Monday, December 7, 2009

Collaborative Online Gameplay Builds Better Teams Offline

We recently acquired an Xbox gaming console in my home, which has resulted in quite a few late nights and some bleary-eyed mornings. But sacrificing sleep may have a positive outcome: collaborative game play may actually result in stronger relationships and better teamwork offline.

Video games have received a lot of press in recent years. Mainly concerning the effect violent games may have on the social development of children: some studies have suggested that exposure to violent video games may desensitize children and normalize violence, encouraging them to exhibit aggressive and violent behaviors. However, the fact has often been overlooked that many video games are meant for adult audiences. The resulting ratings guide was designed to inform parents about the nature of the content of the games they are purchasing for their children. While video games are given some credit for enhancing dexterity and problem solving skills, only recently have people begun to discuss the ways they can actually encourage teamwork. [Image Left: Xbox 360. Credit: Microsoft]

In multiplayer first-person shooters, such as the popular Halo series and Call of Duty, players can form teams for "capture the flag" simulations, where they must work together to successfully defend their base from a common enemy. Recently, I've watched a team of coworkers work as a defensive unit in Halo 3: ODST. Using headsets to communicate, they warned each other of impending attacks and provided backup as needed.  The implications for this kind of collaborative work may actually impact their relationship within the workplace, according to one researcher:
"Team objective-based games require a lot of communication between players to allow them to complete objectives, and playing such games can improve these skills and potentially help develop leadership styles."
In working together in a virtual environment, coworkers may enhance problem-solving skills, learn to assert leadership skills, and test a willingness to pursue creative solutions. In virtual worlds, players learn to play to each other's strengths:
  • If one person is better at operating a vehicle than another, then he becomes the driver while the others wield weapons. 
  • If a propensity for a particular weapon is demonstrated, then efforts are made to claim that weapon for the player and support is provided as he uses it. 

[Above: CAPTION CORRECTED: Scene from Halo 3 Multiplayer: Orbital Drop Shock Troopers in action. Credit:]

In addition, resources are shared—weapons and leadership roles are rotated. On virtual teams where the players have an actual offline relationship, collaborative game play may act to cement their network connections forging stronger relationships that can be drawn upon in real world settings. In video games, you cannot advance until the level/match is complete. In a collaborative setting, this encourages teams to stick with a problem—they actually have no choice but to work through it. In the workplace, teams that are connected online may bring this same sense of problem-solving tenacity to the situation. They may also be less likely to discount unusual suggestions.

The collaborative nature of some multiplayer games has been cited as proof that today's video games are actually social instruments—the image of the lonely geek playing video games on a personal computer is growing obsolete as people form networks and relationships in online gaming communities. Today's geek is likely to have international teammates that rival the connections of some businessmen. Teamwork guides have been developed, emphasizing respect for fellow gamers, good communication, and understanding expectations. The proliferation of these types of games with the Millennial generation and the growing popularity of social networking applications and media with these groups suggest that people are learning to work together in new ways.

I'm not suggesting that managers mandate a online gaming night for their team members, but these types of exercises could be helpful in building solidarity and trust in work units.The workplace is definitely changing as more "digital natives" fill in cubicles, perhaps they'll also bring new strategies for collaboration as well.

Has your workplace implemented technological strategies to encourage collaboration—i.e., a blog or custom designed video game? Talk back below (you don't need to share your employer's name).


  1. This is great! More companies should implement team building excercises involving video games!

  2. Many companies have: The Entertainment Software Association ( reports that video games are being used to recruiting, training, and marketing. And the PEW Research Center ( reports that the Millenial generation is changing the workforce as a result of their relationship to technology.

    My employer has an Xbox available for the staff to help them stimulate creativity. Employees are supposed to ask their manager's for clearance to use the device--to date, I doubt it's been used.

    Based on the responses I've gotten on this piece, I may have to do a followup and further investigate this.



  3. Additionally, the army appears to be developing armor that resembles the protective gear worn virtually:

    (Thanks for the link, Steve.)