Work-at-Play-at-Work

The first meeting of the Work-at-Play-at-Work Society met at Counterplay 2017.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘invitation to play’ recently: what invites people to engage in playful activity; is it different for each person? And then what allows them to continue playing?

The description was as follows:

“We might be playful individuals, but we work in often distinctly unplayful organisations. To consider this problem, join me for a board meeting. We’ll sit around a table. We’ll have an agenda. We’ll have slides. None of us will have read the papers in advance. There may or may not be coffee. Let’s see how far down the agenda we get, before someone says “what if we did it like this…”

There was a formal agenda, as attached here. Once all members were in the room (excluding Valerie from Admin, who forgot to come), we began with Apologies. Members were asked to apologise for something distinctly un-playful they do regularly at work.

This slightly playful twist on proceedings produced some surprisingly revealing apologies: with people admitting to ignoring what goes on in most meetings; avoiding speaking so as not to prolong the meeting, etc.

Introductions were next, and we went around the table so that all members knew who was represented.

Everyone was given a name card (eg. Luna, Erik…) and the person opposite was asked to give them a job title and department. To the left of me I had Algernon the Management Financial Analyst from the Department of Financial Management Analysis; to the right of me I had Xavier, a shadowy figure from ‘up above’, who cast an acusative eye over the whole meeting.

Members were reminded of their action points from last meeting, and asked to report on them later in the meeting.

I had created a set of secret Action Cards, one for each person. Over the rest of the meeting, it was really interesting to see how they each approached their actions: one member winked at another via twitter, for example. Others used the following activity to mask their missions.

We then found that Valerie had mixed up the Minutes from the Last Meeting, and they were distributed across the papers in front of each member. It took some time to get them back into some sort of order.

I had taken the first 50 pages of Frankenstein from Project Gutenberg, and mixed them up across the 24 paper packs. There were some clues (the start page, end page and some chapter breaks) but everyone was soon up trying to match their pages with others, lay them out on the side, etc.
By the end of these last two activities, everyone knew everyone else in the room, which made the following exercises much easier.

The main section of the meeting was a design exercise. Members were formed into small groups, and asked to design meeting activities together. Members engaged actively with this exercise.

I’d used different colour paperclips on each set of papers, strategically placed around the table, so that some groups were near to each other, but others had to work across the length of the table. Their task was to design a playful activity using only materials in the meeting room. Things got very playful, very quickly.

Link from Dog Grooming fortunately took good minutes in the absence of Valerie, which you can see here.

I was particularly impressed with the idea of massages as a reward; and the use of the underside of the table for secret meetings.

Massages

Members then shared their activity ideas, and the meeting attempted each one to test its effectiveness.

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Pink Paperclip Group activity – click for video

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The meeting ended with arranging the date of the next meeting (after failing to find a free slot in all 24 diaries within the next year we used the time-honoured and always successful method of arranging a Doodle poll).

The meeting closed.

A simple experiment, which started with a few simple playful twists on the traditional meeting, took on a life of its own when the participants accepted and ran with the invitation to play. I was hugely impressed with the work everyone put in to create such inventive activities, and to complete their own secret actions; probably more work – certainly collectively – than any business/committee meeting in history.
This was, of course, an inherently playful audience, but I was struck with how easy it was to set up and subvert a mundane daily activity. What if, in a meeting, apologies were indeed a chance to say sorry for unproductive work; or if attendees took on ‘secret’ roles or actions to engage them during the meeting; or if playful constraints were used to create small group activities with a meaningful aim? The experiment continues…

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Counterplay 17

Following my research and teaching trips, culminating at the harbour of the increasingly beautiful and cosmopolitan Aarhus, I arrived in plenty of time for the beginning of Counterplay 17. Not that I needed to worry, as the wonderful Mathias Poulsen (who almost single-handedly forms this playful bubble into existence each year) opened proceedings by telling us that playful people tend to be late.

This was followed by a blast of an opening by Anthea Moys, who herself arrived late on the stage – climbing and apologising to everyone she trampled over; and then proceeded to ask us to do the same, to find our actual seats. When we found them, we had to draw our neighbour’s faces without looking down at our paper. A great start that set the tone for the whole conference, this was just one of Anthea’s examples of her incredible playful art projects in Johannesburg.

Climbing and drawing

Anthea had us climbing, apologising and drawing

She mastered twelve different sports and then played, single-handedly, against twelve first teams. Her aim was to accept and stare failure in the face; and redefine success as the act of learning and playing, rather than failing to win. An approach that resonated with many, and created ripples of discussion about failure over the rest of the day. Gwen Gordon followed Anthea; a former Muppets puppeteer, who now uses play to improve lifestyles.

