Improving Complex Problem Solving with (supercute) Botanicula game and xBadges

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This article speaks about the extended development of our methodology to identify and to train Soft Skills through commercial video games. This detailed methodology comes from bibliography analysis about the difficulties not only to measure but also to definy and improve Complex Problem Solving (CPS) and how is possible to identify this important Soft Skills using Botanicula Game.

We also like to talk about why we decided to use this particular video game instead others and our effort to identify actions and events within the game that allows us to provide a minimum guarantee of this soft skill acquisition playing this game.

About xBadges Project

For whom still don’t know what xBadges is, just saying is our research project (AEESD TSI-100600-2015-30) for identification and training of Soft Skills through commercial video games playing. This is what we like to call “Reversed Gamification”. We started from the (already tested) premise of any game is useful to train a huge number of soft skills in some way, we think in fact that is not needed (but too expensive) to produce specific (serious) games for specific purposes when video games market is already overflowing of them.

The main gap we had was to figure out how to track what players are doing within the game while playing in order to know both what skills they are training and which they already have.

We used embedded scripts code in HTML5 classic games (PACMAN, Tetris and Flappy Bird) in our first experiment, this approach allows us to track the interactions and timing of the players, however to our disappointment, we realized that modern commercial video games are not able to be embedded with our code, at that very moment a bulb lit up…

In certain video games online stores there is a way to know what players are doing within their favorite games, this piece of information is called “badge” or “achievement”. We realized that such information is verifiable in real time through API (Application Programming Interface) request, allowing us to track the interaction in that way.

Despite of embedding code to know what skills is being developed we were forced to do the opposite, this is, to know which interactions are needed to win one particular achievement and what that means in terms of Skills acquisition. That was how we started tracking the achievements of certain games from Steam and feeding a Soft Skills-Achievements database.

CPS Definition

“Complex Problem-Solving-a field in search of a definition?” a paper by some authors from the Institute of Cognitive Science of the University of Colorado and the Department of Experimental Psychology of Universidad de Granada is the most relevant paper we have used to link CPS to a particular video game (Botanicula).

The cited paper mentions that CPS can be considered when 3 specific features are present:

1- Dynamic, because early actions determine the environment in which subsequent decisions must be made and features of the task environment may change independently of the solver’s actions;
2- Time-dependent, because decisions must be made at the correct moment in relation to environmental demands; and
3- Complex, in the sense that most variables are not related to each other in a one-to-one manner.

The paper insists “in current society, humans spend most of their time interacting with complex systems and more knowledge about this interaction is demanded, makes their arguments inherently interesting and relevant”. In this regard we can say ICT organizations must dealing constantly with complex problems, so we deduce that both ICT Society and CPS Society are barely the same.

A report from the World Economic Forum called “The Future of Jobs”, supports this idea about the importance of CPS Soft Skills. In this report executives from more than 350 employers across nine industries in 15 of the world’s largest economies have been asked to uncover the top 10 skill, respondents said Soft Skills will be most in demand by 2020. Whilst the list includes skills like cognitive flexibility and negotiation skills, the one in poll position was the ability to problem solve [CPS], with 36% of all jobs across all industries expected to require complex problem-solving abilities as a core skill by 2020 (McCormack, 2016).

How is CPS skill measured?

After the explanation of what is CPS and the importance of training this Skills we would like to explain what elements allow us to measure CPS Soft Skill. In Quesada et al. paper some blocks that help us to know how complex is a problem are identified as following:

  1. Time Related.
  2. Variable Related.
  3. System Behavior Related.
  4. Psychological Description.

Trying not to overextend it too much, we would like to explain each one a bit:


  • Time Variant.
  • Static Systems.
  • Continuous Time.
  • Discrete Time.


  • Number and Type of Variables.
  • Linear Relationships.
  • Non-Linear Relationships.


  • Opaque Feedback.
  • Transparent Feedback.
  • Stochastic System.
  • Deterministic System.
  • Delayed Feedback.
  • Immediate Feedback.


  • Skill-based.
  • Planning-based.
  • Expert Model.
  • Generalist Model.
  • Ill-defined Problem.
  • Well-defined Problem.

We think is better just to enunciate each attribute instead of explaining one by one in detail, avoiding, in this way, falling into a tedious article. On the other hand it is interesting for us to keep clear the basic structure we are based on to know which actions or achievements within a game are adding weight to our argument of CPS acquisition.


Botanicula is a very beautiful and cute independent point’n’click exploration video game created by Amanita Design Studio, they are also authors of other very successfully games as Samorost and Machinarium. Besides the very peculiar graphics, it has got an exceptional and ‘organic’ soundtrack. We play this game by controlling 5 ‘botanic’ creatures, exploring the world and solving countless puzzles through them, also gathering some objects to be combined with the environment and going forward in that way.

There are a lot of treasures hidden in this game, also there are a lot of interaction components which do not affect the development of gameplay but they introduce a lot of diversity and abundant diversity. The time needed to complete every level and beat the game is about 3 hours for expert players.

Botanícula has 43 Achievements and 6 different Levels approximately. Level 4 have achievements the most, with up to 14. The names of the achievements correspond to fantastics beings that inhabit this world as “Zaba” and “Mura” and are represented by virtual cards with the image of them, you obtain a new card (achievement) every time you solve a puzzle.

This video game has not been chosen by chance, the decision is based on player profiling. In comparison with our previous options (CS:GO and TF2) we have chosen a very easy-to-play game for casual gamers. This allows us to include in the experience almost any gamer with very basic knowledge about the use of physical interfaces, indeed it is enough to know how to use the mouse.

Botanicula versus CPS

And now… the most complicated part, this is, to analyze achievement by achievement related with a number of values that we have included in each element (that we internally call vectors) which tell us the CPS level in each achievement. In this way we add or subtract a specific number of points in order to evaluate the CPS level of training by player in Botanicula.

