Monday, 2 June 2008

[Virtual Worlds] IBM, Virtual Battles and Roy Keane's Mountain Bike Madness

Note: This a blog entry from my MsC in e-learning 'Introduction to Game Design' module.

Reading over the IBM Global Innovation Outlook 2.0 Report, 'Virtual World, Virtual Leaders' I was struck - not by the gee-whizz factoids and structural study of what good leadership entails (the Sloan model of Leadership, apparently) but rather how virtual worlds (and their games) provide opportunities for gamers not normally associated with roles of leadership to have a crack at leading in a safe guided environment:

'Using massively multiplayer online games as a template, it can be argued that leadership is as much a by-product of environment as it is intrinsic. Leadership happens quickly and easily in online games, often undertaken by otherwise reserved players, who surprise even themselves with their capabilities'.

Now, normally speaking, I would launch into my usual banter about obvious applications in the world of Policing and enabling officers to make critical command decisions in a safe, guided environment, but instead I instantly found myself thinking about one Roy Maurice Keane.

Keane's meteoric rise as a football manager (taking Sunderland from the bottom of the Championship to the Premiership in just 8 months) has seen him become the darling of the British red-tops. With Jose Mourinho now off pouting on a beach somewhere, the press have turned to Keane as their rent-a-quote supplier. His down-to-earth manner, self-deprecating wit and willingness to fashion an articulate statement when all around him are awash in a sea of egomania and mobile phone advert contracts, ensures that Keane's every word gets parroted by the media. He has, as one friend of mine observed, a certain undeniable mystique.

But what has all this got to do with virtual worlds? Well, without knowing it, Roy Keane has become an unwitting spokesman for the efficacy of 'Virtual Worlds' and their opportunities for providing just the kind of leadership opportunities which the IBM report cited above describes.

Last season, several newspapers ran the story that Keane had taken to sending his players up the side of mountains, white-water rafting and cross-country biking in what most reported as a simple example of Roy the 'hard man' sorting the men from the boys in increasingly macho team events. What most journos failed to notice was that Keane, through the creation of 'games' ("split into four groups of ten and race up the top of that mountain and back down again") was providing the circumstances for otherwise quiet players to exercise their nascent leadership skills in a (relatively) safe, guided environment.

From a Guardian article of April 19th 2007:

'I gave the lads a challenge yesterday and it was a very difficult challenge - four hours on a mountain bike is not easy," the Irishman said. "We were in four teams of 10 and every team wanted to win."

Rather more importantly, Keane was able to assess how individuals adjusted to being removed from cosily familiar habitats. "I find out who the leaders are, who likes to be in control, who the real winners are," he said. "We've done a lot of this stuff over the last seven months and you find out a lot about your players through different challenges. The lads are comfortable with a football at their feet but throw them on a mountain bike or into a white-water raft and you see another side of them, some good, some maybe not so good. We like to keep them guessing and give them surprises. Yesterday, for instance, they only knew we were going to Swaledale two minutes before we left.

"You'd be surprised who comes to the fore, there were one or two I thought wouldn't enjoy it but did. And it means they look forward to getting
back training here and getting a feel for the ball again."'

So, if a Premiership manager can do it...

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