Archive for December, 2006

Bernie DeKoven: Adults, Learning, and Fun: Its more than a game

December 21, 2006

Adults have a hard time letting ourselves have fun

even serious fun

Bernie DeKoven empowers adults to acknowledge the enjoyment we get out of doing something meaningful – he calls it “Deep Fun.”

BernieDeKovenI discovered Bernie thru the MacArthur dialog, “Pathways to Gaming:” how people come to games in the first place.

  Bernie suggests that “adults need games even more than kids.”   For adults, the pathway to games, and play, and fun is a hard road.  We’re concerned that if we look like we’re enjoying ourselves, we won’t be taken seriously.

Bernie says, “no organization suffers more from the ‘serious syndrome’ than nonprofits.”  We get so focused on the problem, the goal of alleviating the problem — we forget how much fun it is to work together from the heart.

Deep Fun 

Bernie’s “Deep Fun” oeuvre includes several key points that we can use for nonprofit social entrepreneurs making an elearning game together to solve the mystery of earned income profitability:

  1. When we give ourselves permission to have fun in our work — our work becomes more supportive, tolerant, open, giving, and more intrinsically rewarding
  2. Fun is more fun when you’re not the only one having it
  3. Collaboration is fun for us when:
    1.  we get to be in charge — at least part of making the agenda of what we’re going to do in the first place
    2. what we do engages our abilities, skills, expertise and challenges us to perform
    3. we are listened to — and our competence contributes to our collaborative work product

Collective Competency is Fun 

Collective competency is an increased collective capacity to meet greater challenges.  Bernie concludes that the experience of collective competency is fun for adults because it is mutually empowering. 

  1. Each individual increases the abilities of the collective. 
  2. The collective increases the abilities of the individual.

Technology is Fun

Technology is fun when we use it to support our collaborative work.  Technology can support collaborative work fun because:

  1. tech tools can separate an idea from its originator
  2. the tech tool then “owns” the idea and we can manipulate it freely
  3. we manipulate ideas thru the medium of what we are creating together
  4. the medium listens — we see ourselves heard by the medium
  5. the technological medium becomes a form of play in and of itself

Pathways to Gaming

Back to how people get to gaming in the first place, generally.  The primary gyst of pathways to gaming that emerged from the MacArthur dialog are SOCIAL.  Since, as I have pointed out, the MacArthur initiative is focused on kids — I’m gonna turn some of this around a bit.  How can adults get game?

  • Other people you know play: first contact with games arises from your social context – peers, role models, mentors (do your kids play games? do you play with them?)
  • You are “invited” to play (remember how it was while you waited to be picked for the Red Rover side? have your kids asked you to play with them?)
  • You are exposed to discussions about games that are infectious: linguistic frames posit gaming as a non-trivial learning space (anybody you know talking about learning games, serious games, games for social change?)
  • You use technology for any purpose: Web2.0 tools themselves are a platform for social play — its the tools themselves, not any particular game ( I mean, if you are reading this blog post, you are way past using email – corporate knowledge management system? customer relationship management system?…?)
  • Your personal values connect with game activity (do you value self-expression? challenge? making a difference? learning? collaboration?)

What if: Questioning Game + Duck-Duck-Goose

     Bernie has made a couple of games that I think we could combine in a cool way to serve our purpose.  The Questioning Game is for making meetings more fun.  His version of Duck-Duck-Goose is for those of us whose “olderness” makes it not so much fun to physically run around the circle.

      In the Questioning Game, each person’s answer to the previous person’s question ends with their own question.  And it passes to the next person, who answers and asks another question.  An issue is explored far beyond the initial question – as new questions keep emerging, drawn from our collective wisdom.

     In Duck-Duck-Goose, one person starts and turns to the person on their right and says “duck.”  That person turns to their right, and says “duck.”  And so on.  At some point, somebody turns to the person on their left and says “goose.”  Then we get “duck” going around the circle to the right, and “goose” going around the circle to the left.  The object of the game is not to be the one stuck with both Duck & Goose.

So — what if — we get “Questions” going around to the right and “Answers” going around to the left.  Object of the game = don’t be the one to get stuck with both Q&A.

