The Toy Box
Where we start prototyping our playful creations by repurposing and remixing whatever playful stuff we (and our audience) already have at hand. This Week you will:
Gather a big box of games (and a paperclip)
Abstract them into possible Core Loops
Reflect on how to apply those loops to our selected issue
Welcome to Week Two of the GameChangers Open Course, where we (temporarily) move from focussing on people to focussing on their ways of playing and on hands-on creation. This week will indeed be the one closest to “classic” game design & development processes and considerations, and the one you will find plenty of alternative literature and resources for online.
However, the GameChangers open course will tackle these themes with a couple of added criteria:
- First, this Course is designed for (and, most importantly, to involve) those who might not have the “game literacy” to dive straight into game design proper, and therefore aims at moving from the very basics and from your/their own experiences of playfulness.
- Second, this week we’ll not only be discussing Core Loops (see more about this below), but also how they be grounded in the experience of your audience, and how they can support the experience we want to achieve with and for them.
That is to say that, even while we mess around with tons of different games, please do constantly keep in mind your audience and the issues you are trying to attend to. But’s let’s dive in this with the first Mission!
What will you need?
As many toys/board games/cards/game implements/sports implement as you can pile together.
As always, some social media space to share your thoughts using #gchangers
Stuff we Recommend to Watch/Read/Play
The first mission this week is really simple, or at least it apparently is, but will also require some digging, both metaphorical and literal. Are you still in touch with the people you’ve been working with last week? Those you conceptualised as your target audience and co-designers? Well you should be. “Nothing about us without us”, remember?
Time to Interview them about the toys and games they play or played with, the toys and games they like more, the toys and games they feel like were (or still are) more important to them. And once you have a list, try gathering some of those playful things together. Dig them up if needed, as I was saying.
When doing this, remember that this is also your playful creation, so while you will always need to be inclusive and grounded in your audience experience, you should also put something personal in there. So interview yourself in the same way, and then venture into the heights of your attic/depths of your basement (or your living room, if you are anything like me) and gather some of your preferred games and toys.
Then pile all these wonderful thing into a (literal or metaphorical) Toy Box.
Just as a suggestion, your Toy Box might have any or all of the following (and for sure a lot more stuff that did not come to my mind):
- Balls of different sizes, weights and bounciness
- Timers of different kinds
- Sets of polyhedral dice
- Decks of standard playing cards
- Some old wooden toys
- Decks of non-standard playing cards
- Construction set pieces of different materials and styles
- Board games with different boards & elements
- Plushies of different shapes and sizes
- Some different video game controllers
- Ropes of different lengths and materials
- A reasonably diverse set of action figures
- Models of means of transportation
- Miniatures from different settings
- Tokens, chips, coins
- Sports implements
- Something they told you not to play with when you were a kid (or more recently).
When you have gathered everything in a nice and messy pile, take a snapshot of it and share it via #gchangers. A list of the contents would also be really nice, both to provide a full and contextualised picture of the playful practices of your audience, and to inspire other people in how to enrich their own toy boxes.
You might ask why bother lugging around all these “analog”, cumbersome things, when digital games can involve all these things and much more, and can also be moved around in a lap top. Of course bring your gaming laptop (or desktop, or console) to this activity, but please bear with me and let’s keep it mostly physical. I’ll explain why in Mission 3.
Feeling a bit like kids on Christmas morning with all these playful things piled together, aren’t you?
Let’s recompose ourselves with some deep, serious thoughts on educational issues and reform then. First, have a look at this classic video bit from renown educator Ken Robinson. Yes, there are some general, interesting considerations about education that contribute to explaining why we GameChangers people think that a “childlike”, playful approach is the way to go for the future of learning.
Looking back at Week Zero and One, what we intended to do was to focus down and reach a playful, human-focussed definition of an issue. That is, after an initial divergent phase, we converged on a specific audience and theme. What we need to do now, is again to diverge and embrace/generate the highest possible number of responses.
