Setting the Stage
Where we try and get you in the right headspace to create something that is playful and can make a difference. This week you will:
Reflect on the power of play to bring on change
Become aware of the diversity of play & games (and of their uses)
Start thinking of the change you want to trigger through playfulness
Welcome to Week Zero of the Game Changers Open Course.
This isn’t exactly your ‘usual’ game design course. But we will still make games and other playful stuff together, don’t worry.
This isn’t your usual design thinking course either. But we will still think of how we can together create stuff that makes a difference.
This is something in between, something hybrid: this is a course about how playfulness can change the world. For real. Trust us.
This Open Course is running in parallel (in its 1st iteration) with an elective module run at Coventry University, which has now been running for three weeks, where we’ve been mostly playing a lot, and setting some theoretical groundwork. So this Week Zero’s aim is most to get you there where our students already are, and then start to create playful stuff like (or even with) them.
To do this, we are trying to set up a loose community, bound together (for now) mainly by the use of the hashtag #gchangers, on whatever is your social media environment of your choice. So please do say hi, and tell us who you are, and what you want to get out of this course.
So, having done this, how can you get in the right headspace to create some playful stuff?
Well, first of all, let’s play some games, and ponder a few questions. And we’ll break this into Missions, because that’s how games work, right?
What will you need?
Some friends, 200 coloured balls and some space
At least one friend, your hands and a high pain threshold
Experience having played lots of games
Some random prototyping materials (paper, playdough, LEGO, anything goes really).
Some social media space to share your thoughts in using #gchangers
Stuff we Recommend to Watch/Read/Play
Mission One (A)
First, find some friends, some balls, a secluded room where no one will call you crazy (or a public square, if you are brave) and play “That Ball Game” by Malcolm Ryan (there’s even a paper on it, so you see, this is real science).
It’s quite simple (so film all this and post it to #gchangers if at all possible):
- Split people in 4 teams, each confined to a quarter of the space.
- Pour some hundreds of balls in the middle of the space.
- Play a catchy song on the loudest speaker/boombox available.
- When the song’s over, the team in the quarter with less balls in it wins!
Simple, isn’t it? Now a few question to reflect upon: did you have fun? Did someone cheat? But most importantly, how did playing this change the space? The people involved? The rules of the game itself? That’s the whole point: play changes things, it “remixes” them in novel ways. It even remixes itself.
So how would you change/remix this game to make an entire city play it?
Big question. No need to properly answer now, but think about it. And post your thoughts at #gchangers (I am going to be saying this a lot).
Mission One (B)
Don’t have that many friends, or that many balls either? Pity, it’s really much easier to design for playfulness with other people. But we’ll manage.
Well, try to find at least another one, and play something simpler: slapsies (or Red Hands, as The Wiki goes) You have already played slapsies probably. Not that interesting, ain’t it? Let’s try and make it slightly more engaging: try and play in a circle, try and play blindfolded, try and play with hands behind your back. Try to think of as many mods of this simple game as you can. Maybe even one where you need only one hand and can film it to be sent to #gchangers.
A bit better, sure, but probably still nothing special. People playfully hurting each other, but no actual harm done.
Now, try and think of this: how would you change/remix slapsies to make people care for each other instead? And again, what if a whole city could play this new game?
Maybe now you see what we are getting at. Or at least let us know what you see through #gchangers
This is nothing new, there are plenty of people and organisations out there trying to “harness” games and playfulness to a variety of awesome, useful, edifying, boring, unsavoury ends. And we’ll be doing that too, which, implicitly, will also teach you how to neutralise those unsavoury type of game-like systems. You can look at this presentation for a few good examples, and at this video for a few possibly evil ones.
Some are more game-like (or “gameful”), emphasising rules, and some are more playful, emphasising freedom, but these two dimensions feed each other just as constraints feed creativity. Now try and pinpoint them on this graph on the left (the full paper explaining it is here ), and know there’s nothing wrong with either, but there is all the design difference in the world. Do you want to design for compliance? For training? For rule-breaking? For exploration? It all depends on the purpose you want to achieve, and the people you want to work/play with.
But let’s start with the person you know best: asking how many different ways of playing you know would possibly yield to many to list, but which one is your favourite, and which you like the least? Which is the most freeing and the most addictive? And what kind of behaviours do they encourage? Try and pinpoint these on the graph too, and share your graphs and thoughts on why on #gchangers
As we have seen, play is powerful (and sometimes can also be insidious). It has this peculiar character of not only “showing” things through words and images, but also of making strong, subtle arguments through doing, through process (this is what game scholar Ian Bogost calls “procedural rethorics” , if you want to look more deeply into that), to actually make people do things. Things like relentlessly crushing candies or going around looking for pocket monsters, of course, but there’s opportunity for much more, for good or bad.
However, playful design is 2nd Order Design: you don’t design behaviours directly, instead you design rules and aesthetics, and then leave other people to make of them whatever they may. And so we come back to the slapsies game and its variants: it is actually quite easy to come up with random, playful stuff, but the hard part is to make it so that it actually makes a meaningful connection for the people you want to work/play with.
And there comes the “Design Thinking” part of this course. These people at Stanford have formalised the process quite a while ago, so try and run this with your red-handed friend from Mission 1 (or with your ball-throwing group of friends, or even with the people that gave you weird looks while you were playing in the public square, if you can). It involves chatting, sketching and prototyping, and will give you a good idea of what a “baseline” design process looks like.
Just change the topic slightly, and instead of “the gift-giving experience”, discuss this: what story do you want to make happen in the real world through play?
Let us also know what are your stories, and what your prototypes look like, sharing them via #gchangers.