Video Games, Gamers, and Operator Aptitude

July 11th, 2018

As increasing numbers of equipment operators retire, employers are struggling to recruit new ones. And those new hires are often young people who’ve grown up playing video games.

According to a recent survey [1], young gamers (aged 18-25 years old) spend about seven hours a week playing casual single-player games on cell phones, and first-person shooter games on consoles and PCs. (They also spend about three hours a week watching other people play video games.)

Well does all that gaming (doing and watching) make gamers any different when training to become an equipment operator? There are two places to look for answers: aptitude and attitude.


Operator Aptitude

It’s tempting to conclude that after spending so many hours with video games, gamers necessarily have more “operator aptitude”. Well, they do not, as we found out long ago with the help of a key customer training heavy equipment operators, who

  • surveyed all the students at the start of their program, to identify the gamers
  • compared the relative performance of those gamers versus “non-gamer” classmates at the end of that program (at the controls of real heavy equipment)

Why? Because operating heavy equipment means so much more than moving thumbs (or wrists) at high speed. Indeed, operator aptitude has everything to do with differences in natural abilities, just like a musical “ear” or athletic “talent”. (And you’ll find other entries on those topics in this same blog Category.)

Operator Attitude

Regarding attitude, let’s start with “what everybody knows”, as summarized in this recent report [2]:

Gamers … are often unfairly saddled with the dubious reputation for being entitled, disloyal, self-centered or optimistic go-getters. But it turns out that they’re actually not that different from their older work colleagues.

Still, remember that playing video games means:

  • learning by trial and error (failure is risk-free: if you “die”, just “start over”)
  • learning at full speed
  • learning at your own pace
  • learning by winning

And here are some additional observations from [2]:

  • gamers like to be challenged
  • gamers are “digital natives”, i.e. they are ready to “embrace” new training technologies

Unfortunately, “embracing” real heavy equipment without adequate training can have real consequences: equipment is damaged, people get hurt or worse (they die).

And that’s why a simulator “step” can help out, by providing a risk-free learning environment for that learning by trial and error, at full speed, and at your own pace, just like video gaming.

And although you can “win” many times by doing well enough at each simulation step to advance to the next one, the ultimate “win”, of course, is “graduating” to real heavy equipment.


[1] “The State of Online Gaming – 2018”, Limelight Networks, March 28, 2018. All rights reserved.

[2] “Millennials in Construction: Engaging a New Workforce”, The 2015 FMI Industry Survey All rights reserved.