My session was next. I’m currently interested in the ‘invitation to play’; or what causes people to accept a playful activity, or reject it. I therefore had an idea about introducing elements of play into a non-playful scenario played out in every institution across the world: the board/committee meeting. We started with Apologies (apologising for something non-playful we do within our jobs), Introductions (giving each other fictitious names and roles) and the minutes of the last meeting – the 50 pages of which happened to be distributed across each attendees’ pack in random order. After that, things got very strange; as attendees tried to complete secret missions whilst creating their own playful approaches within the meeting room. It was really difficult to remain seated and straight-faced, as I decided the Chair should do.

Active session

After lunch, and meeting up with old and new friends from across Europe, I attended Luca Morini‘s session on playfully hacking serious systems. Luca had us exploring the fabulous venue of Dokk1 (the huge and open public library that Counterplay occupies, in amongst the daily life of thousands of local students and families) in order to find places that were closed to us, for some reason. He used this as a way to introduce his idea that formal systems are game-like: they follow rules and states – and therefore can be gamed themselves.

An energetic keynote next from Portia Tung, who shared her approach to introducing play into corporate boardrooms. And then it was time to launch the first Counterplay book, The Power of Play, including articles, games and activities from many attendees of last year’s conference (myself included). It’s a beautiful, thoughtful and creative book – which I’m still leafing through and finding new interesting things to do and think about.

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In the evenings we all headed to the excellent new Aarhus Street Food area, with stalls selling food from around the world, and good local craft beer to match. It was here that much of the creative thinking and networking went on each evening.

Day two dawned, and two of the people I’d been talking to at length in the evening were speaking: Kirsten Anderson, who had us all blowing bubbles; and Dom Breadmore from Coventry University, who gave a great talk about the invitation to play, and the importance of designing playable experiences, rather than playful ones (more agency in the former, when they invite interaction). I spent the rest of the morning exploring all the activities around Dokk1 outside the formal programme, including catching up with Rikke and Claus from Coding Pirates, who were working with children on creating Viking-themed games.

CPtweet1After lunch we became future explorers, heading out into the city in small teams to help Eva (a fictional character we created based on the hashtag #finding4eva) create a map of future elements within the city. This was part of an ongoing project by Dan Barnard, and gave us a new way to explore the city’s hidden areas, as well as thinking about environmental issues and future planning. Also, our team won (yay!).

It was then time for the final keynotes. Lena Mech followed the theme from the earlier workshop by using examples of playful work in cities to suggest that the invitation to play is more complex than we might think: we shouldn’t, she suggests, be arrogant in thinking that everyone can play, and should instead use ludic markers to tempt them in: whether human activity, or physical attributes in the landscape. Finally, returning four years on after his first (excellent) keynote at the first Counterplay, Miguel Sicart was back to pace the stage again. Like a prowling tiger, Miguel added what – in my opinion – could have been the last chapter of his book: a call to arms. He used examples of playful/creative groups that have worked against dictatorships or regimes to show us that small personal or group actions can start to work against dominant negative forces. A fabulous finish to the formal programme.

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As last year, there was a further day of creative play following the main conference – so about half of us returned on the Saturday to consolidate our thinking around this year’s emergent themes. My group was thinking about setting seeds and growing playful approaches outside of the conference; and we came up with the idea to connect different people together with a tangible artefact – a package that would be sent between us with something to apply to our own context, and then add something else before sending it on (see Marian’s explanatory post).

In amongst the thinking, I also attended a final session by Mikel Haul, who has been researching the origin and development of the Chase the Goose popular game from the Ancient Greeks. His plan is to create a physical version of the board game, including its iconic squares (such as death, or the well), at spaces in Middlesborough, Tokyo, and Aarhus: and so we helped him by mapping out the board over the circular levels of Dokk1.

And that was it, although many played on well into the night – and through the flights home. It was, yet again, an incredible experience: almost all due to the people who attend from across the world with a common ethos – I made many new friends and colleagues who I’ll be carrying on the thinking and conversations with as the year progresses. Huge thanks to everyone who was there and made it such an incredible experience – and in particular to Mathias and his team of helpers, without whom this wonderful event wouldn’t occur.

 

 

 

 

 

Denmark Research/Teaching Trip

Over nine days at the end of March, I was honoured to be invited over to Denmark to work on two projects connected to my research and teaching.

Monumental statues by Thomas Kadziola on Lolland island

The first was the HistBattles project, being developed at the wonderful Lolland-Falster museum in Nykøbing Falster (on one of the two southern-most islands of Denmark). Erik Kristiansen, who I had worked with on the Transforming Thresholds project, is leading a project to create twelve alternate reality games (ARGs) to teach the local history of the islands to 13-18 year olds.