To re-train our grown-up minds to do this, let’s start by just focussing on the paperclip Robinson was discussing. Resist playing with all those toys and games for a bit more, and find a simple, plain, serious paperclip. How many uses can you find for it? As the video suggest, don’t be limited by the actual shape and size of the paperclip, think of what could you do with it if it was different. Well, don’t just think, actually fiddle with it, play. Try to frame them as verbs (to keep things abstract and dynamic) and note them down. Try to get at least to 20.
Coming up with different ways of looking at the world is the basis for play and creativity (and for changing the world itself, I might add).
So now that we have a long lists of things you can do with a paperclip, let’s go a step further: how many games can you make with it? While you can certainly ad-lib some without further prompt, it might be helpful to have a bit of structure in this phase, so let’s consider the concept of Core Loop.
The Core Loop is “The chain of activities associated with the primary user flow”, or in plainer words, “Whatever the user is primarily doing over and over again”. They are “the gist” of what most games and playful activities are, and in turn it’s quite easy to break games down into Core Loops. For example, in Pac-Man you navigate maze, dodge ghosts and eat dots. In Snakes and Ladders you throw dice and move around the board. In hide and seek you (well) hide or seek, and then run for the home base. In definitely too many games it goes something like explore -> kill -> collect loot, and so on and on with new areas and bigger monsters, so much that another name for this concept is “compulsion loop” (which is another reason why you should definitely co-design with your audience: you don’t want to manipulate them into doing things they are not comfortable with).
In the case of Ring Around the Rosie, the loop is mainly just looping (until you fall down).
Try and build a few Core Loops (that is: game ideas) using only the possible uses (that is: verbs) you listed for your paperclip, and share them via #gchangers. As of the time of my writing, paperclip based games are all the rage, so let’s all jump on that bandwagon!
Now that we created some interesting paperclip based games, let’s broaden our scope by moving back to the Toy Box, and let’s consider the possibilities: how many uses can you find for each of the items in there? I am confident that, after experiencing how many things you could create with a simple paperclip, there will be no shortage of ideas in repeating the exact same exercise with the breadth of playful items you have gathered.
Indeed, it might feel slightly overwhelming, so let’s follow the same simple structure again: try to find new uses especially for all the playful things that were suggested by your audience, and add in a few new things of choice. Again, don’t just think about them: fiddle with them, throw them around, play with them, experiment (see? That’s why I asked you to keep them physical in Mission 1. You can’t really fiddle with or throw around a digital game, unless you have a very deep understanding of its code and structure). List them all (again, preferably in the for of verbs), and share your big list of new uses for at least a couple items on #gchangers, to inspire our fellow participants.
You now have all the basic building blocks for your initial prototype in front of you: your audience experience (as explored in Week One), their experience of play (as gathered in Mission 1 this Week) and now a (possibly) huge reservoir of verbs already linked to playful items.
The final “remix” exercise, for this Week Two, will then be to use all these bits, items, verbs and information to start prototyping loops that convey the experience you are looking for. To do this, just look back at the discussion of narrative we had in Week Zero: what is that you want to make happen through play? Play with the list of verbs to compose an appropriate Loop, and share your playful remixes and the intended experience on #gchangers. We’ll be sure to give you feedback and to help you structure it into your first prototype.
At this point you might think you are almost done, and that your playful experience is almost ready. Well, far from that! As discussed in Week Zero, playful design is always a 2nd Order endeavour: our ideas and loops might be neat and well meaning, but what happens when our playful creations are left alone “in the wild” and in the hands of their users, both the audience we targeted and anyone else? Might they be played, or used, or understood in completely unintended ways? How ethical is that? Or are there situations where breaking the rules is the most ethical things to do?
Yes, a few more big questions for you to ponder, and for which to share your thoughts on #gchangers.
Join us in Week Three, where we will explore the unintended, emergent aspects of play!