Games, Rules, Power and Play

While planning for my workshop Games, Rules, Power and Play, I stumbled upon many resources which I found helpful or entertaining or both.

Here’s a selection:

Deep Fun with Bernhard DeKoven

This site is a wonderful place for anyone interested in the lightness and wonder games can offer us. Besides offering a tremendous collection of all types of games for players of all ages, blog posts and articles provide encouragement and support in developing one’s capacity to engage in “deep fun.”  Really glad I found this!

In search of good word cloud creator I found this game site, ABCya!, aimed at elementary kids and was actually both delighted and challenged by some of the available games. Kid friendly interface. Yes, I would even share this with my own son. And the word cloud generator is awesome!

At Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute Vancouver I introduced the workshop agenda in the following way:

  1. We are going to play some games.
  2. We are going to take time to raise questions and offer observations about what we experienced.
  3. We will play some more.
  4. We will pause to question and reflect.
  5. We will need to wrap up and this may be hard because we’ll just be hitting our stride and having so much fun but even that part will have a playful element to it.

Given that, here’s my request of you:

Please let go of whatever notions you have about what a workshop at an academic conference can or should look like.

Let yourself play. Let others play. Let’s play.

Have the experience rather than theorizing about having the experience.

And we played:

This is my nose

Blah, blah, blah – in which pairs practice talking and listening to each other at the same time, changing subjects on the signal and continuing their partner’s line of conversation.

We spent a bit of time looking at definitions of the word game and considered the question: What do games offer us – as individuals, in groups, within a culture?

Ed-Tech Hyperbole (Using the attached word grid, players tried 3 versions)

  1. On your own- Come up with as many ed tech slogans as you can. (2 minutes)
  2.  Versus a partner:  Try to form a hyperbolic sentence that uses as many terms as possible but still makes sense.  (competing) (90 sec. )
  3. With a partner: Create 3 great slogans together Or create your own 100 word list for a particular instance (cooperating) (3 min)


Reflection points:

Which version of play appealed most? How did you experience yourself in each of the game settings?

On the topic of power I offered:

This workshop is really too brief to try to address the many ways in which power is enacted, formalized and expressed in games and their structures. Rules provide frameworks for distributing power and authority. Players engage and may apply rules in any number of ways – strictly, loosely, consistently, haphazardly. How these variations are managed offer a whole other field to observe power relations in effect.

My request to you is to keep your eyes and ears open for power dynamics in this workshop. What have you observed in yourself and others? How might games in the classroom offer opportunities to demonstrate and discuss power dynamics in the group and in general?

And as predicted time was running low and we needed to wrap up.

We finished with a stand-up round of non-verbal feedback. Participants were asked to share their impressions of and/or response to the workshop by either humming or giving a physical representation (gesture, pose, movement).  A lighthearted conclusion to a playful and reflective meeting of the minds.

As facilitator I enjoyed the privilege of working with participants who made my job look easy-peasy. I do believe that game environments have a great deal to offer and teach us in a variety of contexts. Hosting this workshop was my way of sharing some gentle reminders that joy, fun and laughter have a place in serious learning at all levels.


“Could you make the teams, please?!”

This blog post is dedicated to all my colleagues who are willing to sacrifice the time and endure the messiness of allowing students to solve their own problems in the classroom and beyond.
The Agenda
It never fails. On the whiteboard my 4th and 5th grade students read: speedball mini-games. They know what we’re going to play and most have a good sense of what that will look like. Then comes the challenge:
“Please get into co-ed groups of 4-5 and make sure that the teams are balanced in terms of skill levels, enthusiasm, boys/girls, etc.” They know the routine.
They get started. Friends grab friends and migrate towards a pair of the opposite gender who present the most favorable option (or least objectionable possibility). There are complaints: “They’re always together.” “They’re too good.” “We don’t have any girls.” “We don’t have any boys.” They keep trying – sending individual students to and fro: “You go to that team…” “No, we already have our team.”* I stop them and ask if they are finished.
There’s a sigh of frustration. “Are the teams co-ed?” “Are they fair?” I ask.  Hands go up and it doesn’t take long for the plea to arrive: “Will you please make the teams?”

One of my favorite teaching moments has arrived and it is gift wrapped.

“To answer your question: yes, I could make the teams, sure. But, what would you be learning?”
Aha. They sensed it. Another grown-up lesson they unwittingly walked into.

I persist: “What is it that I want you to learn and practice by making your own teams?”

They begin to respond: “To be fair.” “So that we learn how to solve our own problems.” “Teamwork?”

“Who’s going to play the game?”

“We are.”
“What kind of games do you want to have?”

“Fair games.”

”So, do you see what I’m saying here? The games are in your hands. You get to decide what kind of games you want to have. If you want fair games, then you have to make fair teams and I think you know how to do that.”
“But people want to be with their friends,” a student interjects. Several nod.

“Aha. So you may want more than one thing when you get into a group. You want to be with your friend and you want the teams to be fair. I guess you have to know which is more important to you and if you can make it work within the group. So what do you want now?”
“We want to play the games.”
“Okay, so let’s see your groups.”
There is renewed shuffling and within 40 seconds we have four groups that look a little different than before. I ask everyone to look around. “Satisfied with these teams? Do they look balanced and fair?” Nods and expressions of relief.
“Okay. Let’s play.”

*One added caveat: When students begin to order each other around while forming groups, I use this maxim: “Before you send someone else, you go yourself.” And I explain that it’s usually easier to tell someone else to do the thing that we don’t want or are afraid to do on our own. And many of us do not like being told by our peers where to go and what to do. So the responsible solution is to move yourself. This has been a very useful tool in helping students see that our actions often express more than we realize.