In the best-selling, universally acclaimed video game Elden Ring, players take on the role of a lowly Tarnished, tasked with gathering the shards of the shattered Elden Ring and becoming Elden Lord.
I’ve clocked over 100 hours in this game and still have only a vague understanding of what that all means. The game’s world—called the Lands Between—is full of complex puzzles, maddening mysteries, and cryptic clues.
But while the narrative may be opaque, the features that make Elden Ring a great gaming experience are perfectly clear. You don’t need to speak to the giant miter-wearing turtle Miriel to understand why the game sold 12 million copies in three weeks or why it has an enviable Metacritic score of 96. Hidetaka Miyazaki and his team put a lot of careful thought into the game’s development.
The wisdom of their vision has much to teach both gamers and non-gamers alike. It even has sound advice for those of us working in the realm of HR.
Sound unfathomable? Follow me to find workplace lessons in the Lands Between.
You can play Elden Ring on your own. It’s predominantly a single-player game. That said, it does have a multiplayer function for those who’d like to challenge other players or—more importantly—get help from them. In certain situations, such as boss battles, the game allows you to call upon the aid of another player. You can summon them into your game to help you overcome (or just distract) a particularly troublesome foe. I’m looking at you, Starscourge Radahn. There’s no shame in it. The game is designed to be cooperative. I’ve taken advantage of this feature more than once myself.
Your enemies in Elden Ring also know the value of teamwork. The strongest armor in the game won’t help you much if you get surrounded by albinaurics, putrid corpses, or any of the other nightmarish fiends in the game. Even lesser monsters will quickly become a mortal danger if they attack you in a group. The experienced Tarnished draws out individual enemies from a horde and handles each one alone. Enemies tricked into abandoning teamwork for the solo victory soon pay the price for their tactical error. The first workplace lessons from the Lands Between is nearly instinct: there is safety in numbers.
In the world of work, you don’t have to go it alone. Accept assistance and offer help when you can. Where an individual fails, a team can succeed.
Fairly early on in Elden Ring, players can venture east and enter the region of Caelid. Few stay long. The land in Caelid is dead and diseased, home to swamps of scarlet rot, which looks as nasty as it sounds. Vicious watchful crows the size of elephants and mangy T-rex dogs monitor your every move, waiting for the moment to strike. The decaying locale has no shortage of quests to complete and treasures to find, making it a popular place to visit for players up for the risk. But no one plans a picnic here or wanders around simply to take in the sights. No one likes it here. It’s an ugly, toxic environment that people leave as quickly as they can.
Toxic work environments can feel a lot like Caelid. Endless drama and dysfunction. Rampant bullying. Exploitation. Emotional manipulation. These destructive behaviors lead to chronic stress and exhaustion. People leave as soon as they’re able, and those who have no choice but to stay hate it. Work suffers. Productivity diminishes like it’s got a case of scarlet rot.
Don’t tolerate toxic behaviors. They can spread and ruin the workplace.
Elden Ring, like the Dark Souls games before it, can be incredibly challenging. There is no difficulty scale. Just the option where you die a lot. But it’s also a game that, if you pay attention, teaches you how to play it throughout and rewards you for learning every step of the way. Every enemy type has a move set you can learn and, in turn, predict. Once you figure out your opponent and get in enough practice, formerly formidable monsters may become easy. Or at least beatable. That’s a big source of joy in the game.
You feel that joy yourself when you squeak out a narrow victory, successfully execute a new strategy, or read another player’s “I did it!” message in the now defeated boss’s location.
This joy can be a feature of the workplace too. People like challenging work—not for its own sake, but because it enables them to learn and grow as they overcome those challenges. They’re not the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Maybe they’ve mastered a new skill or learned to think more creatively about a problem or become more comfortable experimenting and taking risks. Whatever the case, their work gave them not only an opportunity to develop, but a path and reward for doing so.
When considering challenges for your employees, ask yourself what work will take their knowledge, skills, and abilities to the next level.
Players of Elden Ring spend hours combing the Lands Between for hidden mysteries. A steep rock wall may have a well concealed cave. An out of the way route up a mountain may lead to a secret path. A trek down a river may result in a priceless treasure.
The game doesn’t tell you what you’ll find or whether you’ll even find anything, but a detour seldom goes unrewarded. If you don’t discover crafting supplies, a cool new armor set, a rare medallion, or a magical talisman, you’re at least likely to encounter amazing wildlife or a scenic view. The game rewards exploration.
Rewards are also important at work. If you want to see more of something in the workplace, reward it. As Elden Ring shows, rewards don’t always need to be big to be motivating.
Promotions, raises, and the like are important incentives, but smaller rewards—like praise during a company meeting for a job well done—can also be powerful motivators.
When you first begin Elden Ring, you can pick the starting class for your character. Bandit. Warrior. Sorcerer. Samurai. That sort of thing. This initial decision doesn’t mean a whole lot in the long run, but it’s a nice way to align your character with your preferred playstyle. To a large degree, you can play Elden Ring however you like. You can be bold or careful, loud or stealthy, fast or methodical. It’s up to you, and you can vary your playstyle however much you want.
The game gives you goals to complete, but it’s up to you how you want to complete them. Beating a boss in two minutes isn’t necessarily better than beating them in 10 minutes. The 10-minute approach may require fewer retries and save time overall. More to the point, you’re more likely to be successful in Elden Ring if you find and develop a playstyle that works for you.
That is often true in the workplace too. Not everyone has the same way of working. People approach and solve problems differently. This is perhaps the most important of these workplace lessons from the Lands Between. Because those differences should be encouraged, not stifled. If Elden Ring allowed only one playstyle—as a light-armored sorcerer, for example—fewer people would have bought the game and fewer still would be trying to complete it. If you empower your people to do their best work in ways that work well for them and for you, everyone will achieve even greater success.
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