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Subject: What makes the quarterback problem a problem? rss

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Zaid Crouch
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The excellent thread running on ways to eliminate the quarterback/groupthink issue in co-ops has had me thinking a lot about the problem. It seems like a difficult proposition, and it's been a fascinating discussion with lots of great ideas, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes of it, although my suspicion is that whatever solution arises from it would almost be a new genre of co-op game.

That said, I have to admit that I'm quite partial to the current crop of co-ops, even with the potential issues that exist. It can be fun to try and solve a complex puzzle as a group, and in some games the execution of the solution is as fun as the solving (I'd argue that's one of the marks of a good co-op). So from that perspective, I've been doing a bit of thinking about the "other side" of the issue, and I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of some more people on this.

Here's what I've been pondering: why exactly is quarterbacking not fun (as in, in what specific situations does it become a problem)? What other design elements exacerbate the problem? The ultimate goal of that being: can we design a co-op game that if fun in spite of the potential for quarterbacking?

Personally, I'm happy with groupthink on an overall strategy level, but can't stand it when it comes to specific actions and tactics (maybe that's just because I like to tell people what to do more than I like being told what to do ). I also tend to find that I like to create my own little personal objectives just for fun in co-op games,

Personally, I'm okay with a certain degree of groupthink, especially at an overall strategy level. Where it starts to bug me is when it gets down to specifically dictating each play, or where all the players are playing all of the characters. I enjoy developing a special relationship with my character, and generally come up with fun little objectives I can complete within the overall goal, puerly for fun -- and once the groupthink starts to interfere with that I start to get frustrated.

I'd say this happens most in the games that have a high focus on optimising the use of resources (especially actions). Pandemic gets thrown around as an example a lot, and I think this is where the problem with it lies for me -- the harder difficulties can require almost perfect co-ordination down to the finest details, which is a recipe for trouble. Games where you spend a lot of time "one card away from losing" also tend to be ripe for quarterbacking too, due to the focus on reactive rather than proactive play. Generalising, I'd say the shorter your strategic focus is, the more of an issue quarterbacking becomes (probably largely due to the fact that it becomes much easier to identify the best course of action).

I'm also a little ambiguous about the effect of hidden information in a co-op. I actually prefer co-ops with open information between players, as games tend to rely on somewhat clunky rules to keep the information hidden, and I feel it actually directs the players attention more to what the other players are doing or may or may not know/have, rather than on the game -- it almost feels like it encourages quarterbacking and groupthink more, even if it does attempt to make it more difficult.

So, any other thoughts?

A couple of caveats:
- by a co-op game I'm talking about a game where everyone wins or loses together, generally by together against the game towards a predefined goal.
- I'm not interested in "solving" the quarterback issue in this thread (that's what the other thread is for). I'm more curious about to minimise the need for it, and the impact it has on the gameplay experience.
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Laura Creighton
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This sort of thing is hightly cultural. If you come from a culture where it is shameful to tell other people what to do, you will not have this problem. You may have a different one, in that it is hard to have any sort of leadership at all emerge. In Sweden, where leadership is largely looked on as a very evil thing, to be stamped out at the grade school level, you play lots of games whose entire purpose is to make people who naturally lead do so in an indirect fashion, and to teach people who are being lead to resist such things.

Works great.

Then you become part of an international collaboration with Americans in an American company or research unit. They have a strong need for leadership -- which you cannot provide -- and who will provide lots of leaders who will attempt to supervise you and 'give you leadership'. This you will find an intolerable affront to your own personal dignity and independence. BOOM. There goes the collaboration. It is the most cited reason in Sweden for the failure of US-Swedish collaborations. There is no harmonising the needs for quarterbacking -- if you aim for something 'in between' you end up seriously displeasing everybody.

So, yes, it's a big problem (here). I have no solutions at this time, but have thought about it for years.
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David Cheng
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Check my game here. It's a four players co-op game with no hidden information.

http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameexpansion/133133/go-go-e-d...

Pls comment if the mechanic works for a co-op game.
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Bishop of East Anglia
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My observation is here in NZ we're somewhere in between but more toward people wanting to be heroic leaders. The groups I'm involved in play werewolf a lot and if one or two of a group of 3 are wolves the group is in dire danger of being misdirected. I've also played BSG where I have found a Cylon and yet as a result of announcing this I was put in the brig as the Cylon is a very convincing leader. Discussion was pointless.

