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Team Building with Mario and Luigi

January 10, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Once the group stopped playing, we held a time of reflection where I asked questions about the experience:

What was most difficult or frustrating for you? How did you pull together as a team to overcome the obstacles?

The responses were consistent that, even though the game was fun, it was frustrating to find a rhythm to avoid not inhibiting each other. Anyone who has played NSMB knows that the multiplayer can be more frustrating than productive -- the participants certainly experienced that.

In order to overcome that potential frustration (an intentional part of the experience), participants were more verbally communicative than they typically would have been -- setting up a plan, based on their naturally-established roles, to come up with a solution.

This didn't always lead to success; there was a trial and error process, made more difficult by the time limit on each level. Once the participants started collaborating, however, their consistency in winning rose: each level took fewer tries to beat.

Why did working as a part of a team improve your experience in the game?

The participants said that, at first, it didn't -- they all felt levels would be easier to complete solo. However, once they found their groove, they were able to develop and take advantage of strategies that they wouldn't have been able to otherwise. This increase in difficulty made levels more satisfying to complete, and, as a result, improved the game experience on the whole.

What was most fun about the game?

The participants enjoyed -- expectedly -- winning! It helped that Mario is a character with whom many people are familiar, including all of the participants, and that the aesthetic layer of the game is bright and playful. Other than winning, they all enjoyed improving their skills as a result of their co-players.

Since I did not guide the group through the process, their reflection was authentic -- the questions were designed to help them critically examine the experience and transfer the skills they had exhibited during play to beyond the game itself. Keep in mind also that, as this was a sample of professionals from different fields and places of work, that I did not intend to measure their success in transferring skills to the workplace. Rather, the goal was to establish that games-based learning can build better groups by naturally promoting the traits of a high-functioning group that employers value.

Closing Thoughts

If you are interested in implementing the type of training described, I would recommend you keep the following in mind:

Not all games are created equal, instructionally speaking. Be discerning and intentional about the games you choose for collaborative training. Some games can have the opposite effect. I recommend becoming familiar with Hunicke, LeBlanc, and Zubek's MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research for a way to critically evaluate games for their instructional value. Understanding each level of a game's design can help you determine if it has collaborative goals, results, and a practical use in team building.

Establish a team of people with varying degrees of gaming experience. This is a crucial piece of the puzzle -- and won't likely be an issue in diverse workplace environments. For roles to develop naturally, there needs to be a varied level of familiarity. If that isn't possible, refer back to the first suggestion -- maybe choose a game few people are familiar with instead, or a game that has a relatively low learning curve.

Don't try to facilitate games-based training if you aren't a gamer yourself. This is common sense, I suppose -- but it needs to be said. If you don't know the game, you can't teach with it!

Actively facilitate, but don't directly participate. The role of a trainer in team building through games is to frame the experience, not to engage in it. The key here is authenticity -- don't muddy the waters.

Plan for post-game processing: critical reflection is paramount. This just doesn't work well without critical reflection -- there has to be some intentional facilitation of the experience to ensure that skills transfer to a non-game environment.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Curtiss Murphy
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Fantastic experiment and excellent article. Thank you.

Jason Drysdale
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Thanks, Curtiss--much appreciated!

Sean Monica
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This is really cool and well done!

Jason Drysdale
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Thanks, Sean--glad you enjoyed it!

Axel Cholewa
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I can only agree with Curtiss, fantastic experiment and article!

It would be interesting to do the same study with

a) Rayman :Origins. It shares a lot of features with NSMBW, but players can't collide, except if one lands on top of the other (which, as in NSMBW, can be used for higher jumps). Therefore you can't really inhibit your team mates. Using this game could help clarify the importance of verbal coordination in such teams.

b) NSMBW in Boost Mode. It would be interesting to see who plays with the GamePad. Is it always the same person? Does everyone want to play with the GamePad? Maybe they develop their own rules who has to play with the GamePad, and when? Is there a role like leader or follower attached?

Jason Drysdale
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Hey, Axel--

The Rayman idea sounds awesome--that's also the benefit in using games for building teams, I think--if you evaluate one game that doesn't quite fit your needs, there is likely another that will do the job.

Also, right on about boost mode--the asynchronous gameplay thing has a lot of possibilities for collaborative learning and team your idea about developing unique rules for using the GamePad. Now I may need to go pick up a Wii U! For research, of course. ;-)

Thanks for the great discourse!

Axel Cholewa
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Hey Jason,

interesting effect: I was assuming you used NSMB Wii U, although you explicitely wrote Wii. Might be because I just got one before christmas :D

Have fun with your Wii U research ;)

BTW: it's asymmetric gameplay, not asynchronous. :)

Jason Drysdale
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Oops! Must've been thinking one and wrote the other, haha. The perils of posting on Friday!

John Flush
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In my own experiences at home I found the NSMB experience frustrating on all levels when playing multiplayer. Everything bad about video games was present with little to no way of mitigating it. Every castle was the water fall level from contra - which to this day still scars my childhood and is the comparison for game design failure when analyzing a game.

It is interesting though to see as the pain materialized what roles people took. The people that know what they are doing have to slow down and help those that don't, to their own frustration. Those that lacked the skills improve faster but don't really become experts themselves. They have to put in place plans to prevent each other from getting in the way... It really is the workplace.

They key in the workplace is to cut loose those that get in the way and hire more people that know what they are doing or are at least talented enough to become experts in a quick fashion.

Axel Cholewa
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That's a bit shortsighted. "Those that get in the way" are always the slowest, or least efficient, or least experienced and so on. If you cut them loose other people will take there place. There will always be people with less experience or qualification, simply because there is no such things as a completely uniform team.

Train those that seem to slow you down, while not using focus of those that stride ahead. Difficult but possible.

Jason Drysdale
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Hey John--

I think many people echo your sentiment about the frustration with NSMB's multiplayer--and some groups would find it more of a reason to quit than to problem solve. I'll reiterate my statement to Axel, above: this is exactly the reason why games are such a great framework for team building--if one game wouldn't work well, evaluate another until you come to the right one.

I think it's also important to keep in mind that fun is at the center of all this; we are always more invested in the outcome if we are having fun. If the game isn't fun for you or your team, definitely try a different game with collaborative goals and results!

Thanks for the comment, John!

Filipe Salles
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This article is amazing and gave me a new perspective on how to use games as a way of not only delivering fun, but also making people's lives better.

I really appreciated this article, thank you very much!

Jason Drysdale
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Hey, thanks Filipe! Very glad you found it useful. Best wishes!