Archive for the ‘learning_games’ Category

Redesign PlayTest — Ready to Play

April 25, 2007

You are Cordially Invited

to PlayTest

the second iterative redesign of SElearninggames


Working Draft Scrn ShtThe redesigned SElearninggames wraps recognizable rules of game play around wiki and and blog tools to get us started making the elearning game together. Rounds and moves of game activities enable us to discover our common questions and common answers about nonprofit earned income venture profitability.

Our common questions and our common answers are the “meat & potatoes” elearning game content. Day-to-day, social entrepreneurs face operational and management questions that require balance between mission and money objectives. By sharing our questions, we can discover the key questions we have in common. We share our answers – we discover our common answers.

The relationship between our common questions and our common answers are the learning game “rules of play.” These rules of play arise straight out of our collective experience — when we see that ‘when you do “X”, then “Y” happens.’ The rules of play are the strategic meta-pattern solutions to our profitability problems.

Our first Question is about our Questions!

What is the key question balancing mission/money that YOU know nonprofit social entrepreneurs are asking about day-to-day operations, management, or feasibility of an earned income venture?

So – the answers to our first question are questions.

We are integrating a tool that enables us to generate and rate our questions. The top three questions will be popped back into the tool to generate and rate our answers. We can use this blog to discuss, refine, flesh out our questions/answers, problems/solutions. We use the wiki as the long-term repository of what we are discovering — creating the “paper & pencil” version of our elearning game design.

Come on over and play

See how you can share your questions.

See how you can share your answers.

See how we can discover what we have in common.

See how you can use the relationships we discover about what we have in common to increase the profitability of your own nonprofit earned income venture.

You can go directly from this blog post to enter your question.

You can put your question into a comment to this post for further discussion.

This is us — making the game together — as we play.


Redesign Theme Emerging = STORY

March 20, 2007

“You are in a galaxy far away … your job is to save the world…”

The Selearninggames Redesign Team is off to a fun start. [cf. previous post] The early emergence of the story-telling redesign theme is very cool – because story-telling is a classic game design principle.

Question: What is the simplest redesign thing we can do to make it clearer “how to” participate in making the game?

Answer: Clarify the goals by “telling me a story about what we are doing here.”

Story as Game (Re)Design Principle

Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman (Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals) provide us with a basic definition of “story”: there is an initial situation; then there is a sequence that leads to change in that situation.

A story includes things like: plot, character, and patterned repetition of key elements. We (us human beings from earth, not necessarily those guys on other planets in other parts of the galaxy) use story-telling to process information and make sense out of stuff.

S & Z tell us that story-telling plays out in game design in two different ways:

  1. Embedded = you play inside the story that the game-makers made up
  2. Emergent = you make up your own story as you play (but – you are still playing within the rules of the game that the game-makers made up)

The embedded story is fixed and pre-determined. Every player gets the same story. The end of the story is the same for every player.

The emergent story arises out of your action choices in the game. Your choice leads to a different outcome. The end of your story depends on your choices during the game.

Emergent stories arise from player interactions that are both “coupled” and “context-dependent.”

  1. Coupled = game elements act together in ways that a single element cannot (one action creates creates a change that creates another change in the overall system of the game)
  2. Context-dependent = changes are not the same every time (changes depend upon what else is happening in the game system at the moment of your action choice)


The Role of Story-Telling in Game (Re)Design

A fundamental building block of narrative game design =

game goal.

The goal guides players in understanding the significance of their action in context.

Our “Bee” Redesign Team echoes:

For Kevin Jones, the objective of telling a story is to make the goals of this making-the-game game more clear. Making the game goal more clear will help to clarify “how to” participate.

Playing a game means interacting with and within a space of possibility that has narrative dimensions.

When you start playing the game — your story begins.

For Steve Sherlock, the beginning of the story is our desire. Our desire to make the making-the-game game happen.

The idea of story-telling as redesign principle raises a bunch of more questions for me. What kind of story do WE need?:

Is our story about making the game?

Is our story about “how to” make the game together?

Is our story about what will happen in the making-the-game game?

Is our story about what will happen when we play the game “after” we make it?

How can we tell a story about a game who’s very essence is the concatenation of all of our stories?

How can we tell a story about a game that we keep on making – a game that never ends?

My version of the story:

our making-the-game together game is

a story we need to tell ourselves

That’s a different story.

The story that S & Z tell about stories in game design is a story about story in a game that somebody else made for us.

The story we need to tell is a story about a story we are telling ourselves.