Both playing meticulously and writing a qualitative definition of every puzzle were needed to get into our own vector matrix of CPS elements afterward. ie: “Hopik Achievement: You get this achievement after moving mouse cursor and pushing over some red objects, the achievement is activated after putting one of these red elements into a funnel”.

Maybe is easier to understand the process explaining it in a narrative way: We know that there is transparent feedback in a puzzle/problem (ie. Jepice Achievement), this reduces complexity in the problem, hence that is a -1 in our scheme of complexity values. By other hand there is an opaque feedback in Mesto Achievement, a huge quantity and type of variables, hence our internal vectors indicate there is +4 balance in this case.

Thanks to this numeric evaluation we are able to achieve two different goals:

  1. To evaluate qualitative and quantitative each achievement.
  2. To translate each value to the algorithm which allow us to know the level of Soft Skill acquisition.

Initially we check every game using psychological standard tests availables, this is, taking into account an external evaluation as reference that is useful to establish controls. And here is where a surprise comes…


In general, the standard tests to measure CPS levels are used to be something similar to a kind of mini-games (sometimes called micro-world), which are easier to play than most of the commercial video games we usually like to play in our PCs or gaming consoles. We don’t know at a high level of detail how are all of these mini-games used to test one subject’s CPS skill but, reading on the descriptions of Moro, Lohhausen or FireChief (just giving some examples) we have realized that games as Civilization would be able to be catalogued as both very complex and complete “standar test” not just for CPS evaluation but a kind of SCPS one (Super Computer Problem Solving) according with the super-complexity of its gameplay.

Under our humble opinion this difference on complexity between available standard tests and actual commercial video games we use drives us to the conclusion that there is a new generation of gamers who have a very high level of CPS skill. According to the available information of the number of hours an average teenager is spending in resolving very complex puzzles and problems playing commercial video games (up to 25h approx), we are barely sure there is a new profile with a lot of CPS skill arising.

Our methodology is trying to be as quantitative as possible for sure, even then the research topic is not able to be qualified with a 100% of accuracy. Moreover there is no any kind of soft skills leveling standar and even more each country has its own definition of them. According to all of that, on one hand we are making our own Soft Skills levelling, and on the other we are mining stats data in order to establish more accurate soft skills-achievements relationships.

As a summary to conclude:

  1. We are increasingly convinced of commercial video games capability to develop soft skills in gamers.
  2. We are still involved in tuning up our methodology, the same that allow us to track achievements in order to measure a specific Soft Skill level.
  3. We have noticed that standar tests used by professionals and researchers on psychology are lagging behind if compared to their cousins from digital leisure platforms, they are: video games.
  4. As much information we are able to collect, more we will be able to improve our methodology accuracy, hence, increasing our confidence of playing particular video games help us to be better professionals.


  • J. Quesada , W. Kintsch & E. Gomez (2005) Complex problem-solving: a field in search of a definition?, Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science, 6:1, 5-33, DOI: 10.1080/14639220512331311553
    To link to this article:
  • McCormack (2016). Why Complex Problem Solving Will Be The Skill Most Employers Want By 2020.

Improve your soft skills playing Counter Strike video game


In this blog we use to talk about the influences of video games in our everyday life. Specifically, lately we have been focusing on the relationship between video games and soft skills. In fact, in one of our last articles we talked about this type of skills and the increasing need of its empowerment to fit in the labor society in Why detecting and training Soft Skills [with commercial video games] is crucial in ICT Society.

Our need to link soft skills with commercial video games is born from the XBagdes project, demonstrating that video games can improve soft skills as you can read in the published results.

We are happy to announce that since today xBadges is no more just a research project but a real implementation within an innovative recruitment platform: Workkola. Workkola started dealing with soft skills some time ago. They identify soft skills through a 360º system among the users themselves and the companies with which they interact and in which they detect, validate and empower personalities, values, talents, attitudes and competences, which together with the hard skills, remain automatically linked to their professional profiles, replacing the curriculum vitae with real metrics, and improving their positioning before job offers where this information becomes the basis of the entire process. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to start this soft skills detection model on the Workkola platform.

Wait a second, was not this article about Counter Strike? It is!

After a lot of research on the topic (among many: Alloza & Escribano, 2017; Triplett, 2008), it´s time to be more specific. Leaving the classic video games and going to the detail with current video games and see how they really influence certain soft skills. In particular we have chosen, fortunately for its fans: Counter Strike: Global Offensive, from now on CS:GO.


Image taken from CS:GO – Don’t Go That Way! (CS:GO Funny Moments and Fails!), speedyw03 youtube´s channel at

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

CS:GO is a shooter game in which, in the most common play mode, the user and the rest of his team must meet certain conditions to win multiple rounds to win the game. You can take two sides, terrorist and anti-terrorist (5 members each team). In the terrorist team the objective is either to kill all the anti-terrorists or to plant and activate a bomb and protect it until it explodes. On the contrary the anti-terrorists must eliminate all the enemy members or to deactivate the bomb before it explodes. The game counts with a multitude of weapons and maps in which the players must organize and give the best of themselves to fulfill their objectives, and much more in a professional level.

CS:GO has been chosen because it is the most popular video game on Steam and with millions of players on other platforms, as well as the great community that has been generated over the time around it. Without knowing it, this popular video game has been training a lot of gamers in skills such as hand-eye coordination, reflexes and some of the skills we are talking about in this article, such as reasoning speed. Actually, CS:GO had been studied previously in relation to the stimulation of the player’s creativity (Wright & Boria, 2002).

To date, all this ‘training’ goes unnoticed not only by recruitment companies or educational institutions but also by the players themselves. Now our goal is to extract, synthesize and capture information related to the improvement of these soft skills that are being improved by the current video games in a continuous and massive way. Through this, video games’ users will have more information about their profiles, which may help them to better position themselves in the labor market, in addition to continue training conscientiously.

Image taken from ESPORT at

Soft Skills in CS:GO

Before seeing how some skills are measured through video games, let’s look at some theory behind some of these skills behind Counter Strike and how they are normally measured.

