The Problem: silo mentality
When a company is faced with internal turmoil, middle-management (department heads) might go into survival mode, shrinking their feel for responsibility solely to their own department. Cooperation between departments is compromised, as each department head refuses to stick his neck out for the greater good, which at troubled times might seem too abstract. A "not-my-job" attitude becomes silently prevalent.
The phenomenon is known to managers as 'silo mentality.' The Business dictionary defines it as: "A mind-set present in some companies when certain departments or sectors do not wish to share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce the efficiency of the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture."
The client inquired about a 1-day event that would address this issue. At the same time, the client wished for two additional things: 1) the event should be experiental (since the department heads had already been sufficiently 'psychologized') and 2) the event, although serious, should be entertaining.
Experiental, educational (serious) and entertaining? That called for an edu-larp!
The client's wish was that the participants, department heads, would arrive at a realization by themselves, instead of being told what the issue is and that it's a bad thing.
Instead of playing a game about some company, solving organization issues, players find themselves on a luxurious ocean cruiser, 1000 miles from the nearest shore.
The aim of the larp is to show the players that in time of crisis, cooperation between departments is crucial for the survival and progress of the whole. No one department is capable of withstanding change alone.
But instead of preaching about it, the larp lets the players come to this (or any other) conclusion.
Read on to learn about The Ark's design.
The Captain has received news of unusual underwater current and decided to take a little-known auxiliary passage. The storm came suddenly. And those were probably rocks, cutting the belly of The Ark wide open. To make things worse, navigation room and several other parts of the ship have caught fire, probably caused by a thunderbolt.
Now, after the storm and the fire being extinguished, the cruiser is malfunctioning on multiple levels and filling up with water fast. The pumps are at their maximum. Everyone survived, though. The navigation room is damaged and we are left with little if any instruments. And even these instruments are old-school and we haven't seen them since the Naval Academy's textbooks.
The Captain has summoned a small team to work on saving the ship. In the mean time, the rest of the crew is to carry out Plan B: prioritizing resources. Each deck should send their people to other decks, to discover the items that were saved in the fire, and to shake up ideas. Finally, the great hall meeting with the Captain will take place for final decision making. In case of emergency evacuation, we would only be able to pack bare necessities.
Authors: Ziga Novak, Blaz Branc
Theme: shipwrecked out on the open sea
Genre: problem-solving business role-playing game
Players: 12-20 (16 ideally)
Factions: 4 (players) + captain (NPC)
Gender balance: irrelevant
Game-mastering style: diegetic as The Computer screen
Game-mastering workload: easy-moderate
- Act 1: proritizing items and tasks with your department
- Act 2: first move
- Act 3: the Living room
- Act 4: re-group at home deck (all decks)
- Act 5: the captain's cabin break-in
- Act 6: final choice
- establish cooperation within their department
- establish cooperation between departments
- trust and share information
- come to a decision as an individual, as a team and as a collective
- have a major take-away: "we are all in the same boat"
Core game design components
- The Ark is based on a pen&paper simulation game »Lost at sea« by Grahame Knox, popularly used as a team-building game. In this sim, items found on board of a ship must be prioritized for evacuation.
- The idea of 'departmentalization' and introduction of asymmetric goals and information was taken from »Dust over Assling city« by Ziga Novak and Blaz Branc.
- Physicalization of items taken from the findings of "The Body playground framework"
- Breaking into Captain's cabin mechanic works by the principles of »escape room« riddles
- Idea of a display as a reality-enforcing frame taken from »Waiting for flight GO901« taken from Simon James Pettitt's blackbox larp (Knudepunkt 2015, Denmark)
- A computer screen instead of a game master is The Ark's own invention (see Ambiental).
The main ambiental element is the projection on the wall (The Computer sceen) that runs in the background. The projection serves several purposes:
- Players see and hear the waves of the ocean
- Light ambiental music (typical for strategy (war) games)
- General timing
- Instructions (tasks are displayed, instead of given by the game master)
- Captain's log entries (one-way communication between the captain and the crew)
The edu-larp was ran and the players had a fun time playing it, prioritizing the items to take on-board the emergency vessel, breaking in the captain's cabin and just generally saving themselves.
In the de-brief, results are quantified and faced with official US Coast Guard results (part of Graham's original design). Players saw a couple of points:
- There is always one extraordinary individual that scores higher than the team or collective
- In average, the team will always score higher than the average of individuals' score
Why The Ark makes more sense than playing its components
Here's what our motivation was:
- Destructuring the »Lost at sea:«
- Create a linear process from the problem to the solution
- Break the linearity into parts
- Give crucial information and objects to different stakeholders (departments)
- Treat stakeholders as equals (none of the 4 factions is superior to another)
- Rewrite stakeholders to departments of one company, instead of a larger ecosystem
- Embodying the experience:
- Embody the otherwise purely mental game of »Lost at sea« to achieve a higher level of engagement and expressed emotion
- Physicalize the items found on board to ease the burden of mental problem-solving and introduce design thinking
- Design more life-like and realistic game world:
- Introduce asymmetry of information between departments
- Introduce asymmetry of goals within departments, thus creating a more realistic feel
- Awaken survival instincts by a physical experience and ambient
- Switch from competitive to cooperative game-mode
- Have a twist in the story: the Captain gets drunk after he realizes the ship couldn't be saved and refuses to give access to the rescue vessel (thus introducing the 'common enemy' to the crew)
Too often we heard players give feedback: »Yes, this was a really cool event. But you know, in reality, things don't really work like this. But – anyway, still useful, somehow.... I had a great time!« What they are actually saying is "Yes, all good, but working at an office is a low emotional distance reality,"
We chose edu-larp as a game-based method to decrease the emotional distance and increase impact on players' survivor instincts.
The Ark is designed to have the players highly emotionally involved, working under realistic psycho-physical conditions.
If you're able to think straight in the face of the submerging ship and a lunatic captain (with all departments wanting to push their objects to the top of priority list), you might do well tomorrow in the office, too.