Tag Archives: play

#Play14Barcelona and an unconference experience

Inside the Sagrada FamiliaI encountered Play14 thanks to two good friends of mine (Esther and Franc of Traico Projects) deciding to host an event in their home city of Barcelona. Here was a chance to (a) meet playful people from business, arts and education; (b) find out about the open Play14 ethos; and (c) get to explore Barcelona if time and space allowed.

Barcelona itself was in an edgy mood of course, but the people and demonstrations I encountered across the city were so friendly and curious to step into the unknown, that they set a great playful-yet-serious backdrop to the event. Play14 is based on the ‘open space’ unconference model, where participants propose sessions to create a programme each day, and then decide what they want to join in with. We were based in a fabulous space in the heart of Barcelona, just down from the stunning Sagrada Familia, with two large rooms and two small breakout spaces.

Play14 also has its own overriding ethos, which Yann Gensollen (one of the founders) was there to introduce – and this merged with the open space approach perfectly to create an open, sharing, curious and collaborative atmosphere.

Over the three days I collected many ideas for ice-breaking, team-building and reflective activities (littered between and in the session programme), explored the use of ‘escape’ games for student training, played and discussed The Ball Point Game (see it in action) for management training, used my touch and taste only to explore an alien world, and created shoe towers to harness creativity.

Tiny Epic Battles in progressI also playtested a new game I’ve designed to test the effectiveness of group sizes from one to 16 working on a common aim: Tiny Epic Battles. It worked really well (with evil triumphing good both times in epic fashion), but what was brilliant was having several colleagues there who I could discuss the gameplay and approach with: and I’ll be following this up with one of them who saw potential for its use in behavioural psychology. More news on this in the coming months.

Tiny Epic Battles in progress

We became such a close knit team straight away, and so headed out together in the evenings for meals and more playful discussions: allowing me to get a good taste of the city too, and marvel at Gaudi’s contribution to the landscape. All in all it was a really useful and interesting trip, and I fulfilled all three of my aims. Thank you everyone at Play14, and particularly Esther, Franc and Yann for being such perfect playful hosts.

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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.

Video link

Pink Paperclip Group activity – click for video

Group Activity PictureGroup Activity PictureGroup Activity Picture

 

 

 

 

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…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Counterplay 2014: Make People Play

I’ve been in touch with Mathias Poulsen, applied games evangelist working in Denmark, for several years: we have a shared interest in authentic contexts within games for learning. And so it was without any hesitation that I accepted an invitation from him to speak at a new conference he was organising based around the central idea of playfulness.

Counterplay a festival of play and games – brought together three aspects: playful learning, playful culture and playful business. More importantly, the sense of play extended to the whole event, with the fascinating cultural spaces in beautiful Aarhus used to great effect.

The 360° rainbow roof of Aarhus's ARoS art museum

The 360° rainbow roof of Aarhus’s ARoS art museum

Starting in Aarhus’s forward-thinking main library (games consoles and playful areas mix with the shelves of books), Mathias opened the conference by describing his aims in creating it, and then we were straight into an excellent opening keynote from Thomas Vigild (Head of Vallekilde Game Academy, Copenhagen) which looked back at classic definitions of play and linked them to modern examples in games and experiences, with a good sense of humour. The theme which I found most interesting was pausing within play: allowing us to reflect on our actions, think about what might be next, and strategise.

Splitting into the three tracks then, I caught a talk by Santeri Koivisto (Teacher Gaming LCC, creators of Minecraft Edu) who explained how they help teachers across the world to utilise Minecraft and now Kerbal in helping students to create landscapes, structures and stories for themselves. I switched to the culture track then, to hear Steen Nielsen – the Gaming Librarian from the Aarhus Library – talk about their plans for a new library building currently being built on the waterside. The interior has been designed around the ideas of children and adults playing, with media and traditional play spaces built in to the structure. Steen also described the kind of activities they run within the current library: from board game evenings to mini alternate reality games.

