SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters
It's winter in Hobart, Melbourne, and Perth.
How To Improve a Training Activity
A step-by-step approach for enhancing any activity.
Time for an Update
You can use a different interactive strategy every week for a whole year!
Interview with Les Lauber
A meandering career path leads Les to game design.
Metaphorical Simulation Game
HEADS AND TAILS by Les Lauber
Who said Tic-Tac-Toe is a mindless game?
Reach out and surprise a friend.
How do you define “discrimination”?
Can you spell my name?
Countdown to Motivation
Motivating you into reflecting about motivation.
GAME as an Acronym
Does GAME stand for Getting Aha's Most Easily?
What does your play behavior reveal about you?
SERIOUSLY FUN ACTIVITIES FOR TRAINERS, FACILITATORS, PERFORMANCE CONSULTANTS, AND MANAGERS.
To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.
Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan
Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan
Managing Editor: Brenda Mullin
Editorial Advisory Board: Andrew Kimball, David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Kat Koppett, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>
The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2001 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:
Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2001 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.
For any other use of the content, please contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for permission.
All registered subscribers receive PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE free of charge.
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Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to email@example.com . Thanks!
Here's the third issue of Play for Performance. Read, enjoy, and use!
By the time Raja (hopefully) gets this issue out to you, I will be in Australia. My co-conspirator Marie, and the wonderful friends I met seven months ago, wanted me back to do a series of workshops. Marie knows how to exploit me and keep me facilitating every day. But I am not complaining because I can use sports metaphors related to cricket—and everyone understands them.
Whining and making people feel guilty seems to work effectively as a performance intervention. Ever since I complained about not getting enough feedback, I had lengthy feedback notes from half-a-dozen people. My thanks to these wonderful friends. How come I haven't heard from you yet? Let me know what you don't like and what you like about this newsletter. Let me know what types of games you would for me to design and publish.
I got a few great entries for last month's The World's Worst contest. (Strangely enough, Les Lauber has not submitted an entry at the time of writing this note.) Take a crack at this month's contest. You can easily win a $50 gift certificate.
If anything funny happens to my name in Australia, you'll hear about it in the next issue.
In the previous issue of PFP we explored different dimensions of evaluating a training activity:
In this issue, I want to incorporate these dimensions into a step-by-step model for evaluating and improving a training activity.
Here are the six steps in the model:
Here are brief suggestions for what to do in each stage. I am relating these suggestions to the evaluation of a training game. You can use the same suggestions for evaluating any type of training activity.
Set aside your prototype design for a couple of days and let it incubate. Then critically evaluate the design, playing the roles of different experts. Use your hindsight and recall everything you know about the characteristics and preferences of the players. Recall the training objectives. Modify the game based on your intuition and second thoughts. Figure out the probable main effects of your design. Focus on the play process rather than the training results.
Get hold of a group of experts, using your friends if necessary. Ask them to review the content presented through the game, paying attention to such areas as relevancy, accuracy, and up-to-datedness. Also ask for comments on the playability of the game and its suitability for the target group. Ask your experts to revise the game design rather than merely identifying what is wrong with it. Ask them to think about both the main effects and the side effects of the game.
Try out the game with a group of locally available players. Focus on identifying major bugs and fixing them. Get the game started with minimal instructions. Make suitable modifications during the play of the game. Change the structure of the game drastically if player reactions and recommendations warrant it. When the play ends, ask players for their suggestions. Informally debrief them to figure out what they learned from the game. Make more changes and play test the game with another group. Repeat the process until you (and your players) and satisfied with the flow of the game and its instructional outcomes.
Test the training game in actual settings in which it will be used (for example: in a workshop) in combination with all other training activities. Ask another facilitator or trainer to conduct the game while you observe what it happening. Pay attention to the main effects (the things you want to happen) as well as the unexpected side effects. After the session, interview participants for their reactions and recommendations. Modify the game (and other training activities) to incorporate positive side effects and eliminate the negative ones.