Point is — each of us knows some questions.  Each of use knows some answers.  No one of us can make this game solving the mystery of nonprofit earned income profitability alone.

 Bernie says that we adults need to give ourselves permission to have fun in our work.  And he literally means “we.”  Bernie says our “group” is the only body that can provide and sustain the necessary permission.  In general, one pathway to games is “you get invited to play.”

I invite you to use this blog technology to play “Question/Duck + Goose/Answer.”

I invite you to invite others you know to play with us.

I invite us to give ourselves permission to have collaborative fun with profitability


Kurt Squire: SandBox Games + Possibility Spaces = Learning Detectives

December 17, 2006

Kurt thinks: Playing over and over again enables player/learners to detect the “winning” combination of relationships between complex variables

I’m thinking: We can strategically accelerate this process by building a knowledgebase that tracks what works and doesn’t work for other player/learners.  What if we play together to help each other “Win”? 

KurtSquireHomePageKurt Squire has dug deeply into one MMO, Civilization III and it’s “possibility space.”  He also helped develop one of my favorite MIT Games-to-Teach: Environmental Detectives

SandBox Possibilities

Sandbox Games — or open-ended simulations — create “possibility spaces” in which player/learners can explore and actualize any one of several different outcomes.  Player/learners experiment with Complex relationships among variables, rather than simple causal statements.  Learning through game play is a complex process of identifying important causal variables, interpreting and analyzing game play, and devising strategies based on emergent understandings. Learning from game play can be called abductive, in that players learn through recursive cycles of observation, analysis, and reflection.

Games are particularly interesting learning environments because they allow players opportunities to devise hypotheses and explore ideas’ consequences.  Crucial to this approach to learning is the replayability.  The emergent, non-linear, open-ended nature of gameplay in Civilization III results in several different gameplay strategies and encourages players to “replay” the game from different vantage points to test hypotheses.  Try the strategy — see the consequences of the strategy —  return to the critical point in the game — try alternate strategies.

In the SandBox Game, player/learners “scaffold” — build on prior learning — by playing over and over again. (“failing forward” similar concept).  It’s a classic ‘if at first you don’t succeed — try, try again’ approach to learning.  Not very acceptable in “school” — but out here in the real world, there is no successful entrepreneur who has not failed at least once.  Successful entrepreneurs learn from prior failures.  Successful entrepreneurs “scaffold” upon prior experience.

Database Possibilities

CivIII incorporates an impressive database and “report out” features.

The data embedded in Civilization III and tracked throughout the game play (such as cultural boundaries, population size, birth rates, literacy rates) are interesting tools that can also be used for visualization exercises. At the end of the game, players can “replay” the game in high speed as an animation, and see how these borders shift over time. Similarly, the game tracks the relatively strength of each civilization in a “powergraph” (calculated by adding a number of factors), and players can view the growth and evolution of each civilization in the game over time. Like the quantitative data that the game tracks, the game replay and powergraphs are fun tools for players to experiment with and suggest opportunities for supporting learning through reflection as to why specific trends (such as politically contested areas) emerge.

So – looks like you can see how you did what you did, and you can see how what you did compared to other players.  Not clear if you can see how other players did what they did.  My point = we could make it so we can see how other player/learners did what they did.  So we can learn together how to play our own game better. (in “school” they probably call that “cheating”).


EnvironmentalDetectives1Environmental Detectives is a totally cool combination of real-world and digital-world game play.  Player/learners are equipped with GPS programmed PDAs and work back and forth between a real physical location and digital data to detect the source of an environmental calamity.

The first thing I love about this learning game, is that the game developers found that EnvironmentalDetectives2detection/mystery is an emotionally compelling “metaphor” within which to set the stage. (since I think so too).

The second thing I love, is that among the first things the game developers did was to consult real-world experts.  The game developers turned to the real world to find out a) what’s the best question, b) what are best ways of finding out, c) what’s the best answer.   

