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.
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.