A story about a game we are making for ourselves.

Here’s my Quick & Dirty:

Game Goal = improve profitability for individual nonprofit earned income ventures

Game Concept = game goal is accomplished thru discovery and application of strategic pattern solutions to profitability problems hidden in collective real-world experience

Game Design = collaboratively player/learner-made

That’s not a “story.”

How ‘Bout this “Story”:

Once upon a time, there were over 500,000 nonprofit organizations in the U.S. alone who operated (or wished to operate) an earned income venture. Unfortunately, less than half of these ventures were “profitable” (i.e., generated NET income to support their charitable missions).

Some of these social entrepreneurs believe that the clues to solving the mystery of earned income venture profitability lie hidden in our collective real-world experience. These social entrepreneurs believe that making an elearning game together can help us harness our collective intelligence. The goal of playing the making-the-game together game is to increase the profitability of our own individual earned income ventures.

Our first step in making this learning game together is to use free Web2.0 tools (like wiki and blog) to share our common profitability questions and discover our common profitability solutions. Out of our sharing, we make the core content and rules of this game for ourselves — out of our real-world experience.

Our first step story:

  • share our individual questions
  • discover our common questions

Our second step story:

  • share our individual answers
  • discover our common solutions

Our common questions and our common solutions are the game content. This content is not imposed on us — we tell each other what it is.

The rules of the game are the relationships between our common questions and our common solutions. The rules that connect our questions with our answers are not imposed on us — our real-world experience shows us what the connection is. Our story about profitability emerges out of our playing the -making-the-game game together.

The solution to the profitability mystery is the meta-patterns of our common answers.

Your first mission (should you choose to accept it) is:

share your earned income venture profitability question.

[this message will self-destruct if nobody plays][we will all be more profitable if we play together]

Our Game-making Possibility Space

S&Z tell us that playing a game means interacting with and within a space of possibility with narrative dimensions. A story starts with an initial situation, and a sequence that leads to a change in that situation. Our initial situation = unprofitability (or not as profitable as we want to be). Together, we can set in motion a sequence that leads to change in that situation. We can tell our own story about nonprofit earned income profitability.The possibilities for how OUR story will unfold are endless and/or we don’t know what they are yet. Looks like we feel like we need to narrow it down. Looks like we could narrow it down with the story we tell ourselves.

Our “Bee” Redesign Team workspace wiki page is set up in a Question/Answer Game

external image CUTEBEE.GIF

format. Please join us.

What are YOUR questions?

What are YOUR answers?

What’s YOUR version of the STORY?

Initial Playtest Results — Collaborative Next Step Iterative Design

March 10, 2007

Positive: concept/theory

Not-so-positive: engagement/participation

Call for a “Bee” Team to take Next Step Iterative Redesign

(“Plan ‘Bee’ is to make Plan A work”)




78.9% say YES.

Making an elearning game together CAN

help nonprofit social entrepreneurs

solve the mystery of earned income venture profitability.


most Selearninggames wiki visitors


So far:

Selearninggames is ‘engaging’ on a conceptual/theoretical level, but not engaging on a level of participation in making the game. We’re not having fun yet (in fact, it sounds more like work).

Profound questions were posed.

what does making the game “together” mean?

what’s a good source of real-life data?

what does playing “Flood It” have to do with social entrepreneurship?

is it the game? or is it MAKING the game?

The Selearninggames concept has been referred to as a “breakthrough” idea.

“This game could be about developing a game to design a game to design a solution that our non-profit could employ as its social venture”

“Building a game in which players look to achieve the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] would be unreal.”

“I think the essence of fun in MMO’s is working with other people to overcome challenges. Can we figure out how to replace the fun of killing monsters with the fun of slaying real world challenges?”

One cool example of actually playing the making-the-game game can be found in the comments to my earlier post (where myself, Bernie DeKoven, and Steve Sherlock play with making a Question/Answer + Duck-Duck-Goose game).


Results like these guide our iterative next steps.

Concept/Theory is good

My theory is that social entrepreneurs over the past 10 years have built up enough collective experience/collective intelligence to solve the profitability problem – we just don’t know what we know!

We can make a learning game together to discover what we know — apply what we learn in the game — and improve real-world profitability for individual ventures.


