Using Video Games as a Team Building Engagement Activity

What if you could diffuse bombs, power spaceships, and scream your lungs out for your next team building or employee engagement activity? I’ve gathered my favorite video games that can be used to explore team building concepts like communication, trust, and big picture thinking. The goal of any team building event should be to increase employee engagement. Why not use video games as that vehicle? My list is focused on challenge and puzzle based interactions. You won’t see World of Warcraft or Minecraft on the list. Those genres have obvious team interactions but take significantly more mastery of skills. If Bob in purchasing can’t pick it up in 5 minutes or less it’s not going to be fun. I chose games that require small learning curves, involve shared team effort, no special gear (2 exceptions), and are crazy fun. There are a couple of titles that snuck onto the list because they’re hilariously fun for groups. 

Remember that just because an activity requires you to work together that doesn’t mean it’s team building. Managers, if you want extract maximum value from your activity, read our post on how to  Turn ANY Office Activity Into a Team Building Event

 video game team building keep talking1. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

http://www.keeptalkinggame.com/

Diffuse the bombs or your team perishes in a flaming fireball. There’s nothing like immolation to push a team to new heights. This is one of my all time favorite collaborative games on a computer. Split your team into two groups the Operators and the Diffusers. Operators get to actually manipulate the bomb. Diffusers have the manual. The catch? Neither side can see what the other is looking at. If you’re on the Operator team you can’t see the manual… if you have the manual, you can’t see the Bomb. You’ll have to use your words and listening skills to collaborate and beat the clock. Failure is not an option! Search the game title on YouTube and you’ll see hilarious examples of teams, couples, friends, and roommates desperately trying to keep it together.

Team Building Notes: You need clear communication to succeed on this challenge. There are easy talking points on using specific language, making assumptions, focusing on details, big picture thinking and shared vernacular. What made you successful? What were your barriers to success?

Variations:

  • Switch Roles
  • Split the manual between multiple people.
  • Play over Skype (great option for teams that telecommute and want to team build remotely)
  • Hire Sandra Bullock to drive a bus with your Operator team on board? If she drops below 60mph everyone loses a vacation day.

blockparty gigantic mechanic2. Block Party from Gigantic Mechanic

http://www.giganticmechanic.com/project/block-party/

Gather 100 of your closest workmates, fire up the projector, and make sure you phone is charged. This Tetris-esque puzzle challenge gives each player a falling shape piece to control. You must combine your piece with other players to fill the shapes at the bottom of the screen as you try and set the highest score possible. I love the simplicity of the controls but the complexity of the interactions. It’s impossible to win at this game without interacting with your fellow players. I witnessed this game in action at Indiecade West and saw first hand the power of group play. Definitely check out the Gigantic Mechanic website and see what else they’re up to. 

Team Building Notes: Clear communication is key but trying to find process in the chaos of large groups is a fascinating challenge. Often you don’t know who is controlling what just by looking at the screen. You’ll need big picture thinking and a shared vernacular to be successful. What skills did you use to be successful? Where do you see situations like this in your daily work like? 

Variations:

  • Pair people up. 1 person controls the game piece but can’t see the screen. Their partner must verbally guide them to place the piece correctly. 
  • Great for telecommuters – Use screen sharing via skype to allow offsite employees to play.

screen capture artemis space simulator3. Artemis Spaceship bridge simulator

http://artemis.eochu.com/

This one is for my true nerds. The sci-fi geeks and Trekkies on your team will giggle like school children in anticipation of operating Artemis’s simulator. The concept is simple – each person has a role from Captain to Navigator to Weapon Control on the spaceship. One computer hosts the simulator and main screen. Each participant’s computer functions as a work station, only showing the controls for their specific role. The Captain doesn’t have a workstation but tells everyone what to do from the middle of the room ( Yes, you can call yourself Captain Kirk). It’s time to save the galaxy!

