democratic, as loannis has pointed out he is a 'volunteer' in his guild. Although I also have been in guilds where the structure has been autocratic.
A point of note - Harvard Business School have produced an article discussing the benefits of running guilds in mmorg's and have likened it to running a large company and have indeed suggested it may be wise to add it to a CV when applying for employment.

Posted by: Casey45 on October 12, 2008 3:15 PM
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