So we're very quick to follow leaders here but we have pretentions of being collaborative.

Personally I watch who I play with and beware which co-op we're playing.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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To have a quarterback problem there must be a "quarterback": read arrogant, bossy know-it-all with no scruples about ruining a game for everyone in the name of winning (basically zero empathy). I take slight offense that this has been culturally designated an "American" trait, but I agree that the lack of a strong nationally recognized code of etiquette in the U.S. has allowed this kind of behavior to flourish (especially in certain corporate cultures).

Regardless, one bad apple ruins the whole bunch when it comes to co-ops. I have had varied experiences with co-ops and it always came down to one player if things went sour. The only design choice that circumvents this in my experience is time limitation (Space Alert). A jerk can't be a jerk if too distracted by the clock.
 
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linoleum blownaparte
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Can we distinguish the jerk factor from the quarterback factor please?

A quarterback is a person who sees someone else make a move and thinks to themselves "That was definitely not the right move and we are now closer to defeat."

A jerk is someone who SAYS THAT OUT LOUD.

Clear enough?

Your play group may or may not have jerks (or, as they apparently call them overseas, "Americans") but I maintain that if you can sit through a game of Flash Point: Fire Rescue and never have a quarterbacking thought, you must be playing with your phone when it's not your turn. In Flash Point, anyone can easily play anyone else's turn with equal ability.

Consider the following variant rules for playing Flash Point.

1. Put everybody's name in a hat.
2. The firemeeples take their turn in order of color (red, yellow, etc.)
3. Every time a firemeeple takes a turn, draw a name from the hat. That player gets to decide how to move that firemeeple.
4. When the hat is empty, put all the names back in and repeat.

In what respect does the game now play differently? I guess the (already tenuous) connection between a player and his chosen meeple is severed. So there's a thematic difference. Is the strategy of the game different?
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Laura Creighton
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I wanted to clarify something here. Since it is the Swedish-American Trade Associations who are paying to have the bulk of this research done, it is no surprise that the cultural disconnect best studied is the Swedish-American one. But nobody believes that the problem is unique to the USA, by any means. Also, the fact that the majority of failed Swedish-American collaborations report 'cultural differences about leadership' or something along those lines as the reason for the failure, doesn't mean of course, that most Americans are bossy, or most Swedes are ungovernable. Just that if your collaboration is going to fail, then this is the most likely reason for it.

Another thing is that the problem that is getting studied here isn't so much 'one bossy jerk, in the name of winning, with 0 empathy ruins the game for everybody' but rather the different expecations that people have w.r.t. each other in the context of a collaboration.
2 years ago, at any rate, the focus was on kind, compassionate American leaders who respectfully listen to all the opinions of others as they prsent them, and patiently and carefully work out the best solution which takes into consideration all other people's stated views and wishes. These are people who deeply believe that they are among the top and best people at working with people, and they have years of awards and other things that demonstrate that, in the opinions of their peers at home, they _are_. So, when they come to take courses here about 'international cooperation' they quite sincerely believe that these courses are designed for 'other Americans' i.e. the sociopathic, arrogant, bossy know-it-alls. Which they admit, are a lot more common than they would like.

It comes as an incredible shock to many of them when they discover that a huge number of people around here cannot find any significant distinction between what they do, and what the bossy know-it-alls do. The issue, as commonly percieved around here is not the quality of one's leadership, but the existence of it. It's like arguing with an anarchist about the benefits of responsible government -- or with somebody who strongly believes in the religious virtue of chastity about the benefits of safe sex.

The very compassion that a certain type of 'caring leader' demonstrates comes across as condescension, in all too many cases. It's very frustrating for all involved. At the end of the day of roll playing, some people's compassionate leadership have driven their entire team to resign. Other leaders have stopped leading so much and let the team get on with things without their leadership. The team thinks that all is going well. Then, come evaluation time, the leader says, well, if this had been for real, I would have fired everybody involved, or if I couldn't at least cancel the project. Which means we are getting much more data, even if it is faked data that comes from a role playing experiment as to why these collaborations so often fail. Saying 'people perceive control differently' doesn't even begin to scratch the nature of the problem.

