On our travels around the world, we have tried many public virtual reality (VR) experiences and a large number of these use the team shooter format. On initial inspection this would seem a natural choice for group teamwork. Research (Ballestin et al, 2020) suggests that the mix of immersive gameplay and interesting tasks would supply an enjoyable experience for all the team and a boost to a team’s efficacy. However, this is not always the case, and some studies has shown VR shooters to be less effective at VR team building compared to more traditional methods.
For the most part VR shooters tend to run off an unstructured format where teams can do whatever they want and behave in accordance with their normal team working preferences. This suggests that one member of the team who likes to work more individually on projects would also play more solo during a game, the same with another member who might show more strategic traits wanting to plan while others may rush in. Anecdotally, we have found this to be the case with teams starting off with VR shooters and if a team is not functioning like one at the beginning they will not be as effective as they could be during these tasks.
These teams of people working individually have been called “pseudo teams”. West and Lyubovnikova, (2012) say that pseudo teams lack shared accountability, reflexivity, and communication about the task. What is interesting is that members of a pseudo team believe that they are actually part of a proper team, yet they will produce inferior results which can lead to increased stress and conflict within the team (West and Chowla, 2017). More information about real and pseudo teams can be found in a previous VRE blog article here (Team Building question: is my Team really a Team?).
Because VR shooters are unstructured formats of VR team building they can encourage team members to play individualistically, but this does not always imply that the team building will not work. It has been observed that teams who repeatedly play these types of shooters will begin to improve on teamwork through trial and error (Lisk et al, 2013) and realising that they need to plan and communicate with their other members more. The ability of respawning and trying again can instigate conversations about how to handle the challenge the team is facing. This process can however take a long time to achieve and would require a lot of facilitation during the experience to get the most efficient results, however this transition from solo to team player teaches the value of cooperation and communication while being an enjoyable unique experience.
A significant advantage to VR shooters is the way they are set up. Shooters tend to be fast paced action with very little time to discuss tactics while playing. This encourages people to think on their feet and use critical and creative thinking to come up with a quick but effective solution, this can also bring out a team’s leaderships qualities as it requires swift decision making before it is too late. This has been shown in Moffet et al, (2017) research where it was shown that first person shooters raised types of creativity including fluency, originality, and flexibility. Due to not having a lot of time and a wave of enemies on the way team members have the opportunities to build cohesion through communication (Keith et al, 2018) by saying general phrases about their equipment status, if they need help or cover and their current situation.
From a social psychology side shooters have been shown to boost emotional relationships between teams when they win or lose. When a team wins a game, there is a all around mutual feeling of happiness and belonging in a team. Which is a vital part for building real relationships. This has been found in research (McQuarters, 2013) where participants have stated they have made friendships online after playing games with a complete stranger win or lose.
The other side of VR team building is structured. Structured team buildings have a variety of interdependencies built into the activity, requiring people to work together to complete the task set. This can be advantageous depending on your purpose as they will not need as much facilitation about what to do and how to improve as the game already has set the foundations for teamwork. Approaching team building in this manner will allow traits such as communication and leadership to be more easily observed. However, this does decrease the number of freedoms people have by taking away their ability to learn and develop into a team naturally. This can resulting in fewer chances for people to use creative thinking and problem solving which are two very crucial traits for a team.
To get the clearest observations on how a potential team might operate and work together, the best option is to use a set of virtual reality activities that use both unstructured and structed formats. In doing this it allows employers and researchers to get vital data on how teams preform when they are encouraged to work together with interdependencies built in and when increased free rein is given and there is the option to work on their own if they wish.
Although VR shooters may not influence team working straight away they have the ability for teams to grow naturally while also encouraging other traits to develop. This mixed with having an immersive platform that keeps individuals’ attention can provide an effective method to build a team.
Here at VRE we are experts in VR team building and we know how to facilitate groups to get them from a pseudo team to a real team, with our cutting edge VR team building and assessment platforms allowing us to develop teams through both structured and unstructured tasks.
Ballestin, G., Bassano, C., Solari, F., & Chessa, M. (2020, July). A Virtual Reality Game Design for Collaborative Team-Building: A Proof of Concept. In Adjunct Publication of the 28th ACM Conference on User Modeling, Adaptation and Personalization (pp. 159-162).
Keith, M. J., Anderson, G., Gaskin, J., & Dean, D. L. (2018). Team video gaming for team building: Effects on team performance. AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction, 10(4), 205-231. DOI: 10.17705/1thci.00110
Lisk, T. C., Kaplancali, U. T., & Riggio, R. E. (2012). Leadership in Multiplayer Online Gaming Environments. Simulation & Gaming, 43(1), 133-149. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1046878110391975
McQuarters, G. M. (2013). The Social Relations and Interactions of a First Person Shooter (FPS) Gamer (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/7958
Moffat, D. C., Crombie, W., & Shabalina, O. (2017). Some video games can increase the player’s creativity. International Journal of Game-Based Learning (IJGBL), 7(2), 35-46. DOI: 10.4018/IJGBL.2017040103
West, M. A., & Chowla, R. (2017). Compassionate leadership for compassionate health care. In Compassion (pp. 237-257). Routledge.
West, M., & Lyubovnikova, J. (2012). Real Teams or Pseudo Teams? The Changing Landscape Needs a Better Map. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 5(1), 25-28. doi:10.1111/j.1754-9434.2011.01397.x