MEGASKILLS. A European research project on soft skills and video games

Could there be, in the near future, educational policies in the future that enact the use of certain video games to encourage the learning of specific key soft skills? We don’t know for sure, but this is one of the primary objectives of the MEGASKILLS project.


Many of you who know Foundation are aware that a few years ago we slightly changed the research-innovation course of our organization from a theme related to more standard gamification, that is, behavior change through the use of gamification techniques and, more specifically, the Gamification Model Canvas, to one more research-innovation of what we call “natural gamification”, that is, to investigate what playful and, if possible, massive processes are ALREADY changing human behaviors and capacities. Specifically, we are focused on the most massive gaming medium that currently exists, video games. Our hypothesis is “simple”:

H1: If the game is an unique artifact to promote the neurocognitive development of, among others, mammals and historically human beings have managed to face great changes thanks -among others- to the game, why now we play more than ever in Human History in all the senses? What are we up against? What changes is this way of playing massively like video games helping us to adapt to?

At least in a developed and technologically advanced West, a possible answer to this questions could be: “because our modern societies have room for leisure (otium) as well as for business (neg-otium).” However this is only, at most, half the answer. Why do we make such a conscientious effort to play with such complex devices that demand as much neurocognitive sacrifice as video games? What do we find in video games that we don’t find elsewhere and that causes such worldwide demand?

We began to answer these questions through some of our research projects of the last 5 years, although in a very limited way. The first of these was xBadges, financed by the Ministry of Industry and FEDER funds, a project designed entirely by the foundation. In this case we used very simple mechanics through open source versions of classic games that we could modify to introduce some code (Pacman, Tetris and Flappy Birds) to see if it was possible to link certain player dynamics with the development of certain skills. This would be like saying that some video game mechanics are capable of provoking certain responses in the players in such a way that they, in turn, have to develop specific abilities to succeed in the game and, perhaps, those abilities could also have a manifestation outside the game. This idea seemed revolutionary to us. However, the size of the project itself only allowed us to do very limited experiments, although enough to raise hopes in the aforementioned hypothesis (H1).

Along the way we continued to improve and further develop the learning obtained through xBadges until, a little later, we had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a somewhat more massive testing through an innovation project funded by the Horizon 2020 SwafS (Science with and for Society) called VERSA, Video Games for PhD Soft Skills Training, that is, a program to use video games with the aim of training doctoral students in at least 8 different key skills, now identified by us as soft skills, also called transversal competences by various agencies and organizations.

Of course, finding clear links in our project with soft skills made it a key project for European interests, taking into account that the European Commission itself and other international labor and educational organizations have designated transversal competences (soft skills) as key and differentiators in the educational-labor framework of the 21st century. That is the powerful reason why we continue to work so insistently on finding out and precisely defining the relationships between video games and these skills.

We can happily say that our persistence has been rewarded in the form of one of the most important research and innovation calls worldwide: we are talking about the Horizon Europe RIA (Research and Innovation Action) program, thanks to the leadership of TECNALIA and the adventure partners: CEGOS, ALL DIGITAL, CEA-PME and the Universities Warwick and UPOL. The name of the project? MEGASKILLS

Introducción a MEGASKILLS

In the middle of the European Year of Skills 2023, we can say that the MEGASKILLS project is of key importance for improving the understanding of key soft skills and their development in European citizenship. We have to take into account that the main objective of the European Skills Agenda is to educate 200 million people within the European borders in key skills for their future, mainly in digital ones. This supposes a titanic effort in upskilling and reskilling, so any functional methodology will be welcome to achieve these objectives.

MEGASKILLS. MEthodology of Psycho-pedagogical, Big Data and Commercial Video

GAmes procedures for the European SKILLS Agenda Implementation

Why is a project like MEGASKILLS necessary? For many reasons:

  1. Firstly, soft skills (or transversal skills) will be increasingly in demand by various sectors, especially labor and education, to lay the foundations for a more productive, competitive, agile and adaptive economy, among others. An economy with the capacity to face many of the greatest present and future challenges with creativity, decisiveness and flexibility, but also with the capacity for (self)criticism.
  2. Despite the increasing awareness of the need to measure and train these skills in the student and labor population, the truth is that at a European level there is still much to be done in terms of the standardization of soft skills, it is necessary to structure what are they, their categories, their definition and what is their specific relationship with various sectors.
  3. The methods of measuring and training such skills seem, to a certain extent, to be quite obsolete or are too costly in terms of both financial and human resources. Based on our analysis and experience, there could be a lot of room for improvement.
  4. Finally, we think that all this is already being achieved by video games. The billions of hours spent by the approximately 320+ million players in Europe are most likely helping to develop certain skills that unfortunately no one is measuring and, of course, this is something we also want to address.

