Design principles of online video games that trainers should steal

As we all go remote, what can we learn from video games, the masters of online engagement?

There’s been an ongoing debate for quite some time around the merits of remote work. Does working from home have a negative impact on productivity? Can strong company cultures be built without people seeing each other face-to-face every day? Are those random hallway bump-ins essential for collaboration and innovation? 

These were the questions debated by businesses and brands before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since the pandemic hit, the conversation has shifted from should we go remote, to how do we operate remotely.  

One cohort in particular is grappling with this new environment and is being forced to rethink their way of doing business. This cohort includes trainers, speakers, and coaches who have, up until recently, relied on in-person workshops. This group has had to discover new ways to deliver engaging virtual experiences that can build new skills, shift behaviours, and bring teams together. Many of these trainers haven't been able to find an adequate way to recreate that same electricity and dynamism found during their face-to-face session on a Zoom call. 

Let's take a look at a totally unrelated industry to find some inspiration on how we can design world-class virtual experiences.

Where can we find the most dynamic, challenging, and social virtual experiences? 

For decades now, video game designers have been creating virtual experiences that have brought millions of people together for passionate moments of triumph, despair, collaboration, and camaraderie. 

How do these game designers create such captivating digital environments, and what can we apply from their design process to our own remote workshops?

Every person is the center of their own universe. 

It doesn't matter whether you're playing Mario Kart, FIFA soccer, or Call of Duty. When you start a game, you — the player — feel like you’ve stepped into your own little universe. The game has been designed to put you in the driver seat, quite literally with Mario Kart, where the flow of events is based on your actions. When players are given this agency over what happens, they have no choice but to become engaged. Furthermore, when multiple people have this responsibility it creates a sense of kinship, like being on the same team. 

Film is an example of an entertainment medium that would be the opposite of video games. Although you may watch a movie and be thoroughly entertained, no one has finished a film feeling a closer connection to everyone in the theatre. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people globally are finding and developing strong friendships with their fellow gamers.

Many webinars today follow a format much closer to film rather than video games. You will see your engagement levels skyrocket if you can create opportunities for participants to make decisions and contribute in ways that will have a tangible impact on the quality of the meeting’s outcome. Once participants feel a shared responsibility with their fellow attendees, that's when you'll see increased levels of collaboration and camaraderie.  

Clear rules of engagement

Every game has its own set of rules and objectives. As players begin playing they immediately start receiving feedback on whether they are following the rules and getting closer to their objectives. For example, are you ahead or behind your opposing team in a game of NBA 2K? 

These rules and objectives create a structure that communicates clearly to everyone the why, what, and how of an activity: why are we doing this, what exactly am I supposed to do, and how can I accomplish my goal? Clear rules of engagement make it much easier for someone to actively participate. 

As a facilitator of a workshop, one of your primary roles is to communicate and enforce these rules of engagement. The move to online has complicated this task in two ways. The first is that it’s more difficult to facilitate remotely. Breakout rooms, for example, can be tricky because once you’ve broken everyone off into groups, there is no walking around the room to check in on everyone. You must be intentional and explicit up-front with all attendees to communicate and enforce the rules of engagement. 

The second challenge with the shift to virtual is that we have lost many in-person physical cues. These were used previously to guide us on how to engage with others, like watching someone’s body language to instinctively understand the order of conversation. Without this, we see participants either all start speaking at the same time, or none of the participants speaking at all. For a more seamless conversation, facilitators need to provide direction on how and when people can participate. 

The best environments feel invisible

When you're in the midst of a gripping virtual game, you're not thinking about anything other than what you can do to accomplish your goal. No matter the incredible levels of complexity and technology that can be incorporated into a player's experience, nothing is prioritized over making everything feel intuitive. There are two core ways game designers are able to achieve this feat of balancing complexity with usability. 

Their first tactic is layering new concepts. When you start a game, you begin at level one. You’re introduced to the basics of gameplay and won't progress until you've shown that you've mastered the fundamentals. 

This may seem like a very game-specific idea, but think about how you can start introducing different types of technology or difficult concepts in a phased way. If you need to use a digital tool, try using it first as an icebreaker! That way, people can become familiar with its functionality in a low-stakes, stress-free manner before moving forward with the workshop. 

The second way you can deliver user-friendly workshops is by keeping the context top of mind. In video games, you're only ever shown the controls that you need at that moment. If you're playing action-adventure video games, like Metal Gear Solid or Grand Theft Auto, you’re instructed in the use of basic maneuvers such as running and crouching. As you progress, you learn new tactics and tricks that become valuable for the specific stage in which you find yourself. Similarly, workshops should be structured so that participants are given only those details that are critical for the completion of their immediate goals, with new techniques, tactics and approaches only appearing in subsequent stages when they are needed. 

If you’ve made it this far and you're looking for ways to radically improve your remote training programs, then Benji may be the best thing that could happen to you. Our virtual training platform is designed to engage your participants with powerful and simple hands-on activities.

Interested in learning more? Book a demo here to see all that Benji can do for you!

Matt Parson

Over the past 6 years, Matt has been in the field of Higher Education getting his start at UBC then launching Canada's premier design and technology school, RED Academy. As an avid chef, you can find Matt either cooking and learning more about the future of education or eating and learning more about the future of education.
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