Everything I Ever Learned About Networking, I Learned From RPGs

"It's dangerous to go alone! Take this."
- Old Man, The Legend of Zelda

The coffee's cold. It's always cold. And the bagels - not much better. Bland, palate-shredding hardtack, dusted with enough stale poppyseeds and salt to give the appearance of flavor. The cream cheese could double as wall putty. Plastic is everywhere: plastic knives, plastic stirrers, plastic barrels of creamer marked with the warning, "For best use, do not refrigerate."

I left my apartment this morning before the sun rose, forsaking a warm bed and a fragrant pot of chicory coffee just to chug glacial joe and rend my gums on bagel bricks. And I don't regret it, not one bit. After all, nobody comes here for the food.

Dozens of people in business suits and pencil skirts mill about, and the room hums with hasty introductions, laughter, the jangle of bracelets in rapid-fire handshakes. On my left, two suits chuckle over golf scores and web designers. On my right, a woman chats in an easy, practiced lilt about charity funding. By the water fountain, a loudmouth jeweler has cornered an older woman wearing five bulky cocktail rings; she nods with feigned disinterest about his sterling silver pendants.

It's the sound of business, of change. Business doesn't happen in malls or offices or the ads you see on TV. It happens everyday in places like this, at networking events across the country, where relationships form and mature over stale Arabica and Styrofoam cups.

The first time I attended a networking event, I was terrified. I eyed the exits like a rabbit, painfully aware I was the youngest person in the room. Wondered how I'd ended up there, how I'd managed to trick these poor people into believing I was an actual businesswoman instead of just some writer playing pretend as she tapped out articles in her PJs. Networking seemed terribly complicated and arcane, some secret ceremony of the Marketing Guru that, without an MBA, I could never hope to understand.

But soon, I realized networking wasn't so foreign after all - that in fact, I'd been training for it my entire life. On the playground. In the dorm hall. Even on my PlayStation.

Think about it. What's networking but the ultimate fetch quest, a detective hunt for customers, vendors and hot leads? Making and receiving referrals is just business-themed Bejeweled: an endless match-3 of you, your associate and their perfect customer.

Networking shares plenty of characteristics with adventures and RPGs. For example:

  • It's not about you; it's about saving the world. Good networking isn't about scoring referrals for yourself. It's about helping other people first, giving them the information or services they need, so that they'll want to help you however they can. Kinda like Zelda.

    Link, he's a master networker. He buys meat for hungry Moblins, who then grant him access to new dungeon venues. He spends time entertaining bored fairy queens, who give him bigger bomb bags and arrow quivers. He even mows lawns for lazy townspeople, thus scoring funds for his Ganon-extermination business. That savvy little kid's built a network out of all Hyrule, drafting villagers, princesses and ancient spirits alike as referral partners. Not half bad for someone dressed like Santa's little helper.

  • You have to talk to everyone. Just like decoding the convoluted plotlines of several JRPGs, good networking takes legwork, research, and an affinity for chatting up strangers. You always have to talk to as many people as you can, because you never know who has the information or referrals you'll need.

    Sure, some people will only offer up info you already knew, or non-sequiturs about the War of the Magi your country waged 1,000 years ago. But others hoard juicy leads on quality clients and vendors - and they're just waiting for you to ask the right questions. Starting a conversation with those people could mean kickstarting a chain of events that doubles your monthly profits (or, alternately, reveals your father is really a genocidal alien who used his spaceship to wipe out your girlfriend's hometown.) You never know until you ask.

  • You should listen more than you speak. Link. Chrono. Mario. Everyone loves a silent protagonist, especially townspeople, because a quiet hero lets them talk about their favorite topic in the world: themselves. Networking works the same way: You learn more when you shut up and let the other person speak.
  • First impressions count. All the townspeople remember the silver-haired guy with the big sword in Final Fantasy VII. Sephiroth's Pantene-perfect locks and Freudian sword made him stand out from the rest of the sociopathic crowd. Likewise, you have to be distinctive in networking. That first impression's crucial, and looks do matter.

