Building Soft Skills in Games

Building Soft Skills with Games

This article was originally published at UniversityXP and is re-published in Ludogogy by permission of the author.

Games are capable of helping students learn any number of different skills. Likewise, simulations can be used to help students from one discipline learning something more intuitively than they would from traditional classroom instruction.

One of the most general outcomes for games-based learning is the development of student’s soft skills. These are skills that can be used across a number of different areas, industries, and outlets.

So what soft skills can games be used for? How are games used for soft skills development?

This article will cover the different areas that games-based learning can be used for addressing soft skills development. This article will cover cognitive internal development; relational development; as well as how games can be used to develop students’ communication and creativity. This article will close with actionable items for using games-based learning to achieve these skill competencies.

Cognitive internal development

Digital games often don’t provide any wait time for players. Individuals take single actions and then are immediately awarded. This helps with the feedback loop of players in traditional game design. However, table top games offer a different perspective for players. They often require players take actions now that won’t produce any measurable effects until much further along in the game. In this way, table top games reward students’ patience for continued and engaging play.

Likewise, table top games also test students’ applications of logic and strategy. I recently spent this holiday playing a large and diverse array of table top games with family my same age as well as much younger cousins. Despite the age difference, I saw many applications of logic and strategy in games as simple as Doce and as complex as The Manhattan Project. Each one was challenging in their own right; but the amount of effort needed to excel at both was considerable.

The Manhattan Project is available on Amazon

Lastly, games also facilitate students’ critical thinking and problem solving by posing the most basic question in most scenarios: what moves can I make to help me win the game? These can be as simple as just continuing to survive in endless running games like Temple Run or in heavier games like FTL: Faster than Light. In both scenarios, players must problem solve on the fly and think critically about how decisions they take now will affect their player later on throughout the game.

Relational development

Games do not exclusively help students develop their own internal cognitive development. They can also facilitate their relational development: specifically how their actions affect the state of the game as well as their relationships with other players.

One of the most common types of relational development is through spatial reasoning:

the capacity to think about objects occupying a space and then draw conclusions about how those objects fit in relation to one another.  One of my all-time favorite games Blokus is the king of this genre as players are challenged to get all of their pieces on the board to score the most points. Though other games like Patchwork and Convert also test players’ spatial reasoning capacity.

Blokus is available on Amazon, as is Patchwork

In addition, games can test and reinforce players’ collaborative skills as they work with and for other players in order to achieve their goals.  One of the best table top examples of this is the Matt Leacock line of collaborative games like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert, and Forbidden Sky. Each one tests players’ abilities to collaborate and cooperate with one another in order to achieve a common goal. More serious players might consider games such as Mage Knight, Gloomhaven, and Spirit Island as options that further push the limits of what is possible from table top cooperating gaming.

Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and Forbidden Desert are all available on Amazon, as are Mage Knight, Gloomhaven and Spirit Island.

Lastly, games test players’ abilities to manage limited resources to achieve their game goals. This is most prominent in modern euro games where any number of player actions are disguised as different things that players can do that turn one thing into another thing which turns into victory points. While that description alone doesn’t sound that enticing, there are entire communities of players who are enthralled by it. Modern classics such as Agricola and Settlers of Catan rely heavily on resource management as a way for players to excel and win the game.

Agricola is available on Amazon, and so is Settlers of Catan.

Communication and creativity

Perhaps one of the most salient aspects of games-based learning supporting soft skills growth is in players’ development of communication and creativity. Both of which come through more highly social and creative games.

Returning to one of my old standby games Balderdash reminded me of the kind of creativity needed to not only think of definitions to obscure words; but to write them in a such a way where other players would vote for them. Likewise, new entrants to the field like Just One require that players take the simple action of selecting just one clue to reveal to a teammate. But the commonality and creativity of that clue is what helps set players apart from one another.

Balderdash is available on Amazon and so is Just One.

Creativity alone doesn’t have to be about creating made up definitions. Working in uncertain conditions where negotiation and interaction are prioritized definitely fall within the domain of games. A favorite large group game of mine Empires relies on the negotiation aspect in order to move play along. The Sheriff of Nottingham emphasizes this even more where interaction and negotiation form the hallmark of the game’s core loop.

Empires is available on Amazon and so is Sheriff of Nottingham.

Communication and creativity seem to be one of the most promoted ways of utilizing games-based learning as games are seen as a way to replace traditional media like lectures, audio, and video. This is particularly relevant when using something like roleplaying and simulations. Both of these represent real life scenarios where students will need to put their learned skills into practice.

While many games can be re-purposed for games-based learning; almost all table top games can be used in one fashion or another to promote communication skills between players. Effective communication is perhaps one of the most important soft skills to develop. And if you ever need a forum to practice it: try explaining 4-5 different board games a week to different players on a regular basis.

Actionable items

Games can be used to meet a great many learning outcomes for educators. The most salient of which is to address communication barriers between students and players. Playing games provides a structure from which educators can scaffold the interactions between players.  Games’ involved formal elements and structures already form the method where individual players can interact with one another.

In addition, educators can praise students’ agency, efficacy, and perseverance in a games-based learning environment. Of course players will want to win; but in most circumstances winning will not be the most important outcome. Therefore, equal focus on making sure that players continue to play and engage is just as important.


This article covered the different areas that games-based learning can be used to address soft skills development. The article covered cognitive internal development; relational development; as well as how games can be used to for students to develop better communication and creativity. This article was about using games for soft-skill development. To learn more about soft-skill development in gamification, check out the free course on Gamification Explained.

If you have enjoyed this article – consider getting yourself lifetime access to Dave’s Games-Based Learning Digital Library containing all of the content from the past two Games-Based Learning Virtual Conferences; past webinars and courses he’s created; as well as his complete back catalogue of articles; podcast episodes; and videos. And more content is being added all the time.

Readers of Ludogogy can get a $50 discount on this valuable resource by using this link.

References and further reading:

7 Fun Communication Games That Increase Understanding. (2019, March 13). Retrieved December 19, 2019, from

8 Ways Board Games Teach Life Skills: 2nd Nature Academy. (2018, January 10). Retrieved December 19, 2019, from

Eng, D. (2019, December 3). Core Loops. Retrieved December 31, 2019, from

Eng, D. (2019, June 18). Feedback Loops. Retrieved December 31, 2019, from

Eng, D. (2019, June 4). Formal Game Structures. Retrieved December 31, 2019, from

Eng, D. (2019, June 25). Simulations vs Games. Retrieved December 31, 2019, from .

Grooms, M. (2019, June 4). Soft Skills: The Hidden Benefits of Playing Board Games ” Homeschool Gameschool. Retrieved December 19, 2019, from

How Board Games Teach Soft Skills to Children. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2019, from

Soft Skills Games for Corporate E-learning. (2019, April 16). Retrieved December 19, 2019, from

Using Games to Build Soft Skills. (2018, October 4). Retrieved December 19, 2019, from

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Educator / Designer / Researcher at Dave Eng Design
Dr. Dave Eng is an intellectual and creative educator, designer, and researcher who focuses on games, theory, and technology.

Dave studies applied games and teaches others how to use games for education and learning. Dave serves as a faculty member at New York University’s School of Professional Studies (

Dave hosts the podcast Experience Points ( and consults at University XP ( on games-based learning. He also leads the Games-Based Learning Alliance: a community of individuals who use games for teaching, training, learning, and development.

Dave is a founder of Banditos Gaming ( a registered 501(c)(3) social and educational non-profit organization that promotes play, community development, and learning through games. His interests include learning theory, technology, and games.

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