Business Lessons I Learned From Online Roleplaying Games

Most people, if asked how their hobbies and their work concerns come together, would say hobbies are a distraction from work. Games and other diversions take time that you might otherwise be spent getting things done.

Online text-based games are some of the worse culprits for this, since employees sometimes find themselves diverted in the office itself.

Online Roleplaying Games (RPGs), however, are the ground where real life meets total entertainment. In them, although you are certainly being entertained, you’re also learning important lessons about society, and being a part of a group. These lessons can serve you well in the workplace.

The Top Four Business Lessons I Learned From Online RPGs

1. Treat Others Respectfully

When I first started text-based gaming, I was utterly clueless. I didn’t know how to talk to someone out of character, or even that there was any reason I shouldn’t just use the ‘say’ command. People could figure it out from context, right?

This was back in 1997, on Harper’s Tale MOO. When I arrived, people walked me through everything I needed to know. They told me how to get a client, how to use the game commands, how to communicate OOCly, and what I needed to know to get started.

They were remarkably patient with me, and, as I became a veteran player myself, it became my job to take on that role, to deal with the raw newbies, the rude trolls looking for confrontation, and the demanding players seeking special treatment.

In the workforce, there is nothing more challenging than dealing with someone who frustrates you in a calm, professional manner. Whether it is a domineering boss, an incompetent contractor, or a rude customer, you are almost guaranteed to encounter someone in your line of work who makes you want to tear your hair out.

Managing them with grace, tact, and respect uses the same skills that helped me deal with difficult people online as an area leader on Harper’s Tale, a player helper on FiranMUX, and a staff member on Laegaria MOO.

2. Fulfill Your Obligations

A text-based game takes work to maintain, and the people who do that work have a thankless job, in many ways. Anyone who has ever maintained code for an online RPG knows how much time that can suck up, but that is the least part of it.

There are dozens of little jobs that need to be done by someone: adding players to areas, approving character applications, writing help and news files, organizing events. In many ways, online responsibility serves as an invaluable step between pleasure and business.

In the business world, one easy way to be sure you never earn promotions or gain a position of trust is to fail to meet deadlines. When you say you can do something, people expect you to get it done, or to tell them why you didn’t. In the online world, there is a much less rigidly codified version of this same system.

When I volunteered to build up a new codebase for X-Men Movieverse, I knew that nothing dire would befall me but…

  • if I backed out, but I would be letting my friends down.
  • If I agree to organize an RPed festival event on FiranMUX, it is my responsibility to be there for it, and
  • if I fail, there may be consequences, but they aren’t life-shattering.
  • If I choose not to take that responsibility, I don’t need to. Learning to fulfill the responsibilities of an online game helped prepare me for the responsibilities of the business world.
  • 3. Bullet Points Only!

The other day, I had to meet with my boss about a project we’ve been working on. He was strapped for time, so warned me I only had five minutes. I took the list of topics I needed to go over with him, wrote up a concise version, and was ready. When I went in, I was ready to hammer my way through the meeting.

I hit bullet points one at a time, with lists of options detailing pros and cons, and had decisions on six points within those five minutes. He commented to be as we were leaving that he was impressed by how well I’d distilled the problem down to its core points.

It wasn’t until that evening, when I found myself writing an IC speech for FiranMUX, that I realized how much of that ability came from my time online. Not only does Firan have a habit of scoffing at its longer-winded speechwriters, the nature of online RPGs enforced concision. In a text-based medium, everything takes longer than it does in person, because typing is more time-consuming than talking.

Planning a meeting or a class to run in a reasonable amount of time online requires brutal pruning of non-essentials, and most people learn in time to prune their material down to the core. If you can extend that to the business world, you’re a step ahead of the game.

4. Keep It Quiet

One of the strangest things for my brother when he started working full-time was the need to conceal from family and friends what he is working on. Most companies ask some degree of discretion from their employees, and that can be hard for people who are used to sharing anything their friends might find of interest.

Fortunately, I was cured of that need through my online gaming. Although some games I play on, particularly X-Men Movieverse, encourage OOC spill of information, to build a deeper world tapestry, games like FiranMUX are very firm about maintain OOC secrecy on character issues. As such, I learned to keep absolutely fascinating plot arcs secret from all of my friends. After that, the decidedly less fascinating confidential aspects of my job were relatively easy to keep under wraps.

Games referenced:

  • FiranMUX (
  • Harper’s Tale (
  • X-Men Movieverse (