Speed of reasoning

CS:GO is not precisely a slow game. Their games matches, their rounds, are usually fast and involve a lot of actions by the average player. In fact, the player not only has to “do” some actions in the matches but most of the time he will be receiving information. Information about the map, where he is aiming at, if the weapon is loaded or not, if there are enemies nearby, if any, try to dodge them and point them successfully, and all this taking into account the position and actions of the teammates, among many other variables.

Clearly CS:GO has all the elements to be able to shape and enhance the speed of processing and reasoning of its players.

If we go deep into the ability to see what the reasoning speed is and in which set of cognitive abilities it fits, we could write almost an entire thesis, so we will stick to the well-defined definition of Goldhammer and Klein (2011):

“(…)The construct of reasoning speed is perceived as fluidity in the performance of reasoning tasks. From a perspective of individual differences, individuals are not only in their capacity, but also in the level of speed at which they complete the tasks of reasoning.”

As there are also many types of reasoning (context oriented, for example mathematical or spatial reasoning), the speed of reasoning can literally be understood as: speed or fluency in reasoning tasks (for example, quick to say all the solutions that you can think of before a problem) in a limited time (CHC theory, definition project: Flanagan & Dixon, 2013; McGrew 2009; Newton & McGrew, 2010; Schneider & McGrew, 2012).

The important thing here is to know in depth how this skill is usually measured in a traditional way so that we can see how to do it with our system. This ability is relatively simple, so basically its measurement consists in checking the speeds of the people when performing different tests (whether spatial, verbal, etc.), although it emphasizes the joint modeling approach proposed by Klein Entink, Fox et al. (2009), which also measures the accuracy or validity of the responses.

People/team management

This ability is perceived in a global way, because in team management there may be many skills such as emotional intelligence (Goleman, González Raga and Mora, 2009), communication, assertiveness or empathy.

In fact, CASEL (a leading organization in the practice of promoting integrated academic, social and emotional learning) in its competency classification SEL (Social and emotional learning) encompasses team management within an even a larger area: Social skills. Which defines them as: the ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with various individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, constructively negotiate conflicts, and seek and offer help when necessary. WEF (World Economic Forum) in its report on the future of work in 2016 more specifically defines team management as ‘motivating, developing and directing people while working, identifying the best people for the job’.

In this context, we do not talk about work but about team management of 5 people in CS:GO matches. In fact it is very common for players to synchronize with each other and cooperate, agreeing on the point of the map (A or B) to go, selecting the best equipment in just a few seconds or generating strategies among all.

Regarding the measurement, there is no tool that measures the management of equipment as such, but there are many tools that serve to quantify and qualify the levels of these sub-skills in order to establish a certain level in equipment management.

Stress management

More than a skill, stress management is a goal that can be reached in several ways. As Penedo et al. (2003) explained in their research, there are multiple ways of managing stress, such as relaxation, cognitive restructuring, social support, assertiveness, etc.

However, in our case, we will consider it as a skill, as did Murphy (1996): to be able to maintain performance while stressed by certain stimulus. Thus, regardless of the method, we keep the result in focus. That is, while you are playing CS: GO, as a player you are able to remain calm and keep aiming well and hitting despite having the entire enemy team in front of you, for example.

Regarding the measurement in the previously cited research of Penedo et al., they measured stress management with the unpublished Measure of Current Status (MOCS), a questionnaire that asks the user for the perceived capacity (rated on a Likert scale between 1, I can not do it at all and 5 I can doing it extremely well) to respond to the challenges and demands of everyday life or perceived capacity for managing stress. Some of the situations that the questionnaire poses are:

  • “I can easily recognize situations that make me feel stressed or upset.”
  • “I can stand and reexamine my thoughts to get a new perspective.”
  • “I can use muscle relaxation techniques to reduce any stress I experience.”
  • “I can ask people for help in my life when I need them.”

Measuring with video games

But how are these skills measured with video games?

Usually these skills are measured in the same way: simulating situations. This assessment can take several forms: a role-playing in front of your future boss in a job interview, completing one or more questionnaires full of questions or most common in cognitive skills assessment, performing specific tests (spatial, verbal, memory, etc.). The funny thing is that in CS:GO it happens continuously and almost without realizing it. If you have ever played or are even a professional player, you will know for sure.

As we have already seen in the CS examples, in each of the skills explained, the video game puts us in situations in which we have to deploy our full potential to process the information we receive as soon as possible, coordinate with the team or even lead it and, above all, manage tons of stress while playing.

Image by Twinfinite at

In other words, Counter Strike is a video game that (among many others) is designed to entertain. But it becomes an optimum tool to identify, evaluate and even train these skills, since situations in which the player is immersed require high levels of such skills to arrive at a valid problem solving, in this case win the games without dying, make the most kills, etc.

And what elements of video games tell us if a player has done a certain action within it?

The achievements. The most current video games usually have achievements/trophies that are unlocked when you perform actions in the video game.

Some examples of CS:GO achievements (on Steam) and their relationship with some skills are:

  • Blitzkrieg (Yes, it is an achievement’s name). Description: Win a round against five enemies in less than thirty seconds.
    • The fact that a player has this achievement already indicates that he has been able to win a round (alone or in company) against the total enemy team in a very fast time. To perform this action are quite necessary certain skills such as team management (to be able to synchronize with the teammates or even establish patterns of action like “go B and cover me”, for example), also the speed of reasoning since the object which appears on the screen has to be identified as an enemy and is fired (with success). All this in 30 seconds, and yet it is an achievement unlocked by most of the players (more than 60%).
  • Shrapnelproof. Description: Take 80 points of damage from enemy grenades and still survive the round.
    • This achievement conveys very well the situation of stress that a player can be submitted in a CS:GO match. After receiving almost deadly damage, the player has to manage his stress, among many other things (visual search for enemies, anticipation, etc.) in order to survive until the end. Any player will recognize that he/she “gets a little nervous” when he/she is alone against the enemy team or is being chased. It is this type of stress that can be transferred to other non-play contexts.
  • First Things First. Description: Personally kill the entire Terrorist team before the bomb is planted in Demolition Mode.
    • Not only do you have to win but you have to do it alone. Here we find a very difficult situation where the player must extract their maximum potential to anticipate multiple enemies and to remain calm at all times. Usually this category of achievements is only obtained by professional players due to the immense amount of hours dedicated.