Game developers asked environmental practitioners about what would be the: a) best source toxin to use in the game, and b) what are  best professional investigative practices to capture in the gameplay.  Real-world experts said that the developers’ choice of toxin was good, but there was a better one.  Real-world experts also pointed out that effective investigative practices are “critically dependent” upon interaction between primary (raw data collected on the spot) and secondary data (summative, background information).


for social entrepreneurs making an eleanring game together to solve the mystery of earned income profitability:

  1. Good game content and good gameplay requires real-world subject matter expert/practitioner input = WE are our own best experts

  2. Good game is grounded in good data

  3. Good data informs better gameplay

  4. 2+3 = our best data is our collective real-world experience AND mechanisms exist for us to build and share our datasource into gameplay to accelerate one another’s profitability  

  5. Good game REPLAYS possibilities back and forth between real-world and game-world = WE apply and test common solutions to our common problems in the real world; refine the solution based on that test; make the game better

Nonprofit earned income profitability is a


Ian Bogost: Rules of the Game = Persuasive Rhetoric

December 16, 2006

WaterCoolerGamesIan Bogost, contributor to the MacArthur Ecology of Games initiative, is also educator, co-author of the blog Water Cooler Games, and co-owner of Persuasive Games, Inc. – a game design studio making games about social issues.

Long and short of Ian’s thesis:

you can make an abortion game turn out to be prolife or prochoice, depending on the procedural rules

Games and their rules embody cultural values.  They represent systems and how the systems work.  Through representations, interactions, and symbolic manipulation.  Games can support existing social and cultural positions.  Games can also disrupt and change those positions — leading to significant long-term social change.  By understanding how games do this, we can design games whose purpose is to editorialize, teach, and make political statements.

Procedural rules of the game are, basically, what happens next when the player chooses to do X instead of Y.

When games do this on purpose, they make it possible for players to deepen their understanding of the multiple causal forces that affect any given set of circumstances.  Games can create a compressed version of the embodied experience of others.  In that context, the individual player’s knowledge gains distinctive meaning.

This magic happens when the consequences of the player’s action is connected to the values and assumptions that underlie the issue space by the rules of the game.  Ian argues that this design enables the player to experience the “worldview” itself that underlies the issue, not just the effects of a particular position within that world view.

This feat is accomplished by building the game rules upon a case-based knowledgebase that unpacks the values and assumptions underlying the issue.

Aside: If you’ve played Ayiti: Cost of Life, I understand many players have the same experience I did.  No matter how many rounds you play.  No matter what strategy you employ.  Your family just gets poorer and poorer. Hmmm… 

Persuasive Game Design Formula 

So the design formula looks like:

case-based knowledgebase + values + rules of game + consequences of player action =  issue position

BogostDesignIan acknowledges that building a case-based knowledgebase from scratch is “hard.” 

So he starts with existing “seed” games. 


  1. critique
  2. tweak
  3. mix

“Critique” identifies the difference between the current position and the desired position.  “Tweaking” minimizes the difference, by connecting the underlying values positively or negatively with player action.  Ian is worried that this alone will find the same solution over and over again.  So he “mixes” to make the system more creative, to more radically explore the underlying issue space.

Applying Ian to Social Enterprise Profitability 

How can social entrepreneurs making an elearning together to solve the mystery of earned income profitability apply Ian’s design concepts?

The key take-away for me so far is:

  • game rules connecting
  • the consequence of player/learner action
  • to underlying case-based knowledgebase (capturing the meta-patterns hidden in our collective experience; what works; what doesn’t work; why)
  • to produce profitable individual scenarios.

The good news: Ian’s design concepts make me believe even more strongly that we could actually do this!

The not-so-good news:

I’m afraid we’re gonna have to build our case-based knowledgebase from scratch

There are no existing “seed” games that speak to our issues.  Well, there are business games, financial games.  But do any of the ones you’ve seen resonate with you as a social entrepreneur?  Me either.  Conceivably, we could do the critique thing.  But I haven’t even seen any game I would want to work with at that level.  Tell us if YOU have.

BUT – it doesn’t have to be “hard” 

What I’ve really been thinking all along is: this making-the-game together game is itself the process by which we build a knowledgebase that is useful to us – full of our collective experience.  If we build our case-based knowledgebase by making the game together — it could be FUN!

WE make the rules of our own game

Rules that help us efficiently discover and apply our meta-patterns of profitability.  Rules that practically and effectively link the patterns in our knowledgebase to player/learner actions in the game to produce profitable earned income scenarios.  We can change our thinking, our behavior, our individual results – in the real world.  We can create rules that enable us to mix and remix, so we can fully explore the what-if scenarios.

