Skilla eLearning about SoftSkillsGames research project

Published with permission from Matteo Uggeri.

Author: Matteo Uggeri
Translation: Dr. Flavio Escribano

Edition: Sergio Alloza

Original version:

Spanish Version: Download here (bajar aquí)

I say you the bestest.

Lean in for a big kiss put his favorite perfume on

Go play your video game

It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you

(Lana Del Rey, “Video Games” –

I’m working, so I have to play

Is it possible that in 2019 the “out of office” email response informs us that the sender is absent until a certain date to “do things that generally cannot be done, including playing for the simple fact of doing so? We are not talking about a boutade written by a joking child, but a renowned researcher author of scientific articles of international relevance. Specifically, we speak about Dr. Flavio Escribano, head of research at, a private non-profit foundation that deals, among other things, with promoting research and teaching activities related to gamification, video games and the development of soft skills.

Dr. Escribano, whose Twitter account is @ludictador, has long time since stopped playing “just for the simple act of playing.” The most relevant, in our context, is that he does not spend his time playing twisted serious games or educational video games (or whatever we want to call them) but working with conventional or commercial video games, that is, with what we call ‘normal’ or ‘commercial-mainstream’ console and PC video games, from Pac-Man to Assassin Creed.

He is not the first to do this and those who follow this blog know that the educational value of playing games, whatever it is, has been backed up for decades: just think of the educational principles of the Montessori school regarding the world of the children or those of the American teacher / experimenter Abran Maldonado, who on his website called Nuskool, shows how he uses Call of Duty to help within a specific subject at school.

In this article we want to focus on the corporate world, where the approval of the (video) game as a training tool has been recently reaching the team building and other manners that, from the theater, board games and Legos, have impregnated the sector of training. However, it may be less obvious than the use of ‘commercial’ console games, those that are more popular among children and grandchildren of the readers of this blog, also have that effect. Especially if we take them into consideration to train soft skills (1).

In the excellent paper signed by Escribano and other authors (2) with the title: XBadges. Identifying and training soft skills with commercial video games, improving persistence, risk taking and spatial reasoning with commercial video games and the facial and emotional recognition system (3), is sensibly reported:  

“(…) Employers are looking for methods to reduce the costs of identifying soft skills through behavioral interviews. Unfortunately, such procedures are subjective, expensive and time-consuming. Furthermore, they cannot be used to filter out large amounts of CVs in the initial stages of the hiring process (4)”.

The hypothesis that Spanish researchers set in motion, in essence is: why do not use video games on the market as useful tools to identify and train these skills? After all, they (commercial video games) don’t have to be developed because they are already made, they are relatively cheap (or even free), they are more than tested from a technical point of view, they are accessible without much effort and in general they are games that are usually very popular.

“The  objective  of XBadges  is to facilitate,  with the use of software,  the  training  and evaluation of soft skills of the users through the use of commercial video games and, if  required, to  grant  certifications  of the acquisition.” In fact, the name of the project includes the term “badges”, which is now also frequently used in the field of training to refer to each level of learning, thus suggesting that one of the intentions of the project is to build unique correspondences between the achievements that the player obtains in a certain game (exceeding a certain level, reaching a certain score, becoming a magician, a warrior, or a football manager) and the skills that he/she had to develop or implement to achieve this playful goal.

Pac-Man and the risks in life

We will take a specific example: we all probably know Pac-Man (at least the people like me, born in the last century).


Although the mechanics and dynamics of the game are quite simple and completely predetermined, the way we all play is different. Shortly, there are fearless players, who “attack the ghosts”, and others more cautious. Why not trying to measure these behaviors and to understand if who plays is a person more prone to risk or not? And why do not go further and explore whether playing Pac-Man makes me more prone to take risks and maybe – I say it, not Escribano – more prone to assume certain responsibilities? In fact, “It  is also pleasantly surprising that the behaviour change in the video game may reflect  a change  in the actual  risk taking behavior” the paper says.

Being cautious: a critique that instinctively comes to me is the awareness we all have regarding the behavioral differences that each of us may have in different contexts: a reckless skier can be a fearful and irrationally employee in decision making.

We ask Flavio and his colleague Sergio Alloza for a comment about this in order to explain it a little better: “Indeed, we believe that the training of soft skills is connected to a specific context.” In fact, they report that one of the most important and common questions they receive when applying their video games and soft skills processes is precisely “what happens at the end of the training sessions in the non-digital life of each user?” However, this question also applies to other types of survey modalities, we add, including the classic aptitude or psychological tests and even simulations. What I personally find easier to be applied is probably linked to these three possibilities:

  1. that the player / user under observation acquires knowledge of a certain ‘hidden’ or less obvious soft skill;
  2. apply a more or less structured measurement (non-objective, but at least comparable) of certain skills;
  3. that through the game you can at least make a comparison between different players / users regarding certain soft skills.

