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On-the-job gaming

Don’t you just love it when some researcher somewhere determines that, say, the high-test caffeine in your favorite Mocha-Frappa-Spresso will lower your cholesterol? Well, researchers have some good news for gamers.

Don’t you just love it when some researcher somewhere determines that, say, the high-test caffeine in your favorite Mocha-Frappa-Spresso will lower your cholesterol? Or that a glass of wine every single day will keep your breath fresh and minty? It’s so rare that something you enjoy is proved to be good for you.

That’s why we want to talk to you gamers who are at work right now. We all know you’ve got “Solitaire” and “Minesweeper” on your office hard drive, unless the IT folks took the time to erase them. Maybe you’ve even got “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” squirreled away somewhere you think no one will ever find it. The fact of the matter is that you can now come out of the closet. Research scientists at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands have declared that gameplaying at work is good for you. For once, gaming has been found to be beneficial and not violence-inducing or addictive.

According to a recent report delivered at the Digital Games Research Association Conference in The Netherlands, scientists who studied the effects of game playing on 60 employees at a Dutch insurance firm found that playing computer games at the office can improve productivity and job satisfaction. You mean to say that workers who put aside their insurance forms and goof off a little are happier than those who don’t? Duuuh.

But hold on there. Maybe we’re not taking these findings seriously enough. So we contacted Dean Lester, the general manager of Windows Graphics & Gaming Technologies at Microsoft to get his take on this new body of knowledge. And sure enough, there’s something to it.

“The study confirms some of the thoughts a lot of us have, which is really just common sense–if you take a break every once in a while, regardless of what you do, it’s generally beneficial to productivity,” he told us. “In terms of gaming specifically, it didn’t surprise me. Gaming is a good distraction and an opportunity to take your mind off a problem you might be working on, and then perhaps to return to it with a freer mind. Gaming provides an element of stimulation that is different from the regular work rhythm. It gives you the chance to think a little bit more creatively.”

But doesn’t gaming cut into productivity rather than enhance it? “That varies by situation and individual,” Lester explained. “Many people work smarter in fewer hours than other people do in longer hours. If you can fill your time efficiently, you can often produce more. It’s a question of quality time over quantity.”

Does it matter whether the time is spent playing “Minesweeper” or, say, “Vice City”?

Not really, says Lester, except for the fact that the two games that traditionally come with Windows –Solitaire and Minesweeper–are short by nature and are good at filling 10- or 15-minute periods.

“They give you a chance to complete some level of the game rather than leaving it hanging. In larger games, the ability to leave and resume comfortably without disrupting the experience isn’t as easy.”

So there you have it, friends: Gaming at work is good. And if your boss says it’s not, well, now you have something to show him that proves him wrong. Now, instead of sneaking in a few minutes of play time before someone realizes that’s not the Penske file you’ve been working on, feel free to deal those cards or sweep for mines out in the open. And if anybody says anything, just tell them you’re stimulating your mind in preparation for a sudden surge of productivity.

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