If you want to (and if you have the budget), ask someone else to conduct a controlled study to measure, record, and report the actual results of playing the game. Ask the evaluator to focus on summative evaluation (since you have probably improved it through the earlier steps in the process). Also ask the evaluator to prepare a report with details on the use of the game, player characteristics, and learning outcomes.
Let go of the game, but encourage other users (both facilitators and players) to send you informal evaluation data. Include easy-to-use questionnaires (and your e-mail address) with your game kit to collect and review the feedback. Randomly call people who purchased your game for their comments. Encourage people to share any modifications they made to the game. Upgrade and update your game based on this type of continuous evaluation. Remember that you will never be able to prepare The Final Version of any training game.
Rather than bore you with detailed discussions of the evaluation model, let me recount a case study of systematically improving a training game. I designed this game in the mid-1970's to be used as a part of a consumer health-education course based on a technique called health-hazard appraisal. The specific objective for the game is to help players to recognize major causes of death for various age, sex, and racial subgroups.
Here's a description of an “improved” version of the game:
* * *
Three to six
The average game lasts for 20 minutes. The game can be replayed several times.
A 4 x 4 game board with these labels:
Poker chips of as many different colors as there are players
A copy of the Geller Tables which list leading causes of death for different racial and gender groups at different age levels
FLOW OF THE GAME
Choosing a judge. Ask a player to mix up poker chips of different colors. Other players close their eyes and pick a chip, leaving one behind. The player with the blue chip becomes the judge for the first game and takes charge of the Geller Tables. (The winner of the first game becomes the judge for the second game.)
Starting a round. The first player chooses a box in the game board. This box represents people of a particular age, race, and sex according to the labels for the column and the row. The player choosing the box announces her guess of the leading cause of death for that group.
Challenge. All other players (except the judge) take turns to challenge the first player's guess by offering an alternative cause of death that they believe to have a higher probability. No player may name a previously specified cause; a player may pass instead of challenging.
Winning the round. After all players have had their chance to challenge, the judge refers to the appropriate section of the Geller Tables and identifies the player whose guess is the highest probability cause of death for that age, sex, and racial subgroup. This player wins the round and places one of her chips in the appropriate box. If no player has challenged the first player's guess, this guess must be the “top killer” (the leading cause of death) according to the Geller Tables. If it is not, no player wins the round.
Penalties. At the end of each round, the winner removes a chip belong to each unsuccessful challenger (and the first player, if the initial guess was not the winning guess).
Continuing the game. Play progresses in clockwise direction with a new player making the first guess.
Ending the game. Game ends when there is a chip in every box of the grid. The player with the most chips on the grid wins the game.
* * *
Here's a recollection of how I applied the steps of the evaluation model to improve the game from its prototype version to the version described above:
When I first reviewed the content, I decided that a 3 x 3 tic-tac-toe format would make the ideal game board. I decided to label the three columns with three groups (white male, white female, and African-American male) and the three rows with major causes of death (automobile accident, cancer, and heart attack). Two players played the game by taking turns to choose a box and to guess the percentage of people (of all ages) in that group killed by that cause. If this guess was within five percent of the Geller Tables value, the player marked the box with her symbol (X or O).
While this format looked exciting at first sight, in the cold light of the next day, it appeared rather trivial. Knowledge of percentages is not an important item for the players to recall; the more meaningful information is the probability ranking of major causes of death. So I revised the rows to three age groups (childhood, middle age, and old age) and required the player to name the leading cause of death for the selected box.
I asked my game-design friend, Diane, to review the design. She agreed that the tic-tac-toe grid was very appropriate for the given content. However, she felt that the constraint of three columns created gender imbalance. So we revised the game board to have four columns (with the addition of African-American female). We decided to retain the rule about the first player occupying three boxes in a straight line winning the game.
We rounded up a group of our long-suffering friends to play test the game. We made many changes during and after several rounds of play testing. Here's a summary of these changes:
Aspect of the game: Rows were labeled with three age groups
Player feedback: Nobody knew when middle age began and when it ended.
Modification: Increased the number of rows to eight to correspond to the number of age-level intervals in the Geller Tables.
Aspect of the game: A 4 x 8 grid was used.
Player feedback: The large number of boxes in the game board frightened the players. The game dragged on and on.