Game Notes: This does require that each person has their own computer. Also, it’s far more effective if everyone is in the same room. You may need to bribe your local IT guru to help you with the particulars.

space team game screen capture team building4. Space Team

http://spaceteam.ca/

BE PREPARED TO RAISE YOUR VOICE. This hilarious social phone based team building game will have your team trying to pilot a spaceship. The ship will tell you what to do but each player gets different instructions. AND each player has a different set of controls visible on their phone. The instructions have a time limit so you’ll need to execute them or have  team member execute them pronto quick.  The computer might tell you to “Move the Techboggle to 2”, but you don’t have a Techboggle. So you start yelling out “Set Techboggle 2!” until somebody freaking sets it (ahem… sorry)!  Most teams quickly devolve into yelling battles as they try to get their tasks completed. Play this in a coffee shop if you want to get perplexed looks and stares. As a team building professional I’d like to say I exhibit poise and well executed communication strategies when I play this, but that would be a horrible lie.   

Team Building Notes: Easy to recognize metaphors for tunnel vision, project creep, and communication styles. How did your team overcome group noise? What was your method to prioritize tasks? What parallels did you notice with communication on work projects? 

Game Notes:

  • This can only be played if everyone is on the same wifi network. So it’s not suitable for remote teams.

sound activated video game title5. Scream Team

What if you could take a room full of people and control a single character in a video game… enter Scream Team. We modified an existing “runner” “single button” style game. That means the character is in a constant state of forward motion and your job is to press the button at the right times (remember flappy bird?). In this case, our Indiana Jones style character is running through a series of caves. You must help him jump over gaps, pillars, and other obstacles. BUT, we replaced the button with a microphone. As a group you must make noise when you need the character to jump. The louder the noise, the bigger the jump. I had an opportunity to feature our game at the Steam Carnival Gala with 500 people. It was hilarious!!! It works with 1 to 1000 people. Contact james@fireflyteamevents.com for more information.

6. Group Pacman

Trying to describe Pacman to younger generations is an act of comedy. A yellow dot that eats other dots and is scared of ghosts. Despite it’s simplicity there is still a LOT that Pacman has to give. In a normal Pacman session the up,down, left right would be controlled by 1 player. What if you could assign each of those directions to different team members? Bill controls up, Tonya from accounting is down, Satchmo is Right, and Percy is Left…. All to control that beautiful yellow dot. Let the confusion err… communication begin! We have our own version of Pacman that we bring as part of our Human Arcade event. There are free versions of Pacman online that you can easily use.

Tech Note: We created a special controller so that each person has a physical button to press for their direction. That way you’re not all crowded around a little keyboard. For a quick and easy version we recommend using a **MakeyMakey controller. See the note at the end of the article.

Team Building Notes:

  • This activity easily segues into communication styles, assumptions, trust, and shared language. Consider what adjustments you had to make to your communication style to be successful. How was the team effected if you didn’t press your button? How did your team decide to move left vs right? 

Game Notes:

  • Search for Free Pacman or event Free Tetris to put this to the test.
  • Contact james@fireflyteamevents.com for more information if you’re interested in having us bring our controllers and game out.
  • You can scale up and create a tournament with teams of 4 competing to set the top score.

jackbox games logo7. JackBox Games

http://jackboxgames.com/

I’m listing these as a hilarious office interaction and not so much a team builder. We’ll file it under giggles, social credit, and engagement activity. Jackbox is the creator of the infamous You Don’t Know Jack trivia game. They’ve upgraded to the age of the internet and now you play on a single computer using your phone as a controller. It’s pretty dang cool! They even have titles that allow up to 8 people play and up to 10,000 people to spectate. They sell their games in party packs that come with 5 games. 

My favorite of their new party pack is Trivia Murder Party. It’s a fresh take on the game that put them on everyone’s radar. Players must answer trivia questions or risk being killed. Fun right?! Right? No? The premise is that you’re trying to escape from a house with a Saw movie like game master(monster?). Wrong answers force players into mini-challenges where you might have to do math, test your memory, or lose a finger. A “finger” means you are permanently barred from choosing A, B, or C depending on which finger you lose. Diabolical. The game moves at the perfect pace to keep the group engaged. It’s a fun way to break up the workday and bank some social credit with team members. 

The other favorite was Quiplash 2. It’s hilarious! At the start each person is given 2 prompts to answer secretly. Each prompt will have a possible answer from 2 of the players. They must provide an answer to the prompt that they think their teammates will vote for. Once all answers are entered, the game displays them one by one for voting. Your answer is displayed anonymously next to someone else’s for the voting.  Once the voting is finished the creators of the answers are revealed as well as who voted for them. The humor is in the answers themselves…. You may need to re-visit your HR conduct standards since people can write whatever they want.

