Game on: Collaborative challenge – and collaborative expression

Scriptwriter Taryn Stack continues her exploration of non-competitive gamification modes, and how experimental game dynamics open up new ways to unlock innovation, engagement and performance.

The aesthetic of fellowship often works in tandem with other aesthetics. Two combinations that are frequently seen are cooperative challenge and collaborative expression.

Collaborative challenge involves learning to overcome an obstacle as a group. A good example of collaborative challenge is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six series. The game is a tactical first person shooter where players take control of a counter terrorism unit. The game focuses on the successful completion of missions. All but the most recent of the series have a planning phase, where players can look at maps and information and plan strategy, and an execution phase where this plan is put into action. These missions, if completed successfully, take only a couple of minutes but require good planning, teamwork and strategy.

Collaborative expression involves creativity and expression as a group; Minecraft is a good example of this. The game is a sandbox where players can explore worlds and build constructions out of texture cubes. The game has several modes including adventure, survival and creative. The multi-player creative mode allows players to collaboratively construct projects and some have created spectacular constructions recreating famous buildings or landscapes.

Minecraft has been so successful in developing certain types of thinking and behaviour – as many parents today will attest – that it is being seriously theorised and deployed as a next-generation education tool.

Creating teams

Collaborative gameplay can be combined with competitive gameplay. This usually takes the form of team competitions. There are many obvious examples of team sports but this has also been a model that has been used in computer games such as League of Legends or Team Fortress 2. Both games involve many classes or characters that players can choose from. Each character or class has different strengths, weaknesses and playing styles. Being a good team requires players to be good at different roles and communicate well.

Teams do not always have to be competitive; but can be used in a format where players are playing against the game. Pandemic is a good example of this; the strategic use of the role’s special abilities is the key to beating the game – unless you unlock the individual expertise of yourself and your team to discover extraordinary solutions, you will fail.

Collaborative play and learning

Collaboration in learning is a common concept and can take the form of joint problem solving, debates, or group project work. It can have huge benefits for our memory – according to Edgar Dale, teaching others can result in up to 90% retention, flipping the Ebbinghaus curve on its head. Learning together and sharing knowledge results in better learning outcomes.

Collaboration in online learning is not a new concept. Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) has been an area of research for over twenty years. It emphasises that knowledge is the result of social interaction and that using computers can support and enhance inter-person communication. This can be done through communication tools that allow for discussion, tools that allow for collaborative writing and tools that allow for group exploration or problem solving.

In digital learning, gamification and game based learning often take on aspects of the competition aesthetic with points, high scores or leader boards. Competitive aesthetics can help make learning engaging and motivate learners to improve. A great example is the Heineken Capability Academy, a blended learning approach that uses points and a leader board to motivate learners to progress.

However, there are fewer examples of the fellowship aesthetic being apparent in gamification or game based learning.

Collaborative aesthetics can engage learners through social interaction and encourage learners to help each other and work as a team. In gamification, application of roles and group objectives or goals can be used to encourage engagement and positive interdependence. Despite collaboration often being a desirable skill in business and elsewhere, there are fewer examples of these alternative aesthetics being used in practice: incorporating collaborative elements presents an interesting challenge. Wendel et al (2012) states that creating good collaborative serious games requires traditional game design combined with multiplayer and serious game design. This adds extra layers and considerations to the design process.

The application of collaborative play in learning

Although there are examples of collaborative game-based learning, such as Gen I Revolution, a game aimed at high school students to teach personal finance skills, they are fewer in number than their competitive counterparts. This is because they require more development time than a traditional game, as there are more factors to consider. However, they can have very useful applications in learning that might produce better impacts and outcomes and develop other skills that are desirable in the workplace.

A collaborative simulation might be a good solution for training teams where the knowledge and application of a role is key. The learner can actively learn how to do their role but also learn how this role fits within the team. A potential game could be a virtual ‘live’ simulation for fire safety wardens. The team of wardens need to work together to safely evacuate people and fight the fire. Each member is assigned a role and then the team plan and executes the exercise together in real time.

Another option is applying group goal settings to learning resources that have role selectors. This could work in a similar way to a leader board but instead of trying to get to the top, the target is to achieve a certain joint score. This could encourage learners to help each other by sharing knowledge and skills, and teach them how to work in teams more effectively

There are many potentially interesting and effective applications for collaborative games in digital learning. They have the potential to do more than just engage but also build social skills and teamwork through positive interdependence. They also can help make learning more personalised through the use of roles. Both board games and computer games have started to employ more collaborative dynamics. As the technology for creating multiplayer online games improves, the instances of collaborative game-based learning will increase with it.

Read part one of Taryn’s blog.

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