I don’t know how this will “play out.”  I just have the idea that we can do it.  That’s why I want us to do it together.

What is the design of a making-the-game game that builds a case-based knowledgebase that makes the game better/more useful to us for discovering the meta-patterns of nonprofit earned income venture profitability?

Jane McGonigal – More, More, Massively More

December 15, 2006

Pleasure, Play, and High Performance

 the new glue that can scale learning communities beyond the 150 connections we thought we could manage

It used to be grooming – then it was language — now it is PLAY.

     Jane takes us through an analysis of how human beings connect to mobilize bigger and bigger communities to get things done.   My take-away: when we can’t physically touch each other, we can talk to each other.  When talking isn’t good enough = we can make a game together! YO.  This is very good news for us, since there are at least 550,000 nonprofit social entrepreneurs in the U.S. alone.

     janemcgonigalscreenshot_edited.JPGLike any good researcher, Jane’s postulations are based on experiential evidence.  Presently, she is lead game designer at 42 Entertainment; a Go Game and I Love Bees player.  Find out more about Jane and read her writings.

Massively more is a vision of digital social networks designed and deployed to produce more pleasure, more emergence, and more superpower, through community formation on a massive scale.  

More Pleasure

     Unfortunately for me/us – Jane leaves the “more pleasure” component as “intuitive.”  Sorta along the lines of Mae West “too much of a good thing is better.”  But then, grooming/caring physical touch we understand is pleasurable.  Playing games is pleasurable.  Got it.  But as community-building glue, I’d like to explore this component much more deeply.  This is at the core of why I think making a learning game together is a good idea!  Making a game together is much more pleasurable than ‘same old-same old’ knowledge management. Right? Tell me what YOU think.

More Emergence

     Jane points out that “emergence” is at the heart of all game play.  You can describe all the rules, but not all the products of the rules.  Surprise (that’s what makes learning FUN!)  We don’t know yet what we can learn together.  And so making a game together is an especially effective way for 550,000 people to learn together and discover what is hidden in our collective experience.

It is for this reason that ludic [game] structures are so well poised to produce more emergence of massively more; …supergaming examples… produced results by distributing the same rule set to massively multiple players and observing the “variety, novelty and surprise.”

More SuperPower

     The massive multiplayer community is capable of massively parallel problem-solving.  This is pretty dense, but point is we can think together in a virtual world and change each other’s performance in the real world, and change our own reality.  Change-making = Our discovery of common questions are the springboard for our discovery of our common solutions in our virtual game-making world.  We can apply those solutions to change our real-world.

virtuality is not limited to the digital realm of cyberspace – virtuality also exists as a networked mode of thinking and interacting in the material environment. “The virtual is a kind of problematic complex, the knot of tendencies or forces that accompanies a situation, event, object, or entity, and which invokes a process of resolution: In other words, the virtual is a suggested cause for and potential mode of engagement, which tends toward actual action and engagement. Virtualization, furthermore, is a “change in identity,” so that the virtualized entity “now finds its essential consistency within a problematic field. The virtualization of a given entity consists in determining the general question to which it responds, in mutating the entity in the direction of this question and redefining the initial actuality as the response to a specific question” This question, once discovered, can then be used as a springboard for further investigation and problem-solving; the virtualized entity may suggest “correspondences” to other entities, correspondences that enable the same question to be used as a primary cause for and mode of engagement, detached from the initial object. …virtualization is one of the principal vectors in the creation of reality”

So — looks like there is some theoretical and evidential basis for this idea of making a game together to solve the mystery of nonprofit earned income venture profitability!!!!  We CAN meaningfully connect on a large enough scale to discover strategic meta-patterns.  BECAUSE it is FUN.

mcgonigalwhirling_edited.JPGIF 450 people can digitially arrange to meet on specific street corners at the same time and whirl around when the lights change — SURELY nonprofit social entrepreneurs can build an elearning game-making community to make MORE MONEY to serve social missions.

Thank you Jane, for the reinforcement and re-inspiration.

