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Science of playing video games can be good for teams

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Somewhere in the evolving zeitgeist of the last few decades, video games got a bad reputation. The prevailing tale is of concerned parents hovering above their pale, hairy sons and daughters as they perish in dark cellars in front of flickering screens. Zoom out much further and it’s clear that video games have fallen victim to the same technopanic that telephones, radios and even books once did. (Remember hearing about the controversial invention of the printing press?)

To this we say – forgive us –ok boomers† It’s time we put the tired myth of games as zombie creators to rest and embrace the ever-expanding body of work that tells us that video games can and will teach us valuable skills — and even help people work better together. That’s what the science and the experts say.

Managers, take note: video games for teams can be a great way to engage and enrich your colleagues, especially at a time when real, personal opportunities for bonding can still be scarce. Here’s how games can foster healthy, effective teams and how to host a distributed game night.

According to science, video games can be good for teams

Games are pretty much synonymous with fun. No one doubts the value of a lengthy poker night, laser tag tradition, what have you – but what are those if not socially sanctioned team building exercises? So the question is, how can team building within the confines of a game (and in a virtual environment) help you do your best work?

First, gameplay often reflects the kinds of interactions that primarily help people work better together, such as pursuing mutual goals, allocating shared resources, negotiating task ownership, and working together to solve problems. A study from Brigham Young University of 80 newly formed teams found that groups that played video games together for just 45 minutes were 20% more productive than groups engaged in more traditional team building exercises. This was especially true for beginners as well as avid players.

Gaming in the workplace also offers significant community-building value. It’s an intuitive idea that doing fun things with our colleagues is good for morale and that strong interpersonal connections are an important ingredient for more effective teamwork. “Playing games with someone means interacting in another space. You make an appointment with them to navigate that space together, and you will see a different side of them than you normally would in a professional setting,” says Matt Parkerprofessor at New York University Game Center.

Game scenarios also often mimic common team structures, with individuals each playing a unique role in achieving a common goal. “Virtual” [gaming] communities… benefit not only from having each person fulfill his or her specific role, but also by each person using the collective intelligence of the community to learn more about their role and the roles of others,” said Diana Hubbard, Ph. D., in a research paper on how gamers collaborate outside of gaming environments.

Tim Lamphier, a lifelong gaming enthusiast and active announcer on twitch, a streaming platform for gamers, agrees. “You’re constantly negotiating as a team,” he says. “I’m more of a jack of all trades captain. I am good at strategy and group play. And then certain people are better at playing the game functionally, so I set them up.” The bottom line, for teams on the shop floor and in the game: “If you don’t cooperate, you just lose.”

Research shows that gaming also has positive effects for individuals

And in addition to those group-level benefits, digital games can help your career on an individual level. There is a lot of evidence that playing games can stimulate universally desired skills, such as: literacy, creativity and communication, not to mention more specialized skills like spatial reasoning (Tetris, anyone?) and general technical readiness. But playing games can also instill an aptitude for those on-your-resume skills that so many employers love to see, including leadership, budgeting, problem-solving, and strategic thinking.

Lamphier draws a direct line between his dedication to video games and his tendency to adapt quickly to new concepts and situations. Thanks in large part to playing games, he says, “I generally learn very quickly whether it’s a sport or a language… I start about the middle when I learn something new, and I can see how everything fits together very quickly.” Navigating unfamiliar virtual territory (think battlefield on an alien planet) or solving puzzles under time pressure tightens those strategic muscles, essentially learning new ways of thinking.”My cumulative knowledge is more dynamic,” says lamphere.

TEAMS ENTERING TOGETHER, KILLING TOGETHER: WOW IN THE WRITE

with almost 100 million players worldwide, World of Warcraft (Wow) is a kind of OG MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). Since its release in 2004, it has been dethroned many times as the world’s most popular game, but it is arguably the most studied digital game from a team effectiveness standpoint.

An investigation of the Missouri University of Science and Technology found that WoW gamers who worked successfully as a team in “raids” had qualities that psychological studies have shown correlated with success on virtual workplace teams. “The more achievements you have in the game, the more technological you are in real life. And that’s a good thing, especially in virtual communication teams and workplaces,” the researchers explain.

Managers, this is how you can make it happen

Ready for some collaborative video games with your team? It can be hard to know where to start, but we asked our guest expert in all things gaming, Matt Parker, to help you figure it out.

Take into account the personalities and enthusiasm of your participants. Parker says, “Different people like different kinds of games. Not everyone will want to dig into a super challenging system, and others will welcome that challenge. So you need to choose the kind of experience that most appeals to your player group.”

The recommendations below all provide valuable team building opportunities (most, but not all, are collaborative) and can be played on devices that virtually anyone can access. You may also want to consider distributing Android or Apple gift cards (or credits) to Steaman established video game market) to help teams facilitate group gameplay.

Professor Parker’s reviews

Among us (PC)androidiOS: This wildly popular, easy-to-learn game is mostly a cooperative game, but beware of the trickster.

table top (Mac, PC, iOS, Android) and Board game Arena (browser based): Each offers a wide variety of board games in digital form.

Jackbox Games (Available on a wide variety of platforms): These “couch co-op” party games were originally intended for co-located gaming, but can be easily played using a virtual chat tool. Parker recommends Drawful 2, Quiplash and Fibbage in particular.

Space team (iOSandroidDescribed as “a game of cooperative screaming,” Spaceteam is an easily accessible, fast-paced cacophony of mission-critical commands like “Set clip-jawed monodish to six!” or “Extend the optical pillow!”

Overcooked 2Mac + PC): Team up with teammates in this chaotic yet light-hearted cooking game.

Don’t starve together (Available on a wide variety of platforms): On the heavier end of the spectrum, this collaborative game is particularly immersive and also takes a while to play.

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