[RESEARCH INSIDER] Not Just Fun and Games: Using Digital Games to Study Teamwork

(Photo: Unsplash/Florian Olivo)

There is currently an estimate of more than 2.5 billion gamers worldwide. In 2019, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region produced game revenues of $72.2 billion, accounting for 47% of the global total. Research Insider this week gets up close with Evelyn Tan who is in her second year pursuing her PhD in Team Dynamics and Player Psychology in Digital Games at the University of York. Her research focuses on the emergence and development of team cohesion in games like League of Legends, Dota 2 and Overwatch. Research Insider also identifies the areas of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which the research covers and its impact.


What got you into your research field?

Every organization relies on teams, but good teamwork is difficult to achieve. This led me to wonder how qualities of successful teams develop. I was specifically interested in the kind of teams where members loved being part of the team. To find out what makes teams cohesive, you need to observe the interaction between members and see how they lead to different outcomes, but this is not always possible in the real-world. For this reason, I chose to study digital game teams because it allows me to make these observations, and hopefully, to find out what makes cohesive teams.

Evelyn Tan of University of York, is in her second year pursuing her PhD in Team Dynamics and Player Psychology in Digital Games

What is the novelty of your research?

Competitive team-based digital games like Dota 2 and League of Legends are excellent virtual environments to observe team dynamics. Good teamwork is extremely challenging in these games, especially when playing with strangers. Some say it’s extremely unlikely. However, there are times when teams of strangers naturally work well together. There are also times when strangers become friends through play, despite having a short first encounter. Understanding what makes these moments happen, even in a very unlikely situation, may help to uncover global predictors of team cohesion. This knowledge may be applied to all kinds of teams.

Why is your research important?

Research conducted on digital game teams may help to improve teamwork for real-world teams in high risk environments, like emergency medical teams and emergency response teams. These real-world teams share a similar structure to the digital game teams that I research. They consist of members with specialised roles, who function under intense pressure in a high-tempo and high-risk environment. From the moment they are formed, they immediately require good coordination and communication despite having no experience of working together. Poor teamwork has highly negative consequences, so it is important to understand how teams of strangers quickly and effectively develop cohesion.

What is the SDG impact of your research?

Cohesion is important for all teams – it is related to higher retention, satisfaction and team performance. You know a team is cohesive when its members are committed to achieving the team objective and have good relations with one another. In cohesive teams, team members thrive. While the positive impact of cohesion is known, the factors that give rise to cohesion is much less known. Being able to understand how teams become cohesive would contribute to improving the well-being of employees at work, and the productivity of an organisation.

Watch the fourth episode of Malaysian Research Insider, a webinar series organised by Malaysian Biosciences Scholars (MBIOS) and 100 Scientists of Malaysia in collaboration with Science Media Centre Malaysia with Evelyn Tan

**All previous posts about Research Insider: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/research-insider/

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