The rectangular box housed a nest of wires, a keypad of symbols, a smattering of buttons, and timer ticking toward zero—and it wasn’t how I expected to end my day. Interacting with the bomb was my responsibility, but a tableful of my coworkers would walk me through it. Each had a bomb-disarming manual. Some had done this before. Most hadn’t.
“Um, there are five wires here,” I called out, hoping this might be a good place to start.
I’m happy to say we shut down the device without incident, but it would have been a good time even if we hadn’t.
It was NogginLabs Game Night, and the evening’s entertainment was called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. It’s a game in which one player disarms a virtual time bomb on a computer screen (or Oculus Rift, for more immersion) based on instructions his companions glean from a disarmament manual. The catch? The bomb tech can’t see the manual, and the support team can’t see the bomb. These constraints demand cooperation, communication, and efficiency—or everything goes boom.
Cooperative games are experiencing a surge in popularity (just when you thought gamification had to be all about competition!). They generally provide players with different sets of limited information that can be applied to solving a shared problem. Working together is the only way to win.
The app Spaceteam, for example, is a cooperative party game for two to four players, each with a mobile device. Each screen displays a random control panel with buttons, switches, sliders, and dials. As a “crewmember” on a spaceship, you must follow time-sensitive instructions—but your commands appear on someone else’s device. Basically, players shout technobabble at each other to see how long they can make it before their ship explodes. (Spaceteam has a spiritual ancestor in the team survival board game Space Alert, in which players take on the role of a crew of space explorers and must collectively respond to audio commands from an MP3 audio file or CD.)
One of the most popular tabletop games in recent years is Pandemic. Players take on the role of various outbreak response specialists working to contain and eliminate diseases across the globe. The Wall Street Journal observes, “Games like Pandemic challenge their players’ powers of logic and puzzle-solving, as do all games. But they also tap into the ability to coordinate as a team—a refreshing change for people used to the traditional everyone-for-themselves dynamic.”
What happens around a table to solve an imaginary problem can also occur across a region or the world to untangle a real one. The dynamics of limited-information cooperative games are a form of crowdsourcing, drawing upon the collective knowledge of a group to discover solutions—and it’s happening right now.
Gamified crowdsourcing made headlines back in 2011 when a group of passionate users of a site called Foldit identified the structure of an AIDS-like protein. This information had eluded scientists for over ten years. When the online protein-folding game was introduced, players found an answer in three weeks. The diversity of experience players brought to the simulation led to previously undiscovered insights. It was a big moment for crowdsourcing, and numerous other projects were launched in its wake.
Last September, the White House hosted a forum on citizen science and crowdsourcing, stating that through crowdsourcing “Americans can study and tackle complex challenges by conducting research at large geographic scales and over long periods of time in ways that professional scientists working alone cannot easily duplicate.” The U.S. government recently released the first-ever Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit, which outlines five basic process steps for planning, designing, and carrying out a crowdsourcing or citizen science project: Scope Out Your Problem; Design a Project; Build a Community; Manage Your Data; and Sustain and Improve. The site also provides case studies detailing successful projects on subjects ranging from bird migration to brain mapping.
At NogginLabs, we create unique custom e-learning experiences shaped by our staff’s diverse pool of talent. Every project is an adventure of collaboration. We have fun with our work, and we bring these principles to everything we do. Your e-learning design process will be a shared experience. Whether we’re defusing virtual bombs, exploring imaginary galaxies, building a retail simulation, or gamifying training, we reach our goals through communication and shared knowledge. From the game board to the boardroom, from the Internet to the laboratory, one thing is clear: working together is the best way to win.