Game Goal = improve profitability for individual nonprofit earned income ventures
Game Concept = game goal is accomplished thru collaborative discovery and application of strategic meta-pattern solutions to common profitability problems hidden in our collective real-world experience
Game Design = collaboratively player/learner-made


Building blocks of the concept:


  • Together, nonprofit social entrepreneurs know everything any one of us needs to know – we just don’t yet know that we know it.
  • The strategic meta-pattern solutions to our common profitability problems are hidden in our collective real-world experience.
  • Patterns are common solutions to common problems that have been proven effective over and over again.
  • Games are inherently ordered by a pattern language – therefore, a game is a natural structure for us to think together with for the purpose of discovering our hidden patterns.
  • MAKING a game (even more than playing a game) facilitates higher-order, big-system analysis of the relationship between our common questions, our common problems, and systemic consequences.
  • Multi-player/learner communities are capable of massively parallel problem-solving.
  • Problems solved in the virtual world can be applied to change outcomes in the real world.
  • Results of real-world application can be fed back into the game, making the game better (and more useful) as player/learners play.


Here’s how I see it “playing out”:

Design Phase: player/learners engage with free Web2.0 tools (wiki and blog) to collaboratively create game content and rules of play built out of collective real-world experience.

Development Phase: put the tech to it: features and functionality of game engine, learning management systems, and business intelligence technologies mobilize the player/learner-made game content and game rules.


Design Dilemma: Over-design/Under-design

Selearninggames wiki to date is poised the horns of that dilemma: it is both.

The question about what to do and how to start making the game together draws a fine line in the sand.

Selearninggames is striving to straddle that fine line between:

  • enabling us to do-it-for-ourselves (make our own game together)
  • telling you what to do (make the game for you)

external image podcast_merholz.jpgPeter Merholz
“Designing for the Sandbox” (jump to about minute-10 on this podcast), and others, have suggested that the designers’ role is to set the stage with a vision, values, tools and context; then embrace the chaos: people will make something useful of it for themselves.

I also read somewhere “let them build it and they will come.” They came, but didn’t engage in building something useful yet.

Qualitative and quantitative feedback tells us that Selearninggames is “under-designed.” Visitors to the wiki don’t know what to do, don’t know how to get started, and therefore, have not participated (re: page edits, discussion comments).

Redesign challenge: facilitate player/learner engagement and participation in making the game together … tell us what to do without “telling us what to do”

Interestingly, there has been a higher level of “backchannel” participation – communication in private messages or in other forums. Correspondingly, there has been more blog comments than wiki participation; more wiki discussion than wiki page edits.

Redesign challenge: encourage the backchannel into the collaborative open space … get us started without “telling us how to start”

Selearninggames may also be “over-designed” in the sense that the concept/theory is too much in the forefront. (in my own opinion – may be what makes it sound like more work and less play; so if you want more concept/theory details, just take a look at the wiki!). Paradoxically, it is the concept/theory that has attracted the positive attention.

Redesign challenge: set an attractive stage: present concept/theory with vision, values, and context — without erecting a barrier to participation


Call for “Bee” Team: Next Step Iterative Redesign

My Photo

Jane McGonigal suggests an approach based on how “I Love Bees” worked to engage a multi-player community in participation.

Despite a lack of instructions, and nowhere to turn for direct answers, players across the world self-organized into small groups to approach the problem from different angles.

These small groups proposed various solutions. Some were incorporated into the rules about how to play the ‘large-group’ game (indeed, some solutions initially rejected were later adopted as the game evolved). Armed with these solutions, players made sense out of a collection of Web2.0-delivered GPS coordinates and times. These GPS/times data revealed clues about virtually coordinated real-world action steps to unlock the mystery posed by the game.

Our Selearninggames “Bee” Team

This is what I’m talkin’ about:

I am talking about a small collaborative core team to generate the next iterative redesign of Selearninggames wiki and blog tools.


Make it clearer “how to” participate in the making-the-game game.

  1. Find that fine line between under-design and over-design
  2. That will actively engage broad-based, cross-community participation in the making-the-game game

This is not what I’m talkin’ about: I am not talking about a “seed” participant group. I am talking about resolving a tool design problem.

I read somewhere that a successful wiki needs to get a jump start from a small group of dedicated participants who “seed” the engagement and participation of others. I thought that such a seed group might emerge, rather than be artificially constructed; it didn’t. I thought this emergent seed group might grab hold of and resolve making-the-game game design questions themselves; they didn’t.

It’s a tool design problem we need to solve – there is no point in attempting to seed participation, until participants have a clearer idea about “what to do.”

What does the “Bee” Team look like; how will it work?

