The following guest article was sent in by Craig Bradley. Thanks, Craig!

I’m far from xenophobic. I’m the kind of guy that can fit in with just about any group, talk to anyone about most anything, and spend all day doing nothing but meeting new people. I’m a natural social butterfly. Maybe that’s you, and then again maybe not. But if you’re looking to figure out how to meet that special someone, break the ice with your co-workers, win friends, or just plain have a good time, give this a try.

I had been working at a software company for a few months when I decided to start an “XCOM” game on my lunch break (yes, I got to play video games at lunch. Everyone did. Jealous? You are? I’m sorry. Why don’t you start your own company and make that permissible? You don’t have the capital? That sucks). I had gotten to know a few of the people on my team, and they were mostly easy-going guys in their 20’s to 40’s, but there were still many people I wanted to meet but hadn’t had the occasion to do so.

XCOM sniping an alienThen it hit me as I waited for the game to boot up. Why not make an “XCOM” game and only use coworkers for soldiers? I figured I’d better get their permission first, so started to walk around to a few guys. The conversation typically went something like this:

Me, in a laid-back and casual manner: “Hey Gil, how would you like to help fight off the murderous aliens invading our dear planet?”

Gil: “Do I have to do anything?”

Me: “Nope. I’ll just create a character in your likeness and play the game. I should warn you that I’m playing on a setting that forces every move I make to be final, so you could easily die*.”

Gil: “Okay.”

* I was playing with a setting called “Ironman Mode”, in which characters can die permanently. I recommend it.

That’s about it. Everyone was very open to the idea, and generally thought it was fun, if not awesome. Even the 40 somethings that didn’t play video games at all thought it was funny. But what happened next was even better.

At first, everyone was nonchalant about it. But as I started to make my way through the campaign, I would give people updates as I saw them. These conversations were always great and went like this:

Me: “Jeff, that last mission you were on was epic!”

Jeff: “What happened?”

Me: “We were deep in enemy territory, and it was a tough fight. Everyone was injured, and it was looking grim. You were trading shots with a bile-spewing alien when it managed to poison you before you finished it off with your assault rifle. And that’s when a huge beast of an alien charged in out of nowhere. The whole team was going to be slaughtered. So what did you do? You pulled out a grenade and took out the alien along with yourself, saving the team with your last heroic action.”

Jeff: “Woah. That’s pretty solid. I don’t suppose you could add in a second Jeff down the road?”

Me: “Afraid not.”

XCOM Gil about to blast an alien

Here’s Gil, on the last mission, about to blast an enemy alien.

Many such interesting conversations emerged, especially when co-workers killed other co-workers when they were panicked by the aliens. Not only was it great fun, it was also a hilarious conversation starter. And because I was playing through for the first time on a new difficult setting, there were a lot of casualties. In fact, I stopped telling people when they died. It was much more efficient to just let those who were still alive know. “If your name wasn’t on the much smaller ‘alive’ list it was a good assumption that your death in the game was trivial and meaningless,” I told those who asked.

If you have the right crowd that would be receptive to it, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Now, this won’t work if:

  • You don’t see these people on a semi-regular basis
  • You attempt to engage people are not at least somewhat open to having “fun.”
  • You’re weird about it (possibly the hardest part of this process is to avoid being weird about it)

I noted it before, but I further recommend you play the game with the Ironman Mode setting, as this really elevates the tension in your playthrough.

It just so happened that on my last day on the job, I also finished the game. So I was able to give everyone one last update with how everything concluded. I was sad to leave that job, the people there were fantastic.

My new job is with a design and development studio, Thinkbox Creative, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of the team. No gamers here, though (unless you consider those who adamantly play “Clash of Clans” gamers — but that’s another blog post). I haven’t tried the “XCOM” playthrough as an icebreaker here, and I doubt I will. These creative types make awesome websites, but they’d rather go mountain biking than play video games. Me, I’ve always been something of an avid indoorsman.

So what about you? Are you brave enough to give it a try with a group you think might enjoy the experience? I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts. Sound off in the comments, and if you’d like to reach me personally please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at craigbbradley@gmail.com.