“Behind the Curtain” at MacArthur Digital Media & Learning

December 15, 2006

My initial reaction to the MacArthur Digital Media & Learning initiative was one of frustration — it is focused on kids. 

I’m into adult learners — folks who want to learn and collaboratively manage knowledge to “get things done” (as Nancy White puts it)  in the real world.

However – for some cosmic reason, I decided to look a little deeper.  I have discovered a fountain of wealth “behind the curtain” that we can apply to our own initiative = social entrepreneurs making a game together to solve the mystery of nonprofit earned income profitability.

ecologyofgamesscreenshot_edited.JPGMacArthur has organized its initiative in a set of discrete projects.  One of which is “Ecology of Games.”  Ecology of Games is headed up by game designer Katie Salen, and includes several other contributors.

I am putting together a series of posts on each of these contributors.  I’ll digest and relate the key points I think we can take away and use from each of them.  But you can check them out yourselves — you will see things I don’t see.  In fact, I’ll be inviting each of them to come and see us.  I hope they will jump into our game and tell us what they think about what we are trying to do.

My first individual post focuses on Jane McGonigal.  Jane is convinced that “Pleasure, Play, and High Performance” is the new glue for massively scaling digital communities beyond that 150 people we thought was our limit for who we could connect with.  Her work reinforces my idea that making a game together is our best bet for discovering the patterns of nonprofit social entrepreneur venture profitability hidden in our collective experience — since there are at least 550,000 of us!

Actually, let me back up a second.  First thing I did was listen to a podcast of an interview conducted by Katie Salen.  Topics covered included “modding and world-building.”  Of particular interest to me — since I’m into player/learner-made content!  A progressive process was observed, where players move from:

  1. consumption (of the game, or other people’s mods)
  2. critique (of other people’s mods)
  3. create (their own mods)

So — I want to make it perfectly clear: TRASH ME!  I have set up a wiki for us to get started.  Everything I have already said can be scrapped and start over.

I will continue to update this post as I add individual posts.  Please take a look as I go along and add YOUR comments 🙂

P.S. Clarifying Note: The contributors’ “contributions” to the MacArthur volume do not yet exist.  My source material includes extant articles, presentations, podcasts, blogs, etc.

So far:

Jane McGonigal

Ian Bogost

Building the Game-Making Community

December 14, 2006


How do we play this “making the game” together game?

I see our game-making community as spanning and bridging multiple existing communities of practice or learning networks:


  1. Nonprofit social entrepreneur with an earned income venture
  2. Champion of nonprofit use of Web2.0 technologies
  3. Educator using Web2.0 tools (like wikis and blogs)
  4. Game Player or Game Maker
  5. Promoter of Games for Learning or Games for Social Change
  6. Collaboration devotee using web2.0 tools to share knowledge & get things done

GameMaking CommunityMap4In a sense we are all “newbies.”  In another sense, we are all EXPERTS.  We each know something that the game needs.  We each have expert experience in our respective community of practice.  But working together across our communities is new to all of us.

Making the game is a structure for us to think together with.  Making the game = the game.  I believe the structure of making a game together can itself bridge and span our multiple communities – for the purpose of sharing knowledge and getting things done.  Am I crazy?  But so HOW do we LEARN HOW TO PLAY TOGETHER?

Newbie Apprenticeship 

Constance Steinkuehler eloquently describes the process by which MMO “newbies” are brought into fuller participation in the game.  “Apprenticeship” is a process by which the “teacher” and “learner” engage together to complete a task.  The more experienced player provides just enough information, just in time, for the new player to practice applying that bit of information to the task.  This “practice” – in the context of use – resulting in success or “failure” – followed immediately by feedback — creates the circumstance where new players learn to play the game better and better as they test their new skills in the company of the more experienced player. 

In OUR game-making community — our task is to mentor each other at the same time! 

Each of us is both expert and newbie at the moment of interaction: Nonprofit social entrepreneurs may know nothing about gaming/Gamers may know nothing about nonprofits.   

Asking & Answering

Kathy Sierra (Creating Passionate Users) tells us that “newbies” ask questionsExperts give answers.  Kathy suggests that the sooner folks move from asker to answerer – the faster the community grows, and the higher the engagement will be.  