Achievements like this are very scarce because they are very difficult to get, in addition to the skills needed. Not to mention others achievements such as King of the Kill (Play 5,000 matches of Arms Race or Demolition mode). These are are hard to get, not by difficulty but by time. So these achievements could reflect very high levels of persistence or determination since they require many hours of play overcoming all the emotions associated with a competitive game, for example the frustration by die.


In summary, we see how the GO:GO achievements can help to identify the players’ skills and see how these skills keep boosting while players continues playing.

With this relationship we can establish skill levels, because the processing speed will not be the same in a professional player of CS:GO that of an amateur player. Although both users play the same game. It would also be relevant to take into account the factor of time. If for example a player achieves an achievement that reflects a good level of reasoning speed and the years go by, not because he has achieved that achievement means that he will continue to have the same speed of processing throughout his life. Unfortunately, if skills are not stimulated or trained, they generally decline. Therefore, in this last point, the concept of retraining the achievements should be reinforced so that skills measurement can be more specific.

And how will this work on the Workkola platform?

At the beginning of the article we have cited and thanked our presence in Workkola recruitment platform. We have established a joint collaboration in order to include our soft skills identification and evaluation systems through Steam achievements. Therefore, we will get massive real data from users helping them to acquire consciousness of the very valuable soft skills they are trainning  and how all these soft skills are important to their professional carreer.

One thing has become clear: video games are excellent tools for training and measuring soft skills. Already proven by many and now with mass commercial video games. Is this the future? No friends, it is our present.


  • Alloza, S. and Escribano, F. (2017). XBadges. How soft skills are boosted by video games: Improving persistence, risk taking & spatial reasoning with Flappy Bird, Pacman & Tetris. Repositorio institucional ULL. Extracted from
  • Flanagan, D. P., and Dixon, S. G. (2013). The Cattell‐Horn‐Carroll Theory of cognitive abilities. In D. P. Flanagan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Special Education (pp. 368-382). John Wiley & Sons.
  • Goleman, D., González Raga, D. and Mora, F. (2009). Inteligencia emocional. Barcelona: Kairós.
  • Goldhammer, F. and Klein, E. R. H. (2011). Speed of reasoning and its relation to reasoning ability. Intelligence, 39, 108–119.
  • Klein Entink, R. H., Fox, J. P., and van der Linden, W. J. (2009). A multivariate multilevel approach to the modeling of accuracy and speed of test takers. Psychometrika, 74, 21−48.
  • McGrew, K. S. (2009). CHC theory and the human cognitive abilities project: Standing on the shoulders of the giants of psychometric intelligence research. Intelligence, 37(1), 1-10.
  • Murphy, L. R. (1996). Stress Management in Work Settings: A Critical Review of the Health Effects. American Journal of Health Promotion, 11 (2).
  • Newton, J. H., and McGrew, K. S. (2010). Introduction to the special issue: Current research in Cattell–Horn–Carroll–based assessment. Psychology in the Schools, 47 (7), 621-634.
  • Penedo, F., Dahn, J., Molton, I., Gonzalez, J., Kinsinger, D., Roos, B., Carver, C., Schneiderman, N. and Antoni, M. (2003). Cognitive-behavioral stress management improves stress-management skills and quality of life in men recovering from treatment of prostate carcinoma. Cancer, 100 (1), 192-200.
  • Schneider, W. J., and McGrew, K. S. (2012). The Cattell-Horn-Carroll model of intelligence. In D. P. Flanagan & P. L. Harrison (Eds.), Contemporary intellectual assessment: Theories, tests, and issues (99-144). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • Triplett, J. (2008). The efects of commercial video game playing: a comparison of skills and abilities for the Predator UAV. Thesis. Air Force Institute of Technology. Air University.
  • World Economic Forum (2016). The Future of Jobs. Employment, Skills and Workforce Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. REF 010116. Recuperado de
  • Wright, T. and Boira, E. (2002). Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games – Playing Counter-Strike. Game Studies, 2 (2).

Why detecting and training Soft Skills [with commercial video games] is crucial to meet the challenges of ICT Society

“Mr Smith, your productivity has been falling during the last months. We need you to play Gran Turismo two hours a day in online races in order to overcome anxiety and also DOTA2 one hour a day to improve your team working skills”. Such that very enthusiastic way Marco Fernández has written a very fresh article on Pentavox about one of our projects called xBadges, based in the possibility of evaluating Soft Skills through the use of   ̶s̶e̶r̶i̶o̶us  commercial videogames.

When talking about Soft Skills evaluation some questions related with the definition of these skills arise, also questions about their purpose and usefulness and how to get the best from them. Let’s join us to analyze some of these questions to know how valuable the Soft Skills are and how much can impact and be beneficial in our everyday lives.

¿What are Soft Skills?

Asking to the popular mother of knowledge (wikipedia) Soft Skills are defined as the “combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.” (

Soft Skills are the skills we usually learn from nonformal learning, this is, not from the formal curriculum education but from other multiples manners which are terrific useful in our personal environnement. Here it is an example: we are hiring two jobs positions in our company, one of them is a profile who has to expend a lot of time alone taking care of information systems while the other is a profile who has to share the office with a team which have to work with tightly. We receive two CVs with two both very similar professional and academic background, almost identical. Because we do not know closely any of them we send the most sociable profile to the ‘isolated room’ to maintain the information system and the less sociable to the very populated and social space… One month after the first one is totally depressed and unmotivated and the other one is locked in the restroom with agoraphobia… 

Maybe this sounds like a very extreme situation but it is useful to clearly illustrate that Soft Skills truly exist and they influence (a lot) in the development of our professional, familiar, social… abilities and achievements.