    (Of course, there are limits. As Lulu, Rydia, Yuffie, Tifa, Terra and that stripper who turns you into a frog in FFIV can tell you: Heroines - or networkers - in slutty clothing rarely seal the deal.)

Networking is so much like a game sometimes that it makes me wonder: Could games themselves become networking tools one day? Could Xbox Live or World of Warcraft become the next Facebook or LinkedIn? After all, players already forge lifelong friendships over late-night raids and casual gaming tournaments. Why not take it to the next logical step?

Imagine: Xbox Live Arcade or Azeroth as an informal stage for business networking - a common ground without the crappy coffee and adamantine bagels, where young professionals could build their contacts list and grow their business. You could see specialized guilds offering discounts to business conferences. Players discussing their outsourcing needs over a hand of UNO. Trolls and Taurens, building professional trust over some friendly PvP.

In some ways, I think it's already happening. One woman I know landed her first job out of college through Dark Age of Camelot. Another friend routinely takes on his research team in Forza. And I've already played Settlers Live with a number of close business associates. As the average age of the gamer increases (now up to 33), I wonder if we'll see this idea of game-related networking gain more traction.

But for now, I'll stick with the in-person events. Here, I still have an advantage, a few extra levels in networking over those non-gamer suits. And besides - the coffee may suck, but at least it's free.

I put down my plastic cup and take out a handful of business cards. Alright, networkers, I say to myself. Now I'm ready. Let's play money-making game.

Comments

I've spent the last few years trying to help other people land jobs and grow in their careers. Everything you've said goes along with advice I've given in the past.

One of the reasons I tell people to do less talking and more listening is that the more you talk, the more likely you're going to say something you regret. Likewise, if the other person does the talking they are more likely to give you nuggets of information you can use later. I try very hard not to dominate a converation, give a little info, think about my responses, and let the other person run off at the mouth. Listening is one of the most underappreciated tools of business.

Great article. Every time you walk into a party or whatever with strangers, just pretend like it's a new town in your favorite RPG. Solid advice!

This article is many kinds of awesome. And you are, of course, quite right. When I play RPGs, I often joke that it reminds me of my job. I'm a journalist and talking to people - and then re-talking to them with new knowledge acquired to "move" the plot - is what I do and love the most. And currently I'm searching for Ring of Protection at least +3 because the wrath of the emperor (the prime minister in our case) has turned against us. We must prevail, however.

stevesan wrote:

Great article. Every time you walk into a party or whatever with strangers, just pretend like it's a new town in your favorite RPG. Solid advice!

I wonder what kind of drops I can get out of our department manager. He's immune to spells, so I'll have to go melee.

It's odd. I was talking to a customer today who works for Microsoft. She was saying how there was a stage in the local head office where it seemed like WoW players were getting promoted faster because the main department heads were all players.

I was mulling on this when I read this article and it totally makes sense. I'm sure the bosses weren't promoting people because they were WoW players, but if you as an employer are familiar with someone in situations that can be stressful outside of work and in a situation when they are most likely to show their actual nature, (say a high level raid) then you may be more predisposed to giving them a hand up.

Great article with much to ponder.

MrDeVil909 wrote:

I was mulling on this when I read this article and it totally makes sense. I'm sure the bosses weren't promoting people because they were WoW players, but if you as an employer are familiar with someone in situations that can be stressful outside of work and in a situation when they are most likely to show their actual nature, (say a high level raid) then you may be more predisposed to giving them a hand up.

Isn't this the same principle that leads to many executives and managers taking up golf? You have some common ground for starting conversations, become more familiar with one another due to those conversations and possibly both doing the activity together, and are thus considered more for promotions and projects because you're fresh in the upper management's mind. It applies equally well if you're talking about a fantasy football league or betting on the latest Survivor season; it's about gaining and maintaining contacts relevant for the work environment outside of the work environment.

And about full bars roving around on the field in golf carts. Those things are awesome.