In OUR game-making community — our task is to BOTH ask and answer throughout the process of making the game.  We shift and trade roles depending upon what the game needs right now.

Mutual Respect

Not hardly new news.  Kathy asks, “How can we motivate askers to become answerers?”   Tom Haskins has a neat answer:

1. I assume this is something you already do, but you don’t realize you do it. Let me show you how you do this sometimes and have success with this. Then you can amplify this exceptional conduct of yours, call upon this internal resource more often, and feel more confident about your capabilities

2. I assume this is something that can be learned, but cannot be taught. Let me support you in using your experiences to change your mind, access other choices or respond more effectively to your particular challenges. Then you can utilize what you realized yourself with your intrinsic motivation and ownership of your understanding.

3. I assume this is something you’ll do quite naturally once it makes enough sense to you. Let me share some of the ways that I’ve made more sense of what happens, different ways to approach this and why some methods backfire. Then you can make sense of what happens to you and come around to seeing the value of doing this thing on your own.

4. I assume this is something you’ll discover on your own like I did. Let me walk you through the process of my setbacks, forks in the road and battles with naysayers. Then you can take your own journey and adventure through the maze of misleading cues like a detective in a mystery story. 

On OUR game-making community — the mystery of what we will make out of our collaboration is what makes it so much FUN!  You know the old adage: there’s no such thing as a dumb question.  In our case – who’s to say what’s a dumb answer?  Well, WE are.  AFTER we test it and find out it doesn’t work in the real world.  The only really dumb thing is repeating the same mistake twice.  Even then, there’s:

“Failing” Forward

Recycling thru the content is not failure — rather it is deeper learning.  Learning is the experience cycle of practice and feedback.  Learning together is social interaction.  The whole point of our interaction and communication, as Stephen Downes suggests, is for us to change each other.

For OUR game-making community: Maybe I don’t have to learn everything the “hard way.”  Maybe I can learn from YOUR experience.  Togehter we can discover the patterns hidden in our collective experience and solve the mystery of nonprofit earned income profitability.

Use Tools to Embrace Chaos

George Siemens , regarding networks and learning design, suggests that the ecology of networked learning is a messy, chaotic space. Peter Meholz , in “designing for the sandbox,” says that the experience is — and should be — decentralized, co-created, remixed, and emergent.  Basically, the designer only has control over the tools and nothing else.  The tools are what people use to manage and manipulate information for a purpose.  So: set up the tools, throw stuff out there, and see how people use it to do whatever they can do to make a useful experience.  Nancy White keeps reminding us ‘if it ain’t useful, what’s the use?’ (my paraphrase).  My theory is that if the player/learners don’t know what’s useful to them, nobdy does.  Back to chaos.  But then there’s that other theory of thermodynamic equilibrium: we need to pass thru the state of chaos to get to stability.

GameMaking CommunityMap4For OUR game-making community, I have set up bare essential tools — a wiki and this blog — for us to use as a platform to get started.  Can we make something useful together out of nothing?

Learning from World of Warcraft

December 14, 2006


What do Social Entrepreneurs and Night Elf Druids have in common?

Learning from Each Other = That’s What

WoWwiki  World of Warcraft wiki is a great example of how a wiki can be constructed collaboratively to improve practice.

For example, the Community Portal Page includes a “Things To Do” list and a “Collaborative Projects” list.  Community members create the lists of things to do and collaborative projects to accomplish — made out of the things that matter to them.

The WoW wiki has evolved over time to become what it is now.  Now,  it has value for its members.  But they had to start somewhere.  They had to start at the beginning.  Just like we do.  They are a model of what we can become = an organized, structured, collaborative learning community.

They didn’t start out organized and structured.  They started out in chaos — just like we are.  They started out not knowing what they would become — just like we are.  We might not end up like they did.  But they are a an excellent model of what a community can do with a wiki tool for sharing knowledge and enhancing practice.


Another example: Kaliope’s blog is dedicated to enhancing the tradeskills of skinner, leatherworker, fishing, cooking, and first aid for World of Warcraft gamers.  It is one of the fastest growing blogs on wordpress.

Check out this post and comments regarding “jewel-making recipes.” 

What if social entrepreneurs discuss “earned income profit-making recipes” in the same way?