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Comments on “Why games?”

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17 thoughts on “Comments on “Why games?”

  1. Excellent exploration into the potential of games and linkability.

    The only thing I’d add is that there needs to be a gaming platform, or sme network/economy for folks to plug-in, add value and be rewarded for adding connections, advancing the game, etc.

    A friend is working on something like this if you’re interested, I’d be happy to intro you.

  2. Games are based on simple interactions with layered complexity called rules. These rules ensure that the dimensions stay the same and everyone can play (generally). As you suggest, life is much more complicated than that. Our desire to “hook in” is representative of our desire to explore, expand and build. The challenge it seems is defining the moment that we are living in. The right here, right now and what the heck to do about it. The potential I see for the Knowledge Games is that they are a way to bring people together for a moment in time, quickly define some rules that help everyone understand the dimensions of the current situation and make a conclusion. The dynamic nature of Knowledge Games enables participants to uncover otherwise hidden or disparate information to empower decisions. They also, as you say, engage the whole mind rather than just an area of expertise that someone was hired to produce outputs with.

    Not so sure I see complexity as the inevitable end for simplicity. For me it is about the scope of the expression rather than a rule.

    The hard part for uptake of games is well expressed in your own words, “The goal of a game directionally guides the activity without prescribing a predetermined end state. ” Companies want predetermined end states. It is what is wrong and what is right at the same time.

  3. Dave, brilliant take on the subject! I love the quote “Knowledge games are the future of work”.

    Humans (and mammals in general) have always used “play” to make sense of the world. Just watch how kids explore surfaces and shapes and combine them to make new things to play with.

    I think designing new services, products, or organizations require a similar kind of play.
    That’s why cards, flip charts, and sticky notes are so useful when designing new artifacts. They allow us to visualize ideas, move them around, combine and re-combine them until we find something that makes sense to us.

    I agree with you that knowledge games symbolize a shift away from the organizational forms of the industrial economy towards new organizational forms for the innovation economy… Ultimately, organizations that offer the best playground (and I don’t just mean Google’s beachvolleyball court) will outperform the others.

    I can’t wait to see more about “knowledge games”!

  4. Lots to respond to here.

    I like that you start with empirical observation. I have always liked the idea behind Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “linguistic anthropology”, that we should look at how people use language in order to understand the full extent of meaning. When I think of the application of the concept of a game to the contexts you describe, I think also of phrases like “playing around”, “tinkering with stuff”, “kicking things around”, “throwing things at the wall to see if they stick”. All of these game metaphors suggest not only an analogy between certain kinds of play and thinking, but also imply something about the cognitive motive, an intention to explore the unknown.

    Games involve the unknown, because they are open ended. We do not start a game knowing how its going to turn out, we play precisely to work that out. But this leads to a second point, which is that the reasons we play games, it seems to me, are not either purely intrinsic (just for the fun of it) or purely instrumental (playing to win), but often or at least optimally involve a perfect balance between these two different sorts of motives. I believe that successful innovating relies on just this balance, where intrinsic motivation (passion/interest) provide the energy, while instrumental motivations (to change of affect this or that) provide a clear goal.

    One of the coolest features of games is that they are by definition unfinished. What I mean by this is that the rules and goal, not matter how richly or exhaustively stated, can ever describe the actual experience of the game, for that there is nothing that will substitute for actual play. So the analytic architecture of a knowledge game cannot be that of a metric or judgment, but must have a more “open”, I would say more generative goal. Knowledge games aren’t as much about figuring things out as they are about making things happen.

    What kind of things we can and should reasonably ask, and what it so important about those things? These are important questions confronting two of Dave’s big points here: point 1. that old “business processes” are not adequate to confronting complexity and, point 2. that the complexity which arises from an increasingly linked world is something that poses both new challenges and opportunities for business, but require us to retool business capability. I think these things are true, but I think they must be unpacked and stated more carefully.

    One clue about how to start doing this lies in the very concept of a network of links. Many of us feel that the Internet is implicated in massive system change, but we too often skip over questions of mechanism. The link is part of the “particle physics” of the Web. And I think there is rich possibility in exploring the idea of how the “physics” of links (which is social, technological, linguistic…) helps us understand the complexity we are confronting in business and why old approaches, those designed primarily to eliminate or control complexity, are now completely outgunned by the phenomena confronting them.

    Dave, you are doing really important work here and I am glad you are doing it so openly and with such a clear invitation to collaboration. Keep it coming and, please never hesitate to lob a ball my way.

  5. @michaeldila Well said. Knowledge Games can handle the unfinished business we face. Everything is unfinished and the increasing rate of change makes that incredibly clear. I am with @skap5 (Saul Kaplan) when he says the “the half life of the business model is rapidly decreasing”. Knowledge Games address the challenges businesses face in that context.

  6. Dave, I fully embrace the concept of this site yet am struggling with the logic of the opening manifesto. A link between increasing complexity in business life and the usefulness of games is not obvious. On the other hand, I see ‘games’ as a framework for ‘play,’ which is in itself a powerful force of creativity and individual engagement – and therefore productivity. To introduce the notion of ‘play’ into business life (and therefore the realm of “serious society” ) is a noble goal in and of itself. Play is not the hedonistic pursuit of enjoyment and should not be semantically confused with pleasure. Play is not about relaxation, “escape” from everyday life, or even therapeutic. These characterizations push the notion of play into subsidiary spheres of life, and historically out of the workplace.