Gameplay Variations:

  • Base all year end bonuses on the performance of employees during the game (kidding)
  • Team up players from different departments
  • Challenge different departments to a match – use the spectator function (think audience)
  • There is absolutely a team benefit to laughing together

Game Notes:

  • Working Remotely – The game is not built to be played remotely BUT we have a way. Since your controller is your phone, you can screen share the game via Skype for a remote colleague. Mind blown? We’re that good. It’s a great way to get some remote team building (loosely using the term) in on a work day. 

shackle vr game8. Shackle

http://shackle-game.com/

I made a pilgrimage to Indiecade West this year. I wanted to witness their “big games” and see what independent game developers were crafting in their underground lairs. The team behind Shackles have hatched a beautifully sadistic 2 player cooperative experience. In the game players are trapped on opposite sides of a creepy haunted room. Actions one player takes on their side of the room may affect their co-captive on the other side. Make too much noise and you might attract the attention of things that lurk in dark places. The game is played with Oculus VR headsets so the horror is very immersive. Prepare to be startled or spooked as you try and escape in this dark team building activity.

Team Building Notes:

  • Scary haunted rooms and poorly supported projects are very similar. Right?
  • Communication and trust are the obvious team aspects being put to the test.
  • You know what’s fun? Having 2 people start the game – then turn off all the lights and have everyone leave the room and go for drinks. Okay that might not be team building.

Game Notes:

  • This requires 2 Oculus Rift headsets and headphones with a mic.

Video game corporate team building screenshot9. Lovers in a Dangerous Space Time

http://www.loversinadangerousspacetime.com/

I pestered Laura E. Hall to see if she had a line on some good collaborative titles. She immediately responded back with “Lovers in a Dangerous Space Time”. And it’s perfect. You and 3 teammates are cruising through a neon galaxy, in your own battleship, trying to defeat the enemies of love. You’ll have to operate the guns, fly the ship and position shields in a hectic good time mess of space war. In between battles you find poignant moments of appreciation for the effort, communication, and multitasking that you and your team had to employ. You’ll find yourself calling out enemies and high fiving teammates when they make a great shot. The makers call this game a “couch co-op” and we love it. Succeeding in this game means you’ve got a solid team platform.

Team Building Notes:

  • Multitasking, trust, communication and resource management are major factors in success. Can you see parallels between how your team handled this game and the way they approach real world projects?

 

** The Makey Makey

makey makey controllerAs a team building professional I can devise some beautiful interactions for the Makey Makey. It’s a controller that lets you turn anything into a button. What I love is that it also allows you to move the buttons away from the computer. As I mentioned above, it’s a great way to turn a game like Tetris or Pacman into a cooperative game and team building activity. To learn how to use the Makey Makey, check out their website at http://makeymakey.com/  – I recommend their “classic” version.

Honorable Mentions:

I haven’t had a chance to vette the titles below.  They make the list because they have cooperative gameplay elements. That means they’re great for teams. 

bff or die video game 10. BFF or Die

.http://www.honeytribestudios.com/studio-news/bff-or-die

Help each other or die. The only way you can win this game is to work together solving puzzles, strategizing, and kicking butt. No single player can do all the things so you’ll need to rely on each other. It’s cute and dangerous and I can’t wait to play.

 

overcooked video game11. Overcooked

.http://www.ghosttowngames.com/overcooked/

You and your team of cooks must prepare and serve meals to your waitings guest. Will your kitchen be a well oiled machine? Or a kitchen nightmare that no one can recover from? Responsibility for success at this game come from all 4 players.

BIG THANKS to Laura E Hall for querying her room full of games for some of the suggestions on this list. Also thanks to an awesome game programmer Christian Scandariato who also chimed in for me.  And a long time evil genius Jason Le

About the Author:

I am a HUGE fan of game mechanics especially as it relates to teams and team building. My passion is working with hundreds of teams every year as the CEO of Firefly Team Events. I scour the world for new group activities, interactions, and challenges that I can modify to help teams elevate their performance. I am a team building nerd. You can reach me at james@fireflyteamevents.com