21st- Century Soft Skills

Some educational organizations emphasize the necessity to define Soft Skills and their relationship with education and work. Australian’s PPI (The Indonesian Students Association) highlight six factors related to valuable Soft Skills needed to be developed in an educational context: knowledge and creativity, communication skills, teamwork, resilience, planning and organization, and ethics and integrity (Kyllonen, 2013, p. 6).

About the first on PPI’s list -that is Creativity- Schulz says (2008,  p. 149):

“This skill is often misinterpreted as being only useful for artists, whereas in the science or business arena only structured logical thinking should be applied. However, this perception is wrong. Applying creativity results in “thinking out of the box”, which means that given conventional rules and restrictions are left aside in order to find innovative approaches to problem solving.”

Schulz definition of this Soft Skills leads us to think about its utility, hence a new question arises…

How important are Soft Skills… specially in labour market?

Heretofore we have seen how important and useful the Soft Skills are in any aspect of our lives, however -and until now-, industrial labour market have considered just a little about them focussed almost exclusively in technical/professional abilities (Hard Skills).  How many skills did you put on the last CV you have send? Maybe just a few or even no one, so at this moment looks like there is not enough awareness of making these important skills visible.

According to Schulz (2008, p.154) even when “Soft skills fulfil an important role in shaping an individual’s personality by complementing his/her Hard Skills. However, over-emphasising it to such an extent should not taint the importance of soft skills, that hard skills, i.e. expert knowledge in certain fields, are demoted to secondary importance”, the good news is the trend is moving forward thanks to ‘behavioral science research in psychology and economics which suggests that noncognitive factors—soft skills such as motivation, work ethic, teamwork, organization, cultural awareness, and effective communication—play a role that is as important or even more important in determining success in school and in the workplace.’ (Kyllonen, 2013, p. 9).

In Anglo world considering Soft Skills so important begun in the 90s when the personality models were set by some Psychologists. Some research contributed to the knowledge about these Skills and about their importance according to five basic personality models.

Economic Literature discusses about the new concepts of human capital. “Human capital is a worker’s set of skills, broadly defined, that enhance productivity. They can be cognitive skills, abilities, knowledge, dispositions, attitudes, interests, etc.” According to Killonen “a 2012 study by Millennial Branding found “communication skills,” a “positive attitude,” being “adaptable to change,” and “teamwork skills” to be the four most important traits employers are looking for when they are hiring. Finally, seems like ‘corporate training, a $50 billion dollar industry, is concerned to a considerable extent with Soft Skills’ (2013, p. 3, 4 y 6)

Map of Soft Skills

In addition, OECD and World Economic forum are also taking part in the initiative highlighting the importance of Soft Skills in both educational and labour markets. These skills -and depending on the sector- could be different and more valuable according to the context, for that matter some skills as emotional intelligence, team working and concentration abilities could make the difference between two very similar academic and professional profiles when we are hiring, as pointed by OECD under topic What Skills are needed in the labour market?:

“All these skills are valued by employers. In surveys, employers mention a combination of some social and emotional skills, job and occupation-specific skills and cognitive skills as the most important when recruiting higher education graduates (Humburg, van der Velden and Verhagen, 2013). Empirical analyses based on employer surveys show that lack of social and emotional skills can create a strong barrier to employment, especially for low-skilled jobs (Heckman and Kautz, 2013).” (OECD, 2015, p. 22).

A 2013 report by European Commission considers the most valuable skills by employers to take decisions to hire. Within a list of hard and soft skills it is nice to see how some of the Soft Skills as “Interpersonal skills”, “Innovative/creative skills” and “Strategic/organizational skills” sum the 50% of the arguments by the employers to decide whom to be hired.  (Humburg, van der Velden, & Verhagen, 2013, p. 50-51).

We have noticed how important Soft Skills really are specially in the labour market, according to this there is a third question even more important than the previous ones.

Is it possible to evaluate and develop Soft Skills?

In our research we have found some differents models to define and evaluate Soft Skills. Some of these models are based on 80s and 90s ideas by Gardner and are called the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This theory proposes the existence of different kind of intelligences which are susceptible of both being identified and improved:

“The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Garder, 2005) is based in a model focussed in the role of the learner, oriented to the development of skills which all the intelligences are involved: Linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, body-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist. All of them are susceptible of being improved within an enriched cultural environment full of stimulation and throughout systematic strategies and activities. (Del-Moral-Pérez, Guzmán-Duque, & Fernández, 2014, p. 2).

According to Hampson & Junor (2009, p. 16 and 19) it would be possible to train all these skills in different levels of development, depending on the experience and function demanded by employers. All these skills by level would be classified as follow:

  • Level One skills which involve to be able to build a base of experience through practice and reflection
  • Level Two the learner is reaching a degree of automaticity that can enable them to apply experience independently and automatically
  • Level Three skills involve being able to use a base of knowledge at a level of automatic proficiency while solving new problems
  • Level Four, creative solution enables the sharing of existing knowledge to create new solutions
  • Level Five, an expert is actively shaping solutions through systems development based on individual and collective expertise and leadership.

Besides the level of expertise in skills development, González & Wagenaar (2006, p.9) summarize these Skills according to their functional typology in 3 large groups:

  • Instrumental Skills:
    Those having an instrumental function as Cognitive, Methodological, Technological and Linguistic skills.
  • Interpersonal Skills:
    Individual abilities relating to the capacity to express one’s own feelings, critical and self-critical skills. Social skills relating to interpersonal skills or team-work or the expression of social or ethical commitment.These tend to favour processes of social interaction and of co-operation
  • Systemic Skills:
    Those skills concerning whole systems. They suppose a combination of understanding, sensibility and knowledge that allows one to see how the parts of a whole relate and come together. These capacities include the ability to plan changes so as to make improvements in whole systems and to design new systems. Systemic competences require as a base the prior acquisition of instrumental and interpersonal competences

Kyllonen says (2013, p.9) employers are seeking new methods to reduce the cost of identifying this skills through behavior interviews, in a first place trying to use communication technologies to identify the skills remotely but this method implies yet the intervention of a human interviewer hence the process is still expensive when used to evaluate massive receptions of CVs.