(Heard on NPR this morning: “Plan ‘Bee’ is to make Plan A work”)

The “Bee” Team looks like:

The “Bee” Team is one small group (6-12 ?) composed of like-minded folks approaching the wiki & blog redesign goal from different perspectives:

  1. nonprofit social entrepreneurs
  2. gaming
  3. elearning
  4. Web2.0 community-building

How will the “Bee” Team work?:

The “Bee” Team will work collaboratively with Web2.0 tools.

Our Redesign Goal: make it clearer “how to” participate in making-the-game game

I have set up a “Bee” Team workspace page on the Selearninggames wiki for us to get started. We can work directly in the wiki; we can work on this blog (maybe even set it up for multiple authors?); we can use Skype for collaborative conference calls and IM conferences …

Please comment on this post:

Let me know what you think about this small group redesign approach. Will this work to break the engagement/participation barrier to nonprofit social entrepreneurs making an elearning game together that solves the mystery of earned income venture profitability?

Please let me know if YOU are interested in being part of the “Bee” Team.

Add yourself to the “Bee” Team wiki page, or

email me: sdickinson at columbus dot rr dot com

SuperHero — Super”villain”: Our Game-making Avatars

January 1, 2007

TechCrunch started it!

Take the SuperHero Quiz. Take the Supervillain Quiz.

Together, both will give you insight into your Game-Maker identity!

My results:
You are Iron Man

Iron Man
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
The Flash
Inventor. Businessman. Genius.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

My Supervillain identity:
You are The Joker

The Joker
Lex Luthor
Dr. Doom
Mr. Freeze
Poison Ivy
Dark Phoenix
Green Goblin
The Clown Prince of Crime. You are a brilliant mastermind but are criminally insane. You love to joke around while accomplishing the task at hand.

Click here to take the Super Villain Personality Test

Actually – you can see I tied btwn Joker and Riddler. The first time I took the quiz, Riddler came out on top. In fact, first time I took the superhero quiz, I came out “Superman”! (probably cuz I don’t fight with girls 🙂 )

This is fascinating for me. Here in Columbus, Ohio, we have this “40 under 40″ award event, honoring young moving and shaking entrepreneurs. The 2006 theme was superpower. Each honoree was ‘profiled” based on what superpowers they would most like to have.

Overwhelmingly, the most desired superpowers revolved around power over TIME to get things done: power to make more time in a day; power to slow or stop time; power to be in two places at once; power to go places instantly.

I believe Web2.0 tools can help us achieve superpower and accomplish great good in 2007.

What SuperHero will YOU be in 2007?

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

Take the Poll: Can making an elearning game together solve the mystery of profitability?

November 28, 2006

Take the Poll.  Tell me what YOU think.  Can making an elearning game together help social entrepreneurs solve the mystery of earned income profitability?

See the results to date after you vote.  You can make further comments beyond yes or no after you vote.

Even more FUN — you can submit your own poll question suggestions

I’m thinking that this Poll Widget might be a handy, quick way for us to get at our common questions and common solutions.  A quick way for us to begin to identify the meta-patterns that form the essence of the game we make together.

Anybody can submit a question.  You can even create your own poll to embed in our wikispace.  We can have multiple polls running at the same time.

Web 2.0 tools and Learning by Making Games

November 11, 2006

A slide show by Nancy White, called Online Collaboration: Second Wave, and her blog

Discusses some of the challenges we face in adopting Web2.0 tools and making them truly useful to us in our work.  Web2.0 tools – such as Wikis and Blogs – are not business as usual (especially for those of us over 40!). 

It’s not just (dis)comfort with the technology.  It’s discomfort with what these tools can actually do for us.  Wikis and Blogs empower each one of us to take charge of our own learning and change the future for ourselves.  Wikis and Blogs enable us to share power and distribute shared power over a wide network of like-minded people whom we may never “meet” in the “real world.”


A Wiki is much more than a “shared document.”  A Wiki is LIVE, REAL-TIME, collaborative content creation.  The content we create is permanently accessible to us.  And it evolves as we evolve.  We change the content we create as our experience in the real world changes.


A Blog is much more than my private online journal.  A Blog is a captured running CONVERSATION between you and me.  I tell you what I think.  You tell me what you think.  We spark ideas in each other.  We build on and refine what came before.


The ideas we refine in our running Blog conversation can be summarized and plugged into the long-lived content we are creating in the Wiki.


“Making a Learning Game” together is really just a way for putting structure around our use of Wiki and Blog tools. 

