William Bauer (who helps to head up US-based Royce Leather, his family’s accessories business) says playing video games instead of working isn’t slacking off. The five-minute Angry Birds session helps him unwind and provides the kind of passive thinking time he needs to solve problems.
Long work hours make processing information more difficult later in the day, he said, and taking video game breaks helps relax and motivate him, giving him more energy to work into the evening. Bauer isn’t the only one playing video games at the office.
Science suggests they may be on to something. Psychologists, along with the gamers themselves, say the benefits go beyond fun or amusement. Many people use gaming to find moments of stress relief throughout the workday, to cope with a boring role or as a way to feel more in control. The games are fully engaging and even give us the kind of virtual confidence boost that we might not achieve in our day-to-day work.
Be strategic about when to take a video game break. The best time to play is during periods when you’re less productive, like the afternoon lull , or when boredom sets in.
Gaming also helps with creative thinking and problem solving. Stepping away from a tricky task for a few minutes of gaming might spur a new perspective on a business problem or help to reset your mind during an especially difficult day, say experts.
Other times, games can provide a social or emotional outlet to help employees cope with stressful or boring jobs, said Chris Ferguson, a psychology professor who researches video games at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida in the US. And, gaming can allow people to use skills, like leadership, which they might not get an opportunity to apply otherwise.
Some employers are catching on to the benefits of video games and integrating them into company culture. Many traditional companies, though, still feel games are unproductive.
Other companies are using more “gamification” in the workplace, the idea of applying game mechanics to create a fun and competitive atmosphere that motivates people to succeed at tasks, said Ferguson.
It helps that it’s getting easier to play in short bursts. While games were traditionally played in longer increments on consoles or computers, new app-based games tend to provide a few minutes of fun without drawing you into an hours-long adventure, said Ferguson.
Research suggests that these so-called micro-breaks are beneficial. In a 2014 study by researchers at Kansas State University in the US of 72 full-time employees from a variety of industries, those who spent one or two minutes during breaks in their day playing games on their phones are reported being happier than their peers.