Choosing a Game
The only problem -- for in-person training, at least -- with Guild Wars 2 is that you don't have the benefit of personal interaction with your teammates (and that at the time of the focus group, the game had not yet been released). As such, I landed on New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
NSMB has competition -- you can easily steal power-ups from and double-jump your teammates to their demise -- but, like Worms, fun trumps competition. Players are working toward a shared outcome, as well -- if you cause your teammate to die, you may be less likely to complete the level. So we have a collaborative goal (work together to complete the level), a collaborative result (beat the level), and the benefit of personal interaction: It meets each criterion for a useful team-building experience.
With the collaborative game selected, I set up some parameters to ensure the learning experience was authentic. First and foremost, I decided to not interact with the focus group gamers during play. I didn't want to taint the study with my own bias -- I wanted to see if the learning would happen naturally.
Next, I made sure that I selected a group of people with diverse levels of gaming experience and different professional backgrounds. Finally, I set up a post-game reflection time to discuss what happened -- this proved to be a crucial piece of the experience.
So, let's get to it: how did Mario and Luigi help my ragtag group of professionals become a functioning team?
During the course of play, I observed the following group traits that we hope to see in well-functioning professional groups:
Gamers naturally established group roles based on skills and experience. The two well-seasoned gamers helped out the two players with no experience when figuring out the control scheme -- showing them button functions, explaining how to run or walk, etc.
They also helped the inexperienced gamers figure out the functions of the game itself: the ins and outs of each power-up, how to overcome obstacles such as floating platforms or ice levels, and the best ways to complete the level, such as shortcuts through pipes. None of these occurrences are unfamiliar to the avid gamer -- we help each other out all the time. The inexperienced gamers took on a natural role as a follower -- and the pros took a natural role as leaders.
The learning curve for new players became substantially smaller with input from experienced players. The mentorship of experienced players made it easier to learn the ropes than if the inexperienced players had done so on their own. This is an instance of value added for group play -- and the same goes for work in a well-functioning group.
The group developed a common identity as a team. Since both the goal and result in New Super Mario Bros. is collaborative, each individual player wanted to help the other (or be helped, as the case may be) to beat the obstacles and complete each level. Coupled with the personal interaction of local gaming, each member felt -- regardless of skill and experience -- an important part of the team.
Players were able to identify strengths and weaknesses without feeling threatened or challenged. Since the group was having fun, no one felt threatened when a teammate made a suggestion for improvement. Conversely, players were also eager to give praise -- for instance, when all but one member of the team had already died, the last man standing narrowly escaped defeat to move the whole team on -- high fives and cheers abounded.
Each player had a shared investment in the outcome of the game. Everyone wanted to win, because everyone was having fun -- and to win, they needed to work together.