For instance, your natural impulse was to define the problem as primarily one that the bossy know-it-all has. It's an individual problem, _his_ personal problem, and when he (or she) learns to behave then the problem will be solved. A great many people around here will make the automatic assumption that the problem is with the _others_. Something is clearly wrong with them, in that they let themselves be lead this way. It's a collective problem, the team's problem, and when they learn how to ignore the know-it-all, the problem will go away. We now have ample role playing evidence that suggests that, quite often, both automatic assumptions are dead wrong. yuk The problem isn't so much in the behaviour(s), but in the expectation(s). Which makes it a lot harder to get at and change.

I wonder if playing Pandemic or other cooperative games would help. I will suggest it to the people who run these things, some of whom are academic colleagues. When I was more involved with this stuff I mostly worked on the other end of the problem - how on earth do you learn how to give more leadership to people who feel lost and abandoned without it? We're doing exceptionally poorly with this, too. So far, all we have out of years of workshops held a few times a year is a few academic papers, at least one very nice PhD thesis in the Sociology of Business, and a greater awareness that there is a real problem here. But I don't think we are any closer to being able to teach would-be collaborators how to avoid failure than we were seven years ago, which is frustrating because we sort of thought we would have figured it out by now. One of the things that wasn't done was to make arrangements to do followups with the same people, over the course of many years. Now, of course, people want to study exactly that.
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Adam Kazimierczak
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Interesting research, Laura. I'd love to see co-op games become a mainstay of corporate team building workshops.

As far as the quarterbacking goes, if we're talking about just thinking of what someone else should do during their turn then stopping that may be near impossible. Some players will always have their analytical brains running, and unless they totally disengage from the game during other players' turns they will have opinions on the perceived "optimal move."

In that way the amount of quarterbacking should be inversely proportional to the degree of randomness, as less predictable games won't have an optimal strategy. Flash Point might be in the sweet spot in that regard as the somewhat unpredictable nature of the fire is random enough without being too random. If a perfect knowledge no-luck co-op existed (co-op Caylus anyone?), then it should have the worst quarterbacking of all.



 
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James Hutchings
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lacreighton wrote:
In Sweden, where leadership is largely looked on as a very evil thing, to be stamped out at the grade school level, you play lots of games whose entire purpose is to make people who naturally lead do so in an indirect fashion, and to teach people who are being lead to resist such things.


I know this is off-topic, but are there similar exercises for adults?

If so, is there any information about them online? Preferably in English?
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jumbit
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How did a discussion about cooperative games get hijacked into an anti-American diatribe so quickly?
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Laura Creighton
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jumbit wrote:
How did a discussion about cooperative games get hijacked into an anti-American diatribe so quickly?


Possibly because you see anti-American sentiment more or less everywhere you look, or possibly you cannot see any discussion about cultural differences except in the context of 'whose culture is better' or some such.
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Laura Creighton
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apeloverage wrote:
lacreighton wrote:
In Sweden, where leadership is largely looked on as a very evil thing, to be stamped out at the grade school level, you play lots of games whose entire purpose is to make people who naturally lead do so in an indirect fashion, and to teach people who are being lead to resist such things.


I know this is off-topic, but are there similar exercises for adults?

If so, is there any information about them online? Preferably in English?


I am not sure about this, but I will ask around.
 
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James Hutchings
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Thanks! Is there a common phrase that I could use to do a google search?
 
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Laura Creighton
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Not that I know of, or rather the words that I know of that are are used are such common words that they aren't going to help you -- things that translate into 'teamwork exercises' and 'cooperation' and 'egotism' -- way too broad for what you are looking for. I'll go talk to some education professors later this week and see if within the education profession there is a more technical word or phrase in common use.
 
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I am fascinated.

Can we get the rules to these children's games which have a sub-goal of shutting off 'natural leaders' and increasing the resistance to leadership?

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What if there was a game where having 1 player designated as the quarterback was how the game was played? And the tasks that each player had to accomplish was so complicated (and perhaps done simultaneously) that it would be impossible for everyone to worry about what everyone was doing with every little move.

Like Artemis for the PC where there is a captain bossing everyone about and everyone has to try to do what the captain is trying to get done, without necessarily being told how that should be accomplished. And everyone has a specific seperate task that only when working together, can the overall goal get done.