Modification: Used four age levels. Replace generic labels (childhood, middle age, and old age) with specific ages (7, 17, 37, and 57).
Aspect of the game: Three occupied boxes in a straight line wins the game
Player feedback: Players began specializing in a specific age group or race/sex subgroup. The game did not encourage comparisons across the board.
Modification: Changed the game-end rule to completing all the boxes in the grid: The player who occupied the most boxes at the end won the game.
Aspect of the game: When it was one player's turn, the other player had nothing to do.
Player feedback: The other players got bored and started kibitzing. They stopped paying attention to the first player's guess.
Modification: Incorporated the challenge rule: Opponent may challenge the first player's guess by offering an alternative cause of death. Whoever named the higher-probability cause won the round.
Aspect of the game: Challenge rule
Player feedback: Players indiscriminately challenged every guess (because they had nothing to lose).
Modification: Incorporated the penalty rule: All invalid challengers lost a box that they had occupied earlier.
After five rounds of player testing, I decided to drop out of the picture and have someone else conduct the game. I prepared a simple set of rules and asked one of my colleagues (who had not participated in the earlier steps of testing) to run the game with a fresh pair of players. Since everyone was a part of our target population of “consumers of health services”, we had no difficulty getting hold of representative players.
Here's a summary of changes from this step in the evaluation process:
Aspect of the game: Game grids were mimeographed (an ancient reproduction technique) on sheets of paper.
Player feedback: Players wrote their symbols and threw away the sheets at the end of each game.
Modification: Designed a more durable game board and used poker chips to identify the occupied boxes.
Aspect of the game: Only two players played at a board.
Player feedback: Competition between the players became very intense. Not enough game boards were available for all players.
Modification: Changed the rules to allow more than two players to play at the same game board.
Aspect of the game: All players had access to the Geller Tables.
Player feedback: Everyone checked the tables. Unscrupulous players peeked at other sections of the table to gain advance information.
Modification: Only the facilitator had access to the Geller Tables.
Aspect of the game: Only the facilitator had access to the Geller Tables.
Player feedback: With different groups playing at the same time, the facilitator's job became hectic.
Modification: Introduced the role of the player-judge.
Our client gave us a generous budget for a field test. We hired a graduate student to conduct a controlled study (which he later used his doctoral dissertation). This evaluator got carried away and constructed and administered a lot of tests and observation systems. It was an impressive study, but I read only the 2-page summary instead of the other 200 pages of details.
The game was used in an open-university setting as a part of a broadcast television course. The administrator of the course continuously and systematically collected data from the users. Eventually, however, the course (and the game) were abandoned when the project ran out of money.
I cheated in my case-study narrative by making the steps appear in a smooth and logical sequence. This reconstruction distorts the dynamic nature of the evaluation model. Be warned that when you apply this model to evaluate and improve your training activity, things may not proceed as smoothly as I made them appear.
This month, instead of exploring another new interactive strategy, I would like to do an update on my “experimental” study.
You have probably heard about this sloppy study: It involves a single subject (me) repeatedly performing a single activity. I design one training game every day (including weekends and holidays) with the additional stipulation that each day's game should be significantly different from the previous three days' output. Since March 21, 1999, I have been conducting this study. As of today, I have designed 838 training activities. I sold 11 of them to my clients at exorbitant prices, published 84 in my books and newsletters, and buried the rest in various hard drives.
The important outcome of the study, however, is my realization that there are different strokes for different folks. So if you (or your friends) think that all training activities are just one type of games, let me share with you my current list of 52 different interactive experiential strategies for improving human performance. These are strategies that I have read about, heard about, and though about in my study.
This list is not organized in any fashion, except alphabetically. The categories are not mutually exclusive. However, the list keeps me thinking about different dimensions of effective interaction.
This list is not complete. Please send me brief notes about other interactive strategies that you have experienced, used, and created.
Here's the list:
Ignore them; they're for my own reference.
Okay, if you really want to know, they refer to the books of collected tool kits that I have published so far.