    Play is a fundamental, innate activity of man – a natural state. Play is inherently self-generated, even when it is a group activity. Play allows us to tap into a more elemental part of ourselves – away from the constant and repetitive thinking that is generated by the ego. So the notion of “serious play” is enough without making an argument for complexity.

  7. Hi Todd,

    I agree that play is a powerful force for creativity. And I am not saying that play isn’t important in and of itself. But games are a specific subset of play.

    When you engage in play, you are not necessarily playing a game.

    Pretending is a form of play. So is making, let’s say making a sand castle. But in themselves these forms of play are not games. A game has rules and outcomes. Games are goal-oriented.

    Yes, games are structured play, and in this structure I find something important that distinguishes it from other forms of play. At its heart, a game is a model of a system, and playing a game is the way that we engage with that model. Play in all its forms can be seen as “rehearsal for life.” But games are about interacting with systems.

    My sense is that the more complex the system, the more helpful it can be to find a way to make a game that’s an interactive model of that system.

    I am not arguing that play has no role in business. I certainly hope you didn’t read it that way!

    I chose to focus on games rather than the larger domain of play, not because I don’t think play is important, but because it gives a scope and focus to the inquiry.

  8. Dave,

    I was about to ask you what the difference between play and gaming was, and then you answered it with that last comment.

    Love the few sentences about index cards as game pieces and the whiteboard as a playing field. Wish I’d read that before the Vizwriters webinar yesterday.

    – Austin

  9. Great conversation. Only 2 things to add.

    1. Great games have audiences. Soccer’s audience is world wide, college football’s audience is passionate. There’s audiences for online games like quake and warcraft. There’s even audiences for curling. I would suggest that when a game get’s serious, it gets and audience. What does this mean for participation? Is there an audience for knowledge games?

    2. Team profit, leagues administer. FIFA is a non-profit. They play in countries and look to benefit the economy. They sponsor young players, and try to give back. They have a steady revenue, and don’t need to grow. Manchester united on the otherhand, is a business. They sell shirts, swag, and tickets. They buy players, and sell happiness. Where is our league, so that we can build our teams?

  10. Hi Patrick, thanks for your comment.

    The thing that makes a game great is the experience, and I think that audiences enjoy games to the degree that they can place themselves, in their imagination at least, “in the game.” Many games are also aesthetically pleasing, indeed some would call them an art form.

    Knowledge games as a category, in my mind, are specifically aimed at exploring complex or ambiguous spaces — the experience of the game is at once a creative act, a skill-building, as well as an insight-generating, activity. Its primary value is for the participants.

    When games get “serious” as you put it, is also a point when they have become formalized and ritualized. By this time the value for discovery and new insights is diminished. So maybe by the time a knowledge game becomes a serious game, then it’s no longer a knowledge game but has become simply a game.

    As far as the league, the results of a knowledge game are in the insights, products or services that it generates, and the arena for this is the business and social environment.

    Most knowledge games aren’t win-lose because they aren’t zero-sum games; they have a tendency to enlarge the pool of resources and opportunity for everyone. So I wouldn’t expect to see rankings and standings anytime soon.

  11. I think you have put your finger on a paradox here, and it’s about the way designers design the work of other people.

    “It seems they are rejecting the very technologies they are in the process of inventing.” When I read that, I took a few deep breaths. Because it’s true.

    When intelligent people are given the freedom to organize their own work, this is how they do it. With improvisation, play, rules that aren’t firm or rigidly applied, on a playing field that doesn’t have well defined edges, and where everything is always overflowing, or breaking down and being repaired.

    It’s only when people are tasked to design other people’s work that they leave all that behind, and try to create strict, unambiguous rules, playing fields with well-defined edges, and structures that constrain first, enable second.

    You talk about the old paradigm of the “industrial revolution” but I think your piece shows that the problem has carried forward into the post-industrial world, because it’s actually about the difference between organizing our own work vs organizing other people’s work.

    I was struck how your piece slipped from games, the real-world spontaneous social activities, to “Games” as theorized by Game Theory , formal, quantitative, rule-governed predictable activities. The sociology of work shows us that “Games” have a lot to do with how people justify their actions (especially to their bosses) but they have little to do with how things get done. Twas ever thus. 🙂

  12. Gordon,

    Thanks for your comment! I do think there is a middle ground between loose, improvised play and games as described by formal game theory — the kinds of games where rules give structure to the play, making it possible to include more people, and where the constraints imposed are not barriers to creativity but, instead, because they create a universe that adheres to certain rules, make space and opportunity for *more* creativity. An example from my art-school training would be constraining the size of sketches to ensure they are not too formal, elaborate or overconsidered. My sense is that a game should have as many rules as necessary but no more. Definitely worth more discussion.

  13. GREAT !! Thanks for this insights and fresh air…

  14. hey, spring is cooming! good post there, tnx for

  15. Very important to make the distinction between complicated and complex.

    Also, the mention of “fog of war” reminded me of the FOG factor that Straker (mentioned separately) suggests for identifying the different quality of information available i.e. Facts, Opinions and Guesses.

  16. Hi,
    I’ve read your book Gamestorming. It is great but I’m struggling (the same happens with all the books I read) to implement such nice games. I’m reading it again to choose those games I think will make sense to the kind of job I do. Then I wondered if you are working on an app for itunes, so we can have the summary of the games. Thanks

  17. Hello Marco, we are working on an iPhone app and will update the blog when it is available. If you want help any time, you can use the #gamestorming hashtag on Twitter and there are lots of people there who can help. There is also a forum where you can post your questions here.

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