Space Cadets is something that is I believe trying to capture that sort of feel. Perhaps there's more room in the world for games like it though, without using a spaceship theme.

A lot of coops have players that can all do all the basic actions of the game, but then each player has 1 special exception. Perhaps more players need to be able to only do things that no one else can, and have a coordinator to help move the group toward its goal.
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Laura Creighton
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byronczimmer wrote:
I am fascinated.

Can we get the rules to these children's games which have a sub-goal of shutting off 'natural leaders' and increasing the resistance to leadership?



They aren't really games with rules, but training exercises. So role playing games, more than board games. They come as a set of notes to the teacher for what to look for, and what to discourage. You tell the people who are trying to lead that they are being egotistical. The idea isn't 'to get what you want', but rather 'to get other people to want what you want'. Or, perhaps, even more tellingly, 'to make sure everybody wants the same thing, so either they now want what you originally wanted, or you have changed your opinion and now want something different (which all of them want too)'. And no decision gets made, until everybody in the group agrees that it is the thing they want to do. And that is only a small part of it. Only the bits I remember, and this is not my field.
A big bit of it is the constant assertion that a person can only see things from their own point of view. At best they can imagine from somebody else's point of view. So since decisions need to be made from multiple points of view, the only way to make them is to _get_ as many points of view as you can, i.e. by involving everybody.

There are ways to make these games produce bad results if not enough points of view get into the mix, but I forget how this is done. Probably by the teacher being arbitrary. :-)

But how you get the people to resist leadership -- that I have to go check with other colleagues. It's really significant, I remember, but the mechanics of it escape me now.
I am not in the faculty of education. I just have friends who are academics there.

edt: ps -- this may only work in a nation where no elementary school students ever get grades about anything. So the notion of 'I am better than you are and we measure this every time we are tested' doesn't show up.
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lacreighton wrote:
byronczimmer wrote:
I am fascinated.

Can we get the rules to these children's games which have a sub-goal of shutting off 'natural leaders' and increasing the resistance to leadership?



They aren't really games with rules, but training exercises. So role playing games, more than board games. They come as a set of notes to the teacher for what to look for, and what to discourage. You tell the people who are trying to lead that they are being egotistical. The idea isn't 'to get what you want', but rather 'to get other people to want what you want'. Or, perhaps, even more tellingly, 'to make sure everybody wants the same thing, so either they now want what you originally wanted, or you have changed your opinion and now want something different (which all of them want too)'. And no decision gets made, until everybody in the group agrees that it is the thing they want to do. And that is only a small part of it. Only the bits I remember, and this is not my field.

But how you get the people to resist leadership -- that I have to go check with other colleagues. It's really significant, I remember, but the mechanics of it escape me now.
I am not in the faculty of education. I just have friends who are academics there.


One of the training courses I attended as an adult related this story:

A Company was set out to make some 'really important decision' (not important to the story). The leader of the group stated as the first thing that all decisions would be made by consensus - everyone would have to agree to all decisions.

The leader then picked up the red marker and started to write something on the white board.

One person said "I think red denotes a bad vibe and negativity. We shouldn't use red for primary notes, just negative notes."

Someone else added "Red's good for highlighting things, but not just the negative. It should be used for corrections too."

Soon everyone had an opinion on what specific color should be used for any given potential task for this important meeting and it went on... for forty five minutes... All to come to consensus on what color ink to use!

Getting to Consensus is a very painful and expensive process, and there are times when a Command Decision needs to be made, and there are intermediate steps as well, such as a few taking opinions from the others but then making a reasoned decision.
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2097 wrote:
For example, in Caylus, when we’re at the “bridge” phase, he’s always like “OK, obviously, you should put in 1, I will pay 2, and then X can pay max one in the other direction and then there will be no use for Y to pay anything at all”. Or in Power Grid he wants to dictate which plants and resources everyone gets.


Heh... This is precisely when you don't do what he expects.

He is planning everyone's optimal path, but the problem with this is that he is doing so assuming everyone wants the same outcome.

By definition, everyone in a competitive game wants a different outcome: their own eventual victory.