As a second point to mention GECON used in XBadges interesting methods to measure the skills and also the emotions that the players had while they played games. One of them is the mapping of facial expressions.

“In  order  to detect  the four predefined  emotions on the face  (Joy, Concentration, Frustration  and Boredom) we have mapped each  emotion into a corresponding universal   facial expression. In this sense we use   Neutral faces as marker of Concentration, Happy  faces as marker of Joy, Sad faces as marker of Boredom  and both Angry and Disgusted faces as markers of Frustration.”

And here is a first intriguing finding of the research to be taken into account for all the gurus who support gamification at all costs:

“To our surprise, joy was not one of the most prevalent emotions when these indicators were  met. In particular, in Tetris, when completing lines during the games, the subjects  showed high concentration percentages (50,30%) while the other emotions did not have as  much presence. An example of what is commented “Fig. 2″. In Pacman, while reaching and eliminating  ghosts in vulnerability mode A and B, the prevailing emotion was in both cases frustration (with more than 63% in both cases).”

Of course and after all this it is not surprising: everyone who plays, even a sport, often during most of the time while having fun does not have a relaxed or satisfied expression on their faces, which (sometimes) explodes only at the time of goal or victory. If we then look for parallels with the world of work, the variation unfortunately is even more remarkable. But we know that resistance to frustration is undoubtedly a skill (perhaps not really a skill) that is definitely necessary for any employee. What intrigues then is the hypothesis that emerges from it according to Catalan researchers: “Contrary to expectations, concentration and frustration are present in moments where the  user is positively reinforced by the video game. Perhaps we are facing here an implicit relationship between these emotions and the acquisition of skills.”

In fact, the mere “fun” that today’s “corporate gamifiers” pursue as a chimera does not go far. When I hear at conferences that some form of corporate training has become attractive thanks to the use of playful techniques, because in this way the students had a lot of fun, I always wonder 1. How they found this ‘fun’, 2. What is meant by fun and finally 3. What did they learn anyway. Perhaps the approach must be another, for example, the concentration, that is, how much ‘is there’ (how long can the concentration be maintained) a person when he/she learns (and/or plays), which is also the subject of other experiments in the sector, even among those who have been talking about this same topic of virtual reality and neuro-games for more than a year (6).

“What we learned about this part of the study is that ‘concentration’ plays a more important role than ‘fun’, that is, it seems that the commitment is more related to the state of emotional transport, with being in the ‘flow’ (Csíkszentmihályi) compared to “joy” or any other emotion (at least shown by the player’s face)”.

Try it too

In summary: there are huge potentials that are certainly worth exploring and experiencing: the XBadges project worked on the creation of a (risky, but very interesting) correspondence between the achievements of commercial games and soft skills, which is described as: if I reach a certain level in Mario Bros, or if I get to become a warrior leader in Anomaly, it means that I have practiced certain skills (7).

XBadges has now become, described on the site related to the following slogan:

“With you won´t have to play boring games to know your professional soft skills. In fact, if you already played some games, it is very likely that you have already trained your skills and you can visualize them in our portal

Right now he have a limited number of games tracked that you can see in our Home, but as time goes on we will incorporate many more and also many more skills.”

You can try by following these simple instructions: 

Soon the gamepads in the office?

According to the conclusions of the GECON team, video games can be useful tools to improve and enhance certain soft skills, as well as the presence of emotions is closely related to the motivation of the players and their development of soft skills within the game.

“With  this findings,  the commercial video  games (not only serious ones)  win value as a training tool for soft skills, offering them as a  new form of tool for markets with possibility of application in multiple sectors.”

Perhaps we are still far, even culturally, from the idea of ​​bringing PlayStation consoles and gamepads into offices to detect and train soft skills, but we know that someone is already doing it.


  1. For those who wish to get deeper into the issue of transversal or soft skills, we refer once again to the aforementioned European eLene4work project and the framework derived from it: skill.html. Dozens of other proposals, classifications and definitions are available online.
  2. Sergio Alloza, Flavio Escribano, Sergi Delgado, Ciprian Corneanu, Sergio Escalera: “XBadges. Identifying and training soft skills with commercial video games Improving persistence, risk taking & spatial reasoning with commercial video games and facial and emotional recognition system”, Barcelona, Spain, 2019. Questo studio è nato da un progetto di ricerca chiamato XBadges, cofinanziato dal Ministero dell’Industria, Energia e Turismo, Governo della Spagna. – 
  4. Kyllonen, P. C.: Soft skills for the workplace. Change: The Magazine Of Higher Learning, Vol. 45, No. 6, (2013).
  5. – Licensed under CC BY-SA.