Game on: Using fellowship and collaboration to engage learners

One of the first things you may think of when you think about a game is competition. Traditionally most games engage players in some way with a competitive aesthetic, the aim being to win or beat other players. However, more games are starting to use fellowship to engage players.

Scriptwriter Taryn Stack looks at the rise of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs) and cooperative board games which demonstrate that fellowship and co-operation are just as valid as competition when it comes to creating engagement.
In digital learning, gamification and game based learning are becoming increasingly popular ways to engage learners. Competition is often created through point scoring and leader boards and can be a very effective way of creating engagement and encouraging achievement. But, are there other ways of creating these effects?

Collaboration can encourage team building, knowledge sharing and social interaction. It enhances learning and supports other behaviours that are valued in the workplace such as teamwork, group strategy and emotional intelligence. I want to explore the benefits of collaborative play and how it can be used in digital learning. I hope that the parallels between how we play games and how we might optimally organise ourselves to achieve our workplace goals will become apparent as we go along!

Competition and fellowship as aesthetics of play

In our previous blog post, we covered the MDA framework: Mechanics, Dynamics, Aesthetics. Mechanics are the rules that make up the game system. Dynamics are the elements of gameplay that are created and experienced. And aesthetics are the underlying emotional and psychological pulls that keep players engaged with the game. Two important game aesthetics that are common elements of many games are competition and fellowship.

Competition drives engagement through providing the player with the prospect of beating other players. Competitive games usually have win conditions that only one player or team can achieve or a system that ranks achievement.

Fellowship engages players through social interaction. Games that involve fellowship encourage social bonding and the playing of games together. Fellowship is the main aesthetic of cooperative games; these games usually involve teamwork or collaboration to complete a task. Team sports can also have both competitive and cooperative elements, with teams cooperating internally, in order to compete against other teams.

Dynamics of collaborative play

Collaborative games need to motivate players to work together. This is usually achieved by using a task or obstacle that players, individually, are unable to overcome but which, when working together, are achievable. This gives rise to other complementary dynamics such as communication, mutual support and the sharing of knowledge and resources. The task or obstacle can either be the game itself, or just a part of the game. In board games, players typically play against the game to win. In computer games collaborative play usually takes the form of quests or tasks, these can be part of a linear or sandbox (exploratory) game.

Another dynamic that is often used is the creation of roles. Roles allow all players to feel like they each have something unique to offer the game. It can allow for players to share skills and take turns at leading. Roles can be assigned by chance or by choice and can take the form of either a character or a job or both. This dynamic can be seen in board games, computer games and even team sports.

Examples of cooperative games

There are many interesting examples of cooperative games. MMORPG’s have been growing in popularity over the last twenty years. They often encourage cooperative play through tasks or quests that require some element of teamwork and the formation of guilds or clans. Group quests typically involve groups of four to eight players with a balanced combination of roles (see Yee, 2006 PDF). For example, a group might be made up of strong attack players, fast or stealthy players, defensive or healing players and players with special abilities such as magic casting.

Collaborative play allows players to assist each other by sharing weapons or items, providing cover in battle, healing or performing group manoeuvres. Good examples of this are World of Warcraft and Call of Duty Black Ops.

Collaborative board games started to gain traction during the 1980’s with titles like Arkham Horror which is still popular today. Collaborative board games also use roles and shared tasks in game play. A popular form of collaborative board game setup involves playing against the board. In the game Pandemic several virulent diseases have broken out simultaneously all over the world. Players are disease-fighting specialists whose mission is to treat disease hotspots while researching cures for each of four plagues. If the diseases spread too far, all players lose. If they can find a cure for all four diseases – they all win.

Pandemic encourages the strategic use of roles to beat the game. Each player has a different role with different special abilities (dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher, or operations expert). Successful completion of the game depends on the strategic use of the roles and their special abilities. Parallels with the way we organise today’s workplace should be apparent by now!

In the next half of this blog Taryn looks at the balance between collaborative challenge and collaborative expression, and how game mechanics can be used to construct effective teams – coming soon!

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