Week Zero

Week Zero

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


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?

Introducing the Course Team

Your Educators in this six week course are Sylvester Arnab and Samantha Clarke. Oliver Wood will be providing support throughout the course.

You can follow them and introduce yourselves by clicking on their name and visiting their Twitter profiles.

Sylvester Arnab
Samantha Clarke
Oliver Wood

What will you need?

Before you continue, for this week you will need a number of resources.


A few friends, 200 coloured balls and some space or at least one friend, your hands and a high pain threshold.


Experience having played lots of games. These could be video games, board games, or playground games. We can draw experiences from all of them.


A range of prototyping materials (paper, playdough, LEGO, anything goes really)… find out more later.


Some form of social media space to share your thoughts with the rest of the community using #gchangers


Recommended Watching/Reading/Playing

There are a number of resources available to help you think about the topics we will be covering. Have a browse and get ahead of the game.

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.

Mission Task: Consider

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 (We’re 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

Mission Task: Consider

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 by tweeting us using #gchangers. Why not introduce yourself to the community whilst you’re at it?

Mission Two

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.

As a team, we GameChangers ourselves created plenty of games and playful experiences, from card games, to Alternate Reality Games, to escape rooms, and plenty more.

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

Mission Three

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.

Mission Task: Discuss

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.


And to conclude this first week: remember this is will not be just your story, as other people will be those actually playing it out. But what if they are not interested? What if this narrative doesn’t actually help them? What if it actually hurts, or excludes them?

More big questions, that a good playful designer needs to attend.

So join us in 7 days for the actual Week One of the Open Course, when together we’ll discuss Play and Empathy!

Visit Week One

Join us for week one where we will explore game design and empathy.

In week one we will discuss how play can put you in other people’s shoes, and how this is necessary to design playful activities.