The trap is that technically in a 4 player game, any two people have the following goals (and whether they are shared or in conflict):

4 Players (A,B,C,D)
Player A wants: A to win Player B wants: A to lose
Player A wants: B to lose Player B wants: B to win
Player A wants: C to lose Player B wants: C to lose
Player A wants: D to lose Player B wants: D to lose


Since the goals of 'Want C/D to lose' are congruent, it is easy to get caught in the trap Player A can set out as "We both want C/D to lose, so you (Player B) should do everything you can to stop them from winning, and I will too." Meanwhile, Player A has remembered his other goal (wants B to lose) and is working towards that as well while Player B does his dirty work for him.

There are times this is fine - games involving pure or near pure negotiation (Diplomacy, Lifeboats, Chicken Cesar) are built around this.

But not every game needs to be Diplomacy.
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Laura Creighton
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byronczimmer wrote:
lacreighton wrote:
byronczimmer wrote:
I am fascinated.

Can we get the rules to these children's games which have a sub-goal of shutting off 'natural leaders' and increasing the resistance to leadership?



They aren't really games with rules, but training exercises. So role playing games, more than board games. They come as a set of notes to the teacher for what to look for, and what to discourage. You tell the people who are trying to lead that they are being egotistical. The idea isn't 'to get what you want', but rather 'to get other people to want what you want'. Or, perhaps, even more tellingly, 'to make sure everybody wants the same thing, so either they now want what you originally wanted, or you have changed your opinion and now want something different (which all of them want too)'. And no decision gets made, until everybody in the group agrees that it is the thing they want to do. And that is only a small part of it. Only the bits I remember, and this is not my field.

But how you get the people to resist leadership -- that I have to go check with other colleagues. It's really significant, I remember, but the mechanics of it escape me now.
I am not in the faculty of education. I just have friends who are academics there.


One of the training courses I attended as an adult related this story:

A Company was set out to make some 'really important decision' (not important to the story). The leader of the group stated as the first thing that all decisions would be made by consensus - everyone would have to agree to all decisions.

The leader then picked up the red marker and started to write something on the white board.

One person said "I think red denotes a bad vibe and negativity. We shouldn't use red for primary notes, just negative notes."

Someone else added "Red's good for highlighting things, but not just the negative. It should be used for corrections too."

Soon everyone had an opinion on what specific color should be used for any given potential task for this important meeting and it went on... for forty five minutes... All to come to consensus on what color ink to use!

Getting to Consensus is a very painful and expensive process, and there are times when a Command Decision needs to be made, and there are intermediate steps as well, such as a few taking opinions from the others but then making a reasoned decision.


It gets less painful when people are well-practiced at reaching consensus. You are discussing 'newbie mistakes' here. But the general principle is sound. There are times when a decision needs to be made *in a hurry* more than anything. A decent one now is better than a more perfect one in 2 hours. The devil is in recognising when you are in such a situation -- though given the 'how to control AP thread' I must conclude that for a certain fraction of humanity the answer to that question is the easy -- ALWAYS.
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linoleum blownaparte
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JumboCactaur wrote:
What if there was a game where having 1 player designated as the quarterback was how the game was played? And the tasks that each player had to accomplish was so complicated (and perhaps done simultaneously) that it would be impossible for everyone to worry about what everyone was doing with every little move.

Like Artemis for the PC where there is a captain bossing everyone about and everyone has to try to do what the captain is trying to get done, without necessarily being told how that should be accomplished. And everyone has a specific seperate task that only when working together, can the overall goal get done.

Space Cadets is something that is I believe trying to capture that sort of feel. Perhaps there's more room in the world for games like it though, without using a spaceship theme.

A lot of coops have players that can all do all the basic actions of the game, but then each player has 1 special exception. Perhaps more players need to be able to only do things that no one else can, and have a coordinator to help move the group toward its goal.


Haven't tried Space Cadets yet, but what I feel it's missing is players helping each other. Without that element it is more like "everyone playing together" than "everyone playing together" if you see what I mean

The sweet spot is where everyone has their own thing to do, and you can help your fellow players, but you can't lean over and play their turn for them.

 
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I glossed over the parts of the discussion where we were talking about American/Swedish relations and how leadership influences that, so I'll apologize if I'm restating things.