In Educational System the scope of Soft Skills identification is maybe more tricky than in the labour market because all these skills have not even being considered as evaluable. In most cases because there is not any standard methodology to identify and train them available for educators, who barely have enough time and resources to evaluate and train curriculum skills (the hard ones) so it would be very harmful for them to overburden a learning agenda with an additional program of Soft Skills identification in terms of time and resources needed to deal with.

As a summary it is possible and needed to evaluate and develop Soft Skills but, the issue is both not the educational system neither the labour market have found affordable and accessible methods to make it.

Evaluating and training Soft Skills with commercial videogames (xBadges Prototype)

After we have detected the demand we have started working in a model to demonstrate something we had already intuited from a long time ago: Commercial-off-the-shelf video games can be used to identify, evaluate and even to train Soft Skills and… even they already are been used for those purposes without being aware of it.

In our research about the possibilities of using evaluation systems inside and outside the learning space we meet again with Del Moral in Evaluation and design of video games: generating learning objects in communities of practice points to a list of Soft Skills developed by video games, all these skills can be measurable if we are able to develop a control system within the video games we use (Del Moral Pérez et al., 2012, p.8):

  • Psychomotricity Skills
  • Assimilation and Retention Skills.
  • Information Search and Treatment Skills.
  • Organizational Skills.
  • Creative Skills.
  • Analytical Skills.
  • Skills for Decision Making.
  • Skills for Problem Solving.
  • Metacognitive Skills.
  • Interpersonal Skills.

This research was complemented by Triplett’s thesis on how video games can help players to develop the skills needed to pilot drones. Triplett makes a list of ‘gained skills through playing the games players use today’ (2008, p.59). Among the most relevant listed skills are the following:

  • Finding sources of information outside the game
  • Memory such as working combinations of buttons
  • Processing information quickly
  • Managing inventory and resources
  • How to work with diverse cultures
  • Understanding the status of the situation
  • Making decisions in real life, learning skills of adversaries
  • Situational awareness
  • Pattern recognition
  • Rapid decision-making
  • Managing information
  • Anticipate situations, etc.

All of them are very useful Soft Skills to be applied in such different sectors, professionals and non-professionals ones.

According to Del moral (2012) and Triplett (2008) the mentioned skills are already being trained through digital simulations as popular video games are so, in case of being able to setup a cuantitative/qualitative methodology to recognize the trained skills thanks to the use of COTS video games we would work in a new Soft Skills certification scenario. In this case, we would be able to certify Soft Skills as CV Attributes. This will benefit not only to educational organizations but also to the videogame, HR, training and recruitment sectors. Thanks to this new methodology we will be able to identify which particular Soft Skills have being trained by what kind of video games and to what level of maturity, in this way we would communicate to her teachers, employers, etc. the acquisition and impact of these Soft Skills and the sector to be applied into.

All these premises were presented to be researched and prototyped as technological model in the Spanish Ministry of Industry call AEESD (Economics and Digital Society Strategic Action), the name of the project is xBadges. Fortunately our project was approved and the research and prototyping were both initiated in late 2015 until now. This research and prototyping are helping us to set a series of experiments to know if our formulated hypothesis are correct or not:

  1. Thanks to the use commercial video games is possible to develop certain Soft Skills
  2. Commercial video games used by the actual massive public are already training millions of people to acquire Soft Skills even when they are not realizing that or being parameterized in order to quantify it.
  3. It is not needed to develop certain specific games (commonly called serious games) thanks to the huge catalogue of commercial games and the big amount of Soft Skills trained by them, specially because the better appeal in terms of graphics and gameplay of commercial games and how expensive is to develop a Serious Games
  4. The commercial video games catalogue is able to be used in different sectors to cover their needs in terms of Soft Skills recognition, evaluation and development.

Some of the results have been published in Soft Skills And Video Games: Love At First Sight, an excellent article by our friend and also author of the experiment Sergio Alloza. The article is demonstrating how Persistence and Stress Control, Spatial Reasoning and Risk Taking and Adaptability are potentially measurables and also earned by training them through the use of commercial classic video games.


  • Del Moral Pérez, M. E., Villalustre Martínez, L., Yuste Tosina, R., & Esnaola, G. (2012). Evaluación y diseño de videojuegos: generando objetos de aprendizaje en comunidades de práctica. RED. Revista de Educación a Distancia, (33), 17.
  • Del-Moral-Pérez, M. E., Guzmán-Duque, A. P., & Fernández, L. C. (2014). Serious Games: escenarios lúdicos para el desarrollo de las inteligencias múltiples en escolares de primaria. EDUTEC, Revista Electrónica de Tecnología Educativa, (47).
  • González & Wagenaar (2006). Introduction to Tuning. Tuning Educational Structures in Europe. Lifelong Learning Programme. EU Commission.
  • Hampson I. & Junor A (2009). ‘Employability’ and the Substance of Soft Skills. University of New South Wales. Industrial Relations Research Centre.
  • Humburg, M., van der Velden, R., & Verhagen, A. (2013). The Employability of Higher Education Graduates: The Employers’ Perspective. Maastricht, The Netherlands. doi:10.2766/54258
  • Patrick C. Kyllonen (2013. Soft Skills for the Workplace. Change: The Magazine Of Higher Learning Vol. 45 , Iss. 6,2013
  • OECD. (2015). OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. doi:10.1787/9789264234178-en
  • Schulz, B. (2008). The Importance of Soft Skills: Education beyond academic knowledge. NAWA Journal of Language and Communication, June 2008. p. 146-154
  • Triplett, J. E. (2008). The Effects of Commercial Video Game Playing: A Comparison of Skills and Abilities for the Predator UAV. Air Force Institute of Technology. Air University.