After lunch Kirsten Campbell Hughes from London’s EduGamesHub described the trials and benefits of creating and running the LEGup meetings. Mathias then hosted the first of three ‘open space’ discussions – two of which I participated in. The first asked how we could promote a culture of playfulness, and produced some great examples of small playful aspects from around the group (such as slow ninja fights for groups, or juggling to focus the mind). The second, the following day, split into various groups – and mine held a deep and engaging discussion about how we could introduce play and games into more schools and universities (create playful examples within teacher training or staff development days; and provide teachers with a few simple but powerful games to engage students in difficult skills like group work, reflection, problem solving etc.).

Godspanen cultural area

Godsbanen cultural area

At the end of the main talks we headed over to Godsbanen – where a Spilbar had been set up (game bar) in one of the warehouses. The area is a reclaimed space for artists, designers etc., and the warehouse housed a number of collaborative multiplayer games on consoles, kinects, and card games. I had great fun playing the unreleased Joust with the Kinect. More card games were played throughout the delicious meal, and we ended up finishing the night in (of all places) a Sherlock Holmes theme pub, complete with slightly creepy waxwork models and a displaced, thematically, karaoke bar.

There were play spaces within the main conference, and on the second day I spent some time watching and playing with beat blocks, music tiles and the utterly fun/frantic modular floor tiles from Playware. The sessions started with Phil Stuart showing examples of well-designed digital games; Harald Warmelink describing his PhD study linking online gaming/gamers to playful aspects of the  work environment; and Jean-Baptiste Huynh (the man behind Dragon Box) describing his national Norway Algebra Challenge – the success of which, and interesting model, came from a co-ordinated staged launch across the country with students battling against each other (modelled on the MOOC concept – learning small chunks at the same time). I then shared my thoughts about using simple contextual games to create authentic learning experiences – including some interactive Lego modelling – before Henrike Lode (designer of the excellent Machineers learning game, which I first saw a few years ago when Henrike was just graduating) gave an impassioned speech about killing off ‘edutainment’ and bad gamification, and gave us four examples of games where both the game and the learning had been designed properly together, to maximum effect for each.

I must make a quick mention here of the fabulous group of people at the conference, which provided for some fascinating discussion and shared learning across the two days and evenings. Special mention has to go to Zuraida Buter, playful curator of many things including the Global Game Jams, and Mathias, Henrike, Santeri, Thomas and Tobias mentioned elsewhere here: who made my trip much more valuable with their insights and long discussions over coffees and Danish beer.

Closing slide from Miguel Sicart: make people play

Closing slide from Miguel Sicart: make people play

The conference was wrapped up in perfect style: firstly with an experiential look at how Tobias Staaby uses zombie games (The Walking Dead and Last of Us) to teach complex psychological and ethical concepts to his classes (stopping for group discussion/voting at key decision points in the narrative). Miguel Sicart then provocatively claimed that games should die: but went on to make the clever observation that play and playfulness are what we need to aim for. A game may help people to become playful (although equally, so could objects or other people), but ultimately the game will be forgotten, whereas a sense of play can pervade and live on, through other experiences. It was a rousing call to arms – and finished the conference on a perfect slide:

make people play

Congratulations to Mathias for a truly excellent and immersive first conference: a playful format, playful topics, playful participants from diverse sectors, and a game which is set to play for many more rounds yet.

Museums at Play

A shiny and rather playful new book dropped on my doormat this morning: Museums at Play, the latest in MuseumsEtc.’s quick-to-press up to date publications for the museum sector.

I contributed a chapter on the use of pervasive or alternate reality games (ARGs)  in museums, drawing on a very interesting interview with Georgina Goodlander about her work at the LUCE foundation on the two ARGs Pheon and Ghosts of a Chance; and the work Juliette Culver did with Bletchley Park on our charity ARG for Cancer Research UK, Operation:Sleeper Cell. I strongly feel that ARGs provide a compelling approach to museum education, due to their low-tech and cheap budget (yet highly engaging) nature. Hopefully my chapter will encourage other museums to try this out.

The rest of the (mammoth, and expertly woven together by editor Katy Beale) book has an incredible variety of theoretical and practical approaches, case studies, and thought pieces. They cover game approaches from simple card games and treasure hunts, to multiple actor staged events and high-end digital installations; with many involving the museum audience in co-creation or collaborative outputs.

It’ll take a while to read through them all, but I challenge any museum education officer not to be inspired by at least one approach.