And who makes up the team and what are their roles? In order of intervention in the project and, summarizing a little bit… 

  • Warwick and UPOL universities are responsible for carrying out a thorough analysis through both a bibliographic review and the design and analysis with working groups of the most demanded soft skills, their definition and relationship with various sectors.
  • CEA-PME, as a European cluster of companies, will be constantly measuring the temperature of the different companies and their needs in terms of skills to complement the work of UPOL and Warwick, as well as helping in the implementation of the results at the end of the project.
  • In our case, task is the analysis of the different training and measurement methodologies of soft skills and which are the links between these and various mechanics of different commercial video games, that is, games available in the most popular distribution platforms.
  • The project leader is TECNALIA, who has done a magnificent job of coordinating and drafting the technical report submitted to the commission for its analysis, which was the “consortium’s winning bet” and, therefore, financed by the Commission. TECNALIA is the project leader and technological partner in MEGASKILLS, who will develop the necessary software parts for the measurement of soft skills with video games, using big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies for this.
  • Once the soft skills measurement and training tools have been developed, it is time to apply an acceptable and viable pedagogical methodology in a work and/or classroom context. The role of the multinational company CEGOS is precisely to test one or several methodologies until those that best impact students and employees are defined.
  • Finally, ALL DIGITAL, experts in educational management, will carry out the dissemination and connection tasks with different stakeholders as well as policy makers (European agencies), among many other valuable work.

Objectives and Impact

Could there be, in the near future, educational policies in the future that enact the use of certain video games to encourage the learning of specific key soft skills? We don’t know for sure, but this is one of the primary objectives of the MEGASKILLS project.

MEGASKILLS seeks to reduce the gap in the development and training of soft skills as they are being demanded and will be demanded both in society and among citizens, that is, in the educational, work, personal, family, etc., environments. 

For this, it is necessary that this project also work on various aspects related to the understanding, categorization and taxonomy of soft skills, not only within this research project, but as a valuable contribution to the European agencies that are currently working hard in the connection between skills (whether soft and hard) and the different productive sectors (for example ESCO) and, of course, also with those agencies that design the programs and certify the acquisition of said skills and competences (such as Schoolnet or Europass).

Who are we targeting?

Mainly several groups, some of which have already been mentioned:

  • Managers and Employers. We would like them to have a better understanding (in fact, many already do) of the great impact of having employees who have (or have the capacity to acquire) certain key and specific competences for their areas of performance. Also help them articulate the demand based on those skills, understand them and communicate them.
  • Unemployed and Migrants. Improving recruitment opportunities and the professional profile of the unemployed and migrants is one of the objectives of the European Agenda, especially in this year of Skills, through upskilling and reskilling. We want to do our bit in this huge initiative through our project.
  • Policy makers. The orientation towards policy makers is twofold: on the one hand, to help them better understand how to reduce the gap caused by mismatches between skills and jobs, especially those positions in sectors such as innovation, digital and cultural industries, and ecological transition. Finally, support the objectives of the European Skills Agenda.
  • Academia and Education. Our project should serve so that academic and research projects, especially those of educational and psychological research, have more and better references and understanding of soft skills so that the two fields (academia and education) can work more closely at the time to design the curricula based on the results of such investigation. On the other hand, helping educators to integrate motivational models aimed at younger generations, generally gamers, for the development of key competencies in a STEM and digital context, providing them with efficient tools and frameworks.

Project Status (June 2023)

MEGASKILLS is a 3-year project that started last February 2023, this means that we are just getting started. Although we are still in a very early stage, we can say that we have already taken a first big step in the analysis of the literature related to soft skills and we have gone on to identify which are the most key soft skills. This is the result of the first stage of the project in charge of the UPOL and Warwick universities and which has been reflected in a document of more than 100 pages entitled “Soft skills for the 21st century – definitions, taxonomies & models: findings from a systematic literature review and in-depth analysis”. This document is the result of the systematic review of more than fifty documents, especially academic articles and reports from international organizations on the subject.

Thanks to this thorough analysis of soft skills and the results of which are reflected in this document (called “deliverables” in research jargon), we already have a well-defined list of the soft skills presumably most in demand by the market in the short and medium term, as well as its definition and bibliographical references. After said analysis, the results will be contrasted thanks to the active participation of a group of experts in skills using a Delphi methodology to subsequently translate all these results into soft skills measurement and training mechanisms that could be linked to the mechanics of certain video games. This task will be carried out between and TECNALIA.

If you want to be aware of our progress in the project, I recommend you visit our website and look for our hashtag #MEGASKILLS on social networks.