See also:

Tetris is not just about pieces falling down, it is about much more happening in our minds.

Description and History of the video game

In XBadges research that we are conducting from Compartia & Gecon on how video games influence and modify soft skills, one of the three games we are investigation about is Tetris, a video game already well known by all gamers and non-gamers. At this point it is necessary to review the current bibliography and research to discover what has already been studied about Tetris. So we have an empirical scientific basis with which to operate and interpret possible new results.

Programmed by Alekséi Pázhitnov and launched in 1984, Tetris is an arcade video game that has revolutionized the industry. Indeed, remastered by several companies and played in a lot of platforms (Sega, Atari, Game Boy and a long etcetera), Tetris is a video game with multiple versions that has changed many times its mechanics. For example, a variant called Quirks in wich you have to create blocks of 3 squares of the same color.

However, for this bibliographic review, we kept in mind the traditional version of the video game. In detail, the mechanics of the classic version are the following: seven randomly rendered tetrominoes or tetrads shapes composed of four blocks each falling down on the playing field.

The very first version of Tetris, released in 1984, run on an emulator of the Soviet DVK-2 computer by Wikipedia

The object of the game is to manipulate these tetrominoes to create a horizontal line of blocks without gaps. Consequently, when such a line is created, it disappears, and the blocks above (if any) fall. As the game progresses, the pieces fall faster, and the game ends when the tetrominoes reaches the top on the field. Although Tetris has not a final objective within the game (compared with other games in which you have to achieve some specific goals) it offers the players a virtual space where they can spend some time and have fun.

But definitely there are more secrets behind these tetrominoes. Let´s see how Tetris goes from being a playful game to unleashing its potential as a tool for cognitive training.

The psychology behind Tetris

First of all, we should say that Tetris mechanics and elements invite the users to enter in a mental state called “Flow”. Flow is an optimal psychological state said to occur when people meet the challenges of a given task or activity with appropriate skills and accordingly feel a sense of well-being, mastery, and heightened self-esteem (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990; cited in Belchior et al., 2012). Most of all, flow is also characterized by a deep sense of enjoyment. That is, not simply the result of satisfying a need, but a deeper sense of having achieve something novel and unexpected.

We can observe how the players play in a Flow state while their skills improve and the difficulty of the video game is adjusted in every moment thanks to the raising falling speed of the pieces. Besides Belchior et al., (2012) concluded (according with Csikszentmihalyi research, 1990) that the mechanics and game strategy of Tetris were likely learned faster facilitating the Flow.

Flow by Csikszentmihalyi 1990

In a Flow state where the user is totally focused in the game, there are perfect opportunities to empower skills since the user is not bored or distracted. In fact it is the most optimal environment for learning and training. But what skills are improving the players while they play Tetris?

Improving skills with Tetris

The design of Tetris can already place us in the range of abilities that can be enhance, or in another way, the skills that are necessary to have a good performance in the video game. It is clear that Tetris differs a lot from other video games that exist today and therefore. For example, it is very difficult for Tetris to improve the reflexes and visual system, as shooter video games or action video games do (Achtman et al., 2008, among many other studies). It is also very difficult to say that Tetris teaches us history such as video games as Age of Empire saga do (Ensemble Studios, 1997).

However what we can infer in a first state is that Tetris has something to do with space, with the ability to assimilate the information on a 2d plane and how to move and rotate the pieces and make them fit. We could say in general that Tetris is related to spatial abilities or spatial cognition.

Spatial ability

Specificly, spatial cognition involves multiple components. Broadly speaking refers to the skill in representing, transforming, generating and recalling symbolic, nonlinguistic information (Linn and Petersen, 1985; cited in Oei & Patterson, 2014).

In fact, many scientific investigations studied Tetris, relating it with the spatial cognition. Some of the results link Tetris with mental rotation, specifically, faster and more accurate mental rotation was found in experienced and trained Tetris players (Okagaki and Frensch, 1994; Sims and Mayer, 2002; Boot et al., 2008; all 3 cited in Oei & Patterson, 2014). These results have sense since Tetris players must stack falling shapes efficiently using mental rotation and planning to complete lines and get points without dying. In addition, Sims and Mayer (2002; cited in Oei & Patterson, 2014), concluded that Tetris trainees were more likely to use a Tetris-like mental rotation for Tetris shapes, showing that transfer effects are quite specific to skills that are common to the trained game and transfer task.

Quiroga et al. (2009) also saw this effect in their experiments, where skilled Tetris players outperformed non-Tetris players on mental rotation of shapes that were either identical or very similar to Tetris shapes, but not on other tests of spatial ability (Tetris players used the same mental rotation procedures as non-Tetris players, but when Tetris shapes were used, they executed them more quickly). Although, Okagaki and Frensch (1994) proved the generalization to different shapes of that skills acquired playing Tetris. Thus, visualization skill developed in Tetris could be transferred to the visualization and mental manipulation of different (non-Tetris) stimuli. So it is not clear if the skill improvement transference is possible.

Mental rotation task by Psychlopedia

Speaking about abilities improvements, Okagaki and Frensch (1994) found that practicing on Tetris positively affects closely related spatial skills too, replicating the study of Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (1994; cited In Okagaki and Frensch, 1994). Numerous training studies (e.g., Connor, Schackman, & Serbin, 1978; cited in Okagaki and Frensch, 1994) also have found that practice can improve spatial performance.

