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In defence of gaming

As a relatively enthusiastic gamer, I'm often subjected to ridicule about time-wasting. What's more, despite the vast amounts of revenue that the gaming industry generates -- it's estimated to be worth $82 billion by 2017, according to research firm DFC Intelligence -- video games are still largely frowned upon by the mainstream press.

Even in the IT sphere, gamers find little relief. Most I have spoken to think that, unless you're coding and creating your own game, simply indulging in them is a waste of time. You're better off pursuing proper IT-based disciplines, seems to be consensus. But I'm not so sure.

I'll admit, I'm hardly a shining example of what's possible if you spend a lot of time on the PlayStation. But I recently met a man who is. His name is Lyle Fong, and he's the Co-Founder and Chief Strategist of Lithium, which works with some of the world's best-known brands to generate ROI out of social practices.

He started out as a professional gamer, along with his brother, Dennis. "The game where we were most serious was Quake, and we were sponsored by companies to play. My brother won a Ferrari at one of these tournaments," Fong told me.

The prospect of winning a Ferrari should provide reason enough to defend gaming as a worthy pursuit. But gaming was only the beginning for Lyle and Dennis.

"From that, we used this to start a gaming company called thegamers.com," Fong said. "Thegamers.com was a consumer web company, which we wanted to be the end-all and be-all media site for games. If you want to know anything about games, you come to the site."

From there, though, the pair really took off, and spun off a number of firms based on what they'd learnt from setting up The Gamers. Thegamers.com taught them lessons in building engagement, assuring repeated visits from users and raising virality. Following interest from Dell and Sony on their techniques, Lithium was spun off from the site. Now, the likes of Google, Sephora and Best Buy all use Lithium's "Community" platform, which offers users scores of ways to engage with companies, and companies the ability to leverage this engagement to further their brands.

"Google isn't well-known for using other people's products, so, for us, that's a pretty big testament to how capable the platform is," Fong said in a presentation before we spoke. He was in Dubaitrying to drum up interest for Lithium's platform in the Middle East.

The Fongs are a vindication for gaming in the face of all the negative press that the industry receives. And I'm willing to bet that more are going to surface in the coming years.

Fong told me that, in the United States, by the time the average game-playing kid turns 21, he or she has played over 10,000 hours of video games. And according to author Malcolm Gladwell, the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for around 10,000 hours -- in that amount of time, you could become a Formula 1 driver, a virtuoso violinist, or indeed a professional gamer.

If we follow Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule, there are millions of up-and-coming graduates with a huge reserve of untapped potential. Of course, there's no way all of them could grow up to become professional gamers, winning Ferraris at every competition, but the skills they acquire throughout their 10,000-hour gaming careers can be transferred to other industries.

For example, a study in the Journal of Vision by F. Scalzo and D. Bavelier stated that gamers demonstrate an ability to recognise more stimuli as they're presented in quick succession. The research inferred that these skills could make them ideal candidates for trades involving quick decision-making and precise movement. Likewise, studies have shown that people who play games possess more attentional capacity than those who do not, meaning gamers are ideal candidates for long, drawn-out projects that require constant attention. By these standards, gamers are the IT professionals of tomorrow.

My love of video games has done little to further my professional career, but as the next generation of graduates enters the workplace, employers will begin notice the differences between gamers and non-gamers. And the future's bleak for anyone who brands gaming as a waste of time.

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