For the purpose of creating a knowledgebase to accelerate nonprofit earned income venture profitability.  Game making is a very fruitful structure for our purpose because games are built on PATTERNS. 

A pattern is a set of solutions to common problems that have proven effective over and over.  The solutions to the profitability problems each one of us faces are hidden in our collective experience.  During the process of making the game together, we share our common problems, and common solutions will organically emerge.  As we apply and test solutions in the real world, we refine a set of the most effective.  Together, we discover and redistribute useful strategic patterns accelerating nonprofit earned income profitability!

This is a SERIOUS GAME.  Making a game with Web2.0 tools can actually help us do better what we already want to do.  We already recognize that we can’t do it alone.  We already recognize that there is great value for each of us in the experience of our peers.  We already spend a lot of time attending conferences, workshops, and other professional development activities – trying to find what we need to improve our own earned income venture’s profitability.  All too often with disappointing results.  How many times have you returned from a conference totally inspired and psyched up – and then within the week when you haven’t been able to apply your inspiration, nothing has changed, and the high wears off.  The technologies of conferences and workshops are limited in their capacity to capture, organize, and redistribute useful knowledge.  The technologies of Web2.0 tools, on the other hand, are expressly designed to do just that.  

And why shouldn’t we have FUN using these tools for our serious purpose?

For further discussion of these points: see also: Michele Martin, at the Bamboo Project; and Beth Kantor at Beth’s Blog.

Adult Learning and Learning Games

November 10, 2006

     Alot more is being done with games and learning for kids than for adults.

Alot has been learned in the past few years about adult learning.  Alot of what we understand about how adults learn applies directly to making learning games.  Adults can learn by making games together!  (why should kids have all the fun?)


       A few days ago, Beth Kanter posted about online collaboration and adult learning.  Beth’s post incorporated a slide show by Nancy White, about how to make social networking and online collaboration relevant to nonprofits.  Point: nonprofit social entrepreneurs don’t have time to play round — our networking and collaboration has to generate a valuable result.  Point: it is in OUR power to make these tools useful to us.


Also check out “Power of the Newbie” from coolcatteacher.


     In fact, one of the primary things we’ve learned about adult learning is that adults ONLY want to learn stuff that is practical and that can be directly applied to our work in real life.  Social entrepreneurs who are striving every day to generate earned income to support their missions want to learn how to do it more successfully.

     We know that adults want to build on what they already know.  Adults want to share what they know.  Adults want to learn from their peers.

     We know that we possess tacit knowledge (stuff we don’t know we know) derived from our experience.  Adult learning is accelerated in collaborative environments where tacit knowledge can become explicit, recognized, shared, repurposed, and reused.

We know that adults learn well what they have to teach.


     The latest theories about learning tell us that learning is a dynamic social process in which learners themselves construct useful knowledge.  When people who share a common real life interest, common purpose, common challenges get together on purpose to overcome those challenges – magic happens!  We form connections and make meaning from our common experience.  We recognize the common solution patterns to our common challenges that appeared to be hidden.  Each of us is both teacher and learner, when we do this together.


     What we are coming to understand about games for learning highlights the fact that when we play a game, we are participating in a community of practice for learning.  As we play the game, we are learning how to play the game more successfully.  Learning within the game takes place “just in time” in the context of use – you immediately apply what you learned to your next move in the game.  You cycle back through practicing what you learned and getting immediate feedback on how it worked.  Within the game culture, “failing” is good –  “trial by error” — you “fail forward”.  Recycling through the content is not failure, but in fact it is deeper learning.  You learn from every failure and get better at playing the game.


     Game-playing engages higher order meta-cognitive skills and asks us to relate to the situation along multiple parallel lines, not liner.  We see and act on things we already know, or things we know in a different context, transfer knowledge and see how it applies in a different context.


Game playing is a social experience. (hmmmm …. and ‘learning is a social process’) (hmmm…together, we know everything each one of us needs to know) (hmmm….sharing what we know and learning from each could be FUN)


     Games are a tool for us to think with, together.  Games are a tool for us to explore solutions with, together. 

If playing a game can do all that for our learning – imagine what making a learning game can do for us!  Making a game together is literally a tool for us to change the real-world profitability landscape for nonprofit social entrepreneur earned income ventures.


     Game industry stats indicate that gamers spend an average of 20 hours per week playing games.  What if YOU spent even a smidgen of that playing at making a game for social enterprise profitability?  Would we all be generating more revenue to support our missions by the end of a week?


Please leave a comment.  Tell me what YOU think.