General intelligence & brain efficiency

Tetris was also related to general intelligence and brain efficiency (Haier, et al., 1992), proving that girls who practiced with Tetris showed greater brain efficiency. Compared to controls, the girls that practiced also had a thicker cortex, but not in the same brain areas where efficiency occurred (increased cortical thickness is a sign of more gray matter, more neurons, more efficiency). The areas of the brain that showed relatively thicker cortex were the Brodmann Area (BA) 6 in the left frontal lobe and BA 22 and BA 38 in the left temporal lobe. Scientists believe BA 6 plays a role in the planning of complex, coordinated movements and BA 22 and BA 38 are part of the brain active in multisensory integration.

Functional MRI (fMRI) showed also greater efficiency after practice mostly in the right frontal and parietal lobes including BAs 32, 6, 8, 9, 46 and BA 40. These areas are associated with critical thinking, reasoning, and language and processing, and they are also active when mental rotation tasks are performed (Cohen et al., 1996; cited in Oei & Patterson, 2014). Even the authors commented the results saying: “Tetris requires many cognitive processes like attention, hand/eye coordination, memory and visual spatial problem solving all working together very quickly. Therefore it’s not surprising that we see changes throughout the brain”.

Other abilities

We have seen the research about how Tetris affects and boosts spatial abilities and brain efficiency, but there are more studies that relate Tetris with other topics. For example a study declaring that playing Tetris after viewing traumatic material reduces unwanted and involuntary memory flashbacks to that traumatic film (Holmes, James, Coode-Bate, & Deeprose, 2009; Holmes, James, Kilford, & Deeprose, 2010; both cited in Skorka-Brown et al., 2015) and weakens naturally occurring cravings in a laboratory setting too (Skorka-Brown et al., 2014; cited in Skorka-Brown et al., 2015). This implies that visual cognitive interference can be used repeatedly to reduce cravings for a range of substances and activities.

These finding extends the results of Skorka-Brown et al. research (2014), who reported that craving strength was reduced when participants played Tetris, but not when they watched a fake loading-screen. As a support tool, Tetris, could help people manage their cravings in naturalistic settings and over extended time periods. This findings are consistent with theories such as EI Theory (Kavanagh et al., 2005) that view cravings as conscious states supported by limited capacity cognitive processes.

Extracted from Hobbyronconcola


As we have seen Tetris is much more than a simple video game that can be used to spend some time. In fact, multiple investigations prove that it is a tool to enhance certain cognitive abilities within the range of spatial abilities. In addition to all of these studies, the results of XBadges research (as a replica of Trousselle et al., 2016) point to a significant improvement in spatial reasoning in Tetris players, . Concluding once again the effectiveness of this classic video game as a training tool as well as being a funny entertainment tool.

Bibliographic references

  • Achtman, R. L., Green, C. S. and Bavelier, D. (2008). Video games as a toll to train visual skills. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, 26, 435-446.
  • Belchior, P., Marsiske, M., Sisco, S., Yam, A. and Mann, W. (2012). Older adults’ engagement with a video game training program. Act Adapt Aging, 36 (4).
  • Boot, W. R., Kramer, A. F., Simons, D. J., Fabiani, M. and Gratton, G. (2008). The effects of video game playing on attention, memory and executive control. Acta Psychol (Amst), 129, 387–398.
  • Cohen, M. S., Kosslyn, S. M., Breiter, H. C., Digirolamo, G. J., Thompson, W. L., Anderson, A. K. (1996). Changes in cortical activity during mental rotation. A mapping study using functional MRI. Brain, 119, 89–100.
  • Connor, J. M., Schackman, M. & Serbin, L. A. (1978). Sex related differences in response to practice on a visual spatial test and generalization to a related test. Child Development, 49, 24-29.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of the optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Haier, R. J., Siegel, B., Tang, C., Abel, L. and Buchsbaum, M. S. (1992). Intelligence and changes in regional cerebral glucose metabolic rate following learning. Intelligence, 16, 415–426.
  • Holmes, E.A., James, E.L., Coode-Bate, T. and Deeprose, C. (2009). Can playing the computer game ‘Tetris’ reduce the build-up of flashbacks for trauma? A proposal from cognitive science. PLoS ONE, 4, 1.
  • Holmes, E.A., James, E.L., Kilford, E.J. and Deeprose, C. (2010). Key steps in developing a cognitive vaccine against traumatic flashbacks: Visuospatial Tetris versus verbal Pub Quiz. PLoS One, 5 (11).
  • Kavanagh, D.J., Andrade, J. and May, J. (2005). Imaginary relish and exquisite torture: the elaborated intrusion theory of desire. Psychological Review, 112, 446–467.
  • Linn, M.C., and Petersen, A. C. (1985). Emergence and characterization of sex differences in spatial ability: a meta-analysis. Child Dev, 56, 1479–1498.
  • Oei, A. and Patterson, M. (2014). Are videogame training gains specific or general?. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8 (54).
  • Okagaki, L. and Frensch, P. (1994). Effects of video game playing on measures of spatial performance: Gender effects in late adolescence. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 15 (1), 33-58.
  • Quiroga, M., Herranz, M., Gómez-Abad, M., Kebir, M., Ruiz, J. and Colom, R. (2009). Video games: Do they require general intelligence?. Computers & Education, 53 (2), 414-418.
  • Sims, V. and Mayer, R. (2002). Domain specificity of spatial expertise: the case of video game players. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16 (1), 97-115.
  • Skorka-Brown, J., Andrade, J. and May, J. (2014). Playing ‘Tetris’ reduces the strength, frequency and vividness of naturally occurring cravings. Appetite, 76, 161–165.
  • Skorka-Brown J., Andrade, J., Whalley, B. and May, J. (2015). Playing Tetris decreases drug and other cravings in real world settings. Addictive Behaviors, 51, 165–170.
  • Subrahmanyam, K. and Greenfield, P.M. (1994). Effect of video game practice on spatial skills in girls and boys. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 5, 13-32.
  • Trousselle, R., García, N., Alcántara, E. and Gutiérrez, A., (2016). Tetris y el Razonamiento Espacial. [Prezi] Available at: [Accessed 10 Mar. 2017].