Reading books is nice, but what about learning while actually having fun?

I love playing games: tabletop, computer, console, mobile; it doesn’t matter the media. As long as I’m able to think through a challenge and be rewarded for that with a victory, I’m in.

Gaming so much for basically my entire life has definitely had some major impacts on my upbringing, including professionally. Thinking about it the other day, I decided to make a non-exhaustive list of games I’ve played a lot that helped me shape my Product mind.

You are the Mayor of a town and your job is to grow the amount of citizens and manage the finances.

The factories are leaving due to lack of educated workforce. If you build a school on the poorer neighborhood, you might revert that. The problem is, your budget is tight as it is, and you can’t afford a new school. What if instead you invest on more farm jobs, since they need less educated workers? But farm jobs pay less taxes, and then again, budget is a problem… you get the gist of it.

Managing this toy city is a playful adaptation of managing a product with all the real pulls and levers that you must operate in order to grow and achieve your objectives.

Cooking is chill until you have to do it for a restaurant… on a balloon…on fire… and your sous chef is a dog.

Doing everything by yourself in this game will make you lose, as well as trying to control what others do. Overcooked is a silly cooperative game with silly characters trying to make silly food before the time runs out. What is not silly whatsoever is the amount of self control you need to have in order to stay cool in the face of pressure and how much you need to trust your peers.

I recommend this game as an exercise to all PMs that have already received a feedback about being control freaks. Playing Overcooked will either make you go mad or learn to let go.

No, it’s not a game about collecting qualitative feedback. It’s a game about trying to discover (or hide) whom amongst yourselves is an infiltrated agent.

One player is the spy, the others are not. All non-spies receive a card telling them where they are (a hotel, a store, a ship…) and the spy receives nothing. The spy have to make questions to the others and listen in the hopes of discovering the place in which they are in, and the other players must do the same to try and guess who is the stranger among them.

Much like with user interviews, knowing what and (most importantly) how to ask questions is the only way to get the truth out of a response. The Product Manager is the spy trying to guess what the users want by asking questions with little to no clue on their needs.

Were you ever given feedback about your lack of clarity when communicating with stakeholders or engineering? Maybe you should train by explaining to the bomb squad how to defuse a bomb set to explode.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes mixes online and offline gameplay. One person, sitting at the computer, have a bomb with all sorts of buttons to interact with. The other player has instructions printed out or available in another device on how to play with those buttons. Both players cannot see each other screens and they have to do all the “minigames” that deactivate the bomb before the time runs out.

Not only you have to be concise and clear reading the instructions, but you also have to understand how the bomb player thinks. The more you try to cut corners while explaining the instructions, better are your odds. Talking with peers that have different understandings of the same topics is a pretty similar experience.

How do you build something that stands the test of ever increasing scope? How do you iterate on top of previous discoveries to deliver solutions faster? You strap some balloons to a catapult that spits fire.

Besiege is another very silly game that could very well be mentioned on a list called “games for engineers” or “games for designers” alike. Your mission is to build a medieval contraption that can complete objectives on each stage. Destroy a castle, survive an incoming army, take a giant sword from the ground… You’ll build the craziest machines in order to achieve these simple goals.

The game shines when you identify that you don’t have to build something new for every stage. If you have the correct mindset, you can build a machine that can evolve to deliver almost all required objectives with small iterations as time goes by. If this doesn’t teach you how to think incrementally, I don’t know what will.

RPG (Rolle Playing Game) is probably the forefather of modern tabletop gaming. Nerds since time immemorial like to pretend they are wizards, vampires or super-heroes inside ill-lighted rooms that smell like Cheetos. Beyond hurting our chances of winning popularity contests, RPGs create great storytellers.

There is not much to explain: you get together with friends and create a story to be lived by characters. One of the players is the narrator (master), posing challenges and furthering the plot while the other players (the party) try to beat the obstacles and unravel the story from the masters mind. All is orchestrated by a set of rules called a system, used by all players to stablish what they can or cannot do.

The meat and grit of playing RPG is not about “wining”, but engaging people towards a goal. Whether you are a master or a player, influencing your colleagues to build a narrative that is “cool” is a skill that might very well be used to influence stakeholders towards forwarding your product view.

Most of the games I’ve mentioned may be found on your digital store of choice. To avoid promotions, I deliberately left out reference links.

We often deem “fun” as a childish concept, not compatible with work or professional development. I disagree

From teaching me how to speak and write better English, to lecturing me about medieval Europe, games have the power not only to entertain but also to make you think and learn new things.

This goes for any game: exercising the mind is definitely an effective way to help you make new mental connections, learn faster and be more creative. Playing might not always teach you anything specific about your job, but it will for sure help you to be a better professional, regardless of your area.

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