Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

Playing with Rules workshop at Lift Conference Geneva 2014

We ran our “Play­ing with Rules” work­shop at Lift Con­fer­ence in Gene­va ear­li­er this year. We’d host­ed it once before at Mozil­la Fes­ti­val and before that it was part of our con­sult­ing reper­toire as an exer­cise for clients. Above is a video of the out­comes we had this time around.

In the wee­knotes I link to above there are some take­aways already, but I thought it would be use­ful to doc­u­ment them here for pos­ter­i­ty. We con­tin­ue to be inter­est­ed in run­ning this as a work­shop at future events, but we try to take iter­a­tive design to heart and change things about the for­mat each time around.

In this case, we main­ly focused on improv­ing the on-board­ing. We spent some time dis­cussing the back­ground of the game every­one start­ed with; a vari­a­tion of Pachisi known in NL as “Mens erg­er je niet!” (“Do not get annoyed, man!”). We also tried to cre­ate a com­mon frame of ref­er­ence for the admit­ted­ly slip­pery term “social issue”. Def­i­n­i­tions are hard­ly ever use­ful, so we pro­vid­ed some descrip­tion of the dynam­ics we’re inter­est­ed in (con­flict in soci­ety between var­i­ous groups) and list­ed some obvi­ous exam­ples (unem­ploy­ment, racism, wide­spread gov­ern­ment spy­ing, etc.)

Most impor­tant­ly, we stepped through some exam­ple rules changes, which we took from the games cre­at­ed by play­ers at Mozil­la Fes­ti­val. By sim­ply show­ing the act of artic­u­lat­ing a design goal, defin­ing a rules change, play­ing the adjust­ed game and final­ly reflect­ing on the expe­ri­ence we got every­one on the same page as to the work part of the work­shop. This is what we would be doing for the next few hours.

One thing I real­ly like about our set­up is that before we get start­ed peo­ple can already join a table and start play­ing the game as it is. This is a superb ice break­er and a nat­ur­al result of the work­shop setup.

Look­ing back, what stood out for us were a few things:

The starter game might affect the issues par­tic­i­pants are inclined to choose. For exam­ple, we had a game about road rage, which is a great fit for the set­up of Parcheesi, because it already involves a race around the board. We’ve also seen quite a few games about immi­gra­tion, which again are a good fit because you’re mov­ing pawns from one area on the board into anoth­er area. It might be inter­est­ing to start from a dif­fer­ent boardgame the next time around. Or demand from par­tic­i­pants that they pick a theme that seems at odds with the game as it is.

Adapt­ing a boardgame is a very effec­tive way for novices to become acquaint­ed with game design. It is also a great basis for get­ting com­fort­able with the notion of iter­a­tive design in gen­er­al. Final­ly, mak­ing a game about a sub­ject, in a diverse group, is an inter­est­ing way to facil­i­tate a dis­cus­sion. It focus­es con­ver­sa­tion on what can be expressed as sys­tems and what can be mod­eled in a way that is direct­ly expe­ri­ence­able. In this way, it’s an odd but effec­tive way of ratio­nal think­ing and empa­thy combined.

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