I've always seen social sights like Myspace and Facebook becoming popular due to the popularity of MMO's. It's the guilds/friendlists and community building stripped out of the early MUDs and MMOs.

Thanks to this article, I might actually have a sliver of enjoyment/motivation in regards to networking from now on.....

And while I never would've thought of WoW as a networking tool, apparently it's already happening...

But can you walk into their houses and take all their stuff with no consequences?

In some ways, I think it's already happening. One woman I know landed her first job out of college through Dark Age of Camelot.

I got my first programming job, part-time during college, because of local people I'd met on Star Trek MUSE (text-based MORPG). My third employer because of a friend I'd made while running a local LAN party.

Heroines - or networkers - in slutty clothing rarely seal the deal.

Quintin_Stone wrote:
Heroines - or networkers - in slutty clothing rarely seal the deal.

:(

Well, you know. It depends upon the deal in question.

A great article that puts an interesting spin on the value of networking. The best jobs I have ever had came through contacts made in the industry. I never quite thought of it as a game, but now I do!

You keep using the word "networking" in weird ways I am unfamiliar with. I'm a gamer and a geek. I don't talk to people. I fail to see how role playing games help me configure this Cisco device on my desk. Thread does not deliver!

Interesting perspective Kat. Thanks.

Zelda is not an RPG! Gah!

LobsterMobster wrote:

Zelda is not an RPG! Gah!

Calm down. I never said it was. I said adventures and RPGs. Zelda's an action-adventure - which, I'm perfectly willing to admit, is a very loose application of the term "adventure". But I never called it an RPG.

Imagine: Xbox Live Arcade or Azeroth as an informal stage for business networking - a common ground without the crappy coffee and adamantine bagels, where young professionals could build their contacts list and grow their business.

http://www.news.com/Power-lunching-w...

I think of my career as a series of Battlefield respawns. Sometimes I sneak up in back of my opposition and cut his throat. Sometimes I am running across a beautiful sunlit field toward a distant objective, and I am struck directly by artillery.

Blue Puma wrote:

I think of my career as a series of Battlefield respawns. Sometimes I sneak up in back of my opposition and cut his throat. Sometimes I am running across a beautiful sunlit field toward a distant objective, and I am struck directly by artillery.

How many jobs have you teabagged?

heh, definately an article that opened my eyes to the relation between the two subjects. Nicely done.

...and here I thought this was going to cover Baldur's Gate and Subnet Masks.

Great article. Thinking outside the gaming box. It is true that networking really is a game. The more you play the better you get. It is also very true that the more you listen and the more information you give, generally the better you do within your network.

The key as you put it so well is to really treat it as a game. If you read this site regularly, gaming is something you really care about, therefore networking as if you are playing a game shows your fellow networkers that you are deeply involved/care about your networking and time at the network events. Because of this interest/involvement they are more apt to help you when you need it.

Overall, a fun read, although you left out mention of the good hockey puck danishes and the flimsy stir sticks from your story. Love those pucks.

Overall, a fun read, although you left out mention of the good hockey puck danishes and the flimsy stir sticks from your story. Love those pucks.

Stir sticks? You get stir sticks? Man, I bet they feed you caviar and fois gras, too.

KaterinLHC wrote:

Stir sticks? You get stir sticks? Man, I bet they feed you caviar and fois gras, too.

Foie Gras surely you jest. They serve the international Foie Gras substitue....

Wait for it...

Liverwurst!

Agree, a great article! To think all the networking I did trying to get a job was just practice for RPGs

Very new to the site and so incredibly impressed by the quality and content of the writing. I loved this article, work in software support myself and always cultivate a relationship with my customers, empathy - understanding and a little knowledge go such a long way.

Strong believer in Karma triggering the whole cycle of cause and effect, what you do for others does come back and not always in the way you expect, but positives do breed positives.

Gaming is part of who we all are, thats why we are on this site, its part of our day to day lives..

Although the 9 to 5 cubists that I share my daily space with have no concept of any of the things mentioned, unfortunately for them, no imagination - their loss, my gain