I think the problem stemms from the nature of pure coop games - they are puzzles. People who are better at puzzles than their peers around the game table will likely want to see the puzzle solved, and try to steer the group toward that goal. People who are also comfortable voicing themselves may become the quarterback; which can ruin the game experience, but I think is being overstated (Possibly because I know I sometimes QB games with my brothers, and they still have fun ).

What could ruin it is if the QB is actively taking the moves or giving specific instructions, rather than advising or giving suggestions. "We need to keep the disease here from spreading" vs. "Spend 2 actions to go there, then cure the disease; then you...".

I think one way to solve the problem would be to make the puzzle harder.
 
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Laura Creighton
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Linoleumblownaparte wrote:
[
Haven't tried Space Cadets yet, but what I feel it's missing is players helping each other. Without that element it is more like "everyone playing together" than "everyone playing together" if you see what I mean

The sweet spot is where everyone has their own thing to do, and you can help your fellow players, but you can't lean over and play their turn for them.



Can you expand more on this? I think that understanding this is essential to (my understading at any rate) of the problem, and I don't understand the difference one bit.
 
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lacreighton wrote:
Can you expand more on this? I think that understanding this is essential to (my understading at any rate) of the problem, and I don't understand the difference one bit.


I think he's saying that everyone is playing the game, but they aren't playing the game as a team; the latter of which would be the ideal for most coop games. Too much teamy-ness and you end up with one player playing the game while the others are just sitting around watching/mindlessly obeying, however.
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lacreighton wrote:
byronczimmer wrote:
lacreighton wrote:
byronczimmer wrote:
I am fascinated.

Can we get the rules to these children's games which have a sub-goal of shutting off 'natural leaders' and increasing the resistance to leadership?



They aren't really games with rules, but training exercises. So role playing games, more than board games. They come as a set of notes to the teacher for what to look for, and what to discourage. You tell the people who are trying to lead that they are being egotistical. The idea isn't 'to get what you want', but rather 'to get other people to want what you want'. Or, perhaps, even more tellingly, 'to make sure everybody wants the same thing, so either they now want what you originally wanted, or you have changed your opinion and now want something different (which all of them want too)'. And no decision gets made, until everybody in the group agrees that it is the thing they want to do. And that is only a small part of it. Only the bits I remember, and this is not my field.

But how you get the people to resist leadership -- that I have to go check with other colleagues. It's really significant, I remember, but the mechanics of it escape me now.
I am not in the faculty of education. I just have friends who are academics there.


One of the training courses I attended as an adult related this story:

A Company was set out to make some 'really important decision' (not important to the story). The leader of the group stated as the first thing that all decisions would be made by consensus - everyone would have to agree to all decisions.

The leader then picked up the red marker and started to write something on the white board.

One person said "I think red denotes a bad vibe and negativity. We shouldn't use red for primary notes, just negative notes."

Someone else added "Red's good for highlighting things, but not just the negative. It should be used for corrections too."

Soon everyone had an opinion on what specific color should be used for any given potential task for this important meeting and it went on... for forty five minutes... All to come to consensus on what color ink to use!

Getting to Consensus is a very painful and expensive process, and there are times when a Command Decision needs to be made, and there are intermediate steps as well, such as a few taking opinions from the others but then making a reasoned decision.


It gets less painful when people are well-practiced at reaching consensus. You are discussing 'newbie mistakes' here. But the general principle is sound. There are times when a decision needs to be made *in a hurry* more than anything. A decent one now is better than a more perfect one in 2 hours. The devil is in recognising when you are in such a situation -- though given the 'how to control AP thread' I must conclude that for a certain fraction of humanity the answer to that question is the easy -- ALWAYS.


The story indicated that this 'by consensus' was a group thing, and they always wanted to achieve consensus but never got anything done (hence why the consultant was able to witness this exchange occur).

The realization was that yes, sometimes decisions need to be made with all agreeing. Sometimes by vote (which means, by definition that not everyone agrees, but all agree to accept the vote). Sometimes by solicitation (which seeks to solicit input from others, but not be bound by it). Sometimes by the leader without input.

All are valid ways to get to a solution, provided the expectation of the stakeholders is set as to what type of decision is going to be made and by whom.

If everyone had to agree about everything every time, nothing would ever get done. All it would take is one person not wanting to conform to the group.
 
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