A rune stone

A rune stone at a church on Lolland island; one of the sites for the game.

Each ARG will cover a period of Danish history, and will be connected to one of the sites covered by the museum across the two islands. I was there to help scope out a framework for the game, and to help local staff start to design the puzzles and meta game. No further spoilers, but I’ll post more details as the project develops. The aim is to launch the first game in the Summer.

The second project was a guest teaching role at Aarhus University, firstly for the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media (CUDiM) – where I talked about online learning and curriculum design for the digital age; and then as a guest speaker for the House of Game//Play and Game Design Masters course, I ran a talk/workshop around Alternate reality and pervasive games. Both days were really interesting, with engaged students and staff entering into some deep discussions around both areas. The organisers,  Rikke Toft Nørgård and Claus Toft-Nielsen, then introduced me to their Coding Pirate workshops, where younger students (9-16) were creating their own computer games, and building mazes for robots and LEGO models. My thanks to Rikke, Claus and all the students and staff at the Centre for such an interesting and welcoming two days.

Students playing game

Students playing my ARG-cards game.

All of this playful activity was the perfect precursor to Counterplay 2017, which I’ll be reporting on in a following post.

Playful Learning 2017

Playful Learning is returning to Manchester this July, following a very successful first year.

Designed as a playful alternative to the traditional conference, Playful Learning focuses on the application of play and games within adult learning, and we welcome anyone interested in this area – whether Higher and Further Education teachers, researchers, trainers and students;  library, museum and local government education officers; workplace trainers; educational designers; learning technologists; in fact anyone involved in adult learning who has an interest in engaging people through play.

We’re planning a range of activities that take place around the timetabled sessions, but are also still inviting session proposals for the main timetable.

The call closes on 17th February, but if you don’t think you’ll be able to meet the deadline and are interested in proposing a session, please contact me at alex.moseley at le.ac.uk

Registration is also now open – see http://conference.playthinklearn.net/ for details.

 

Lego® Serious Play®

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Robert addressing the model

I’ve just emerged from four days in London, immersed in the official Lego® Serious Play® (LSP) Facilitator training. After almost 96 hours of Lego-based work and play (it was hard not to dream about Lego after the long days), I returned with stud-impressions in my fingers and a mind full of possibilities.

Joined by 12 wonderful participants from business and education, from across Europe and the US, the training was delivered by one of the original creators of LSP, Robert Rasmussen.

I can’t divulge too many trade secrets here, but can share a few of the highlights:

  • Watching Robert facilitate was a master class in itself: his experience and charismatic yet carefully crafted approach kept us all engaged throughout the whole training course.
  • LSP is based on two simple principles: everyone gets to share their thoughts, and everyone listens; and all thinking is done through model making.
  • We were, of course, surrounded by Lego throughout – and I was amazed how simply fiddling with the bricks, testing the ways they fitted together and making small meaningless creations, helped my concentration and thinking during our ‘reflective’ moments. Since returning to work, I now have a small pile of Lego permanently on my desktop.
  • LSP uses metaphor and storytelling: over the four days we created individual models representing our skills and approaches; shared models to build a sense of our collective abilities; and hugely rich landscapes where we could experiment with events and futures to see how our network would be affected. The power of the approach is incredible.

I’ve already thought of a number of strategic and team-based meetings I can apply the approach to within my own institution; and the rich network we developed between the participants is already bringing opportunities for shared approaches across Europe.

The LSP website can be found at: http://seriousplay.training

I’m now a qualified facilitator, so get in touch if you’re interested in the LSP approach.

Playful Learning 2016 #playlearn16

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I’m deep in the planning phase of launching a new and playful conference this July, with my co-chairing colleagues from Manchester Metropolitan University (Nic Whitton and Mark Langan).

Our simple concept is to see what engaging things happen at the intersection of learning, play and games. We’re planning the conference around this, eschewing standard ‘paper reading’ sessions for more playful workshops or interactions; arranging some playful activities and surprises around the sessions and through the evenings; but most importantly setting up an environment where the surprising might happen.

Come and join us! http://conference.playthinklearn.net/

We’ll be posting more details on Twitter as the event approaches, too: https://twitter.com/playlearnconf 

 

Simple and familiar

This is a great little insight into the game design process behind the hugely popular Angry Birds mobile game. Note how familiar concepts (eg. catapults) were close to being dismissed, but ended up being the main engaging mechanic in the final game.

http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/feb/23/how-we-made-angry-birds