This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Our guest this month is Les Lauber, who has been a training practitioner for more than eight years. His resume is diverse, eclectic, and unfocused. After stints as radio disc jockey, factory worker, pizza cook, news reporter, insurance agent, parking meter repairperson, and loan industry analyst he turned to the good side of the Force. Currently employed by the State of Kansas, he spends his days leading a team of trainers in designing and delivering professional development and leadership classes. He designs games in such topics as communications, problem solving, clarification of participants' roles in the organization, etc. He recently collaborated with Thiagi on a set of card games based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.
Thiagi: Les, what's your specialty area?
Les: Although I love realistic simulations, when I use one that is too realistic, I encounter a lot of denial. Participants start nit picking, finding reasons the simulation isn't real enough. When I use metaphorical simulation games, we move past the defensiveness, past the fear of “doing it wrong,” and concentrate on the relevant skills, knowledge, and attitudes. My goal for each game is to surface the behaviors and attitudes that the participants are letting get in the way of their own success. During the debrief we grapple with these behaviors and attitudes. After participants run around popping balloons, work blindfolded with ropes, or whatever, I always make sure they see the relevance of the game. In fact, my all-time favorite debriefing question is “So, how is this like your organization?” I am never disappointed in the metaphors the participants themselves draw from the games. They frequently surprise themselves.
Thiagi: With your diverse background, how did you get into designing and using games?
Les: I'm not really sure! I have always played games. Some of my earliest memories are of playing some precursor to Chutes and Ladders with my great aunt Scena on Sunday afternoons. In grade school, I quickly realized it was much more fun to referee basketball and kickball than to actually play. I recall selling “Get Out of Jail Free” cards to my younger brother and sister, auctioning them off up to $500 at a time. I remember Dad walking into the room, and being none-too-impressed when I explained that Monopoly is a game about the free market. In high school, I first consciously changed or ignored game rules that didn't make sense or fit my playing style. We played roleplaying games, and when a rule was silly I simply disregarded it. (In roleplaying games, lots of rules are silly.)
Then, I became a trainer…. One of the first Train-the-Trainer workshops I attended was Creative Training Techniques, by the organization that is now the Bob Pike Group. When I saw how they used activities, how much the participants learned, and how effective the tools were, I started adding games and simulations to my programs. It was a natural extension of my personal interest into my professional life.
Thiagi: How long have you been designing and using games?
Les: I started tweaking and modifying games when I was 13 or so. When a game wasn't satisfying, rather than throw out the game I tried to adjust it until it became satisfying. That tweaking is a product of my personality, I think. I've watched a number of people design games, and those people most like me in personality tend to refine rather than create from scratch. In fact, out-of-the-box thinking is, for me, a learned skill set and not entirely a natural experience.
Professionally, I've been using games for about eight years. My first activity was in a class with only two trainees. I pointed to one trainee and said to her “You are a student loan.” I pointed to the other and said to him “You are the Loan Processing Software.” Then I facilitated a roleplay on the life cycle of a student loan.
Thiagi: Where do you use games?
Les: Anywhere I believe the participants will benefit from an experience. I have even used games in job interviews to give the interviewers a feel for my style and how I interact with others. I use games in one-on-one coaching, training, and presenting in conferences. I select games to structure experiences that encourage participants to reflect and learn.
Thiagi: How do your clients respond?
Les: Generally, very favorably. There is a perception that organizations dislike or disapprove of games as not very professional. I don't find that to be true. Organizations are interested in results. Individuals within organizations sometimes disapprove of games as not professional, and that's where the hard sell is. More than one client in more than one organization has suggested to me that I shouldn't spend half an hour with a game when I can lecture for less than 10 minutes on the same material. When that happens, I start a discussion about the results the organization has received from other lecture-based trainings. I am usually able to bring to the surface that the individual is distrustful of training because the organization may not have seen a lot of results from these previous lectures. At that point, the discussion moves to why games, or “experiential learning activities,” are more effective than lecture. After all, if I provide for them the same lecture format they've received and been disappointed in before, we can reasonably assume they will be disappointed this time, too. So why not risk something different—what's the worst that can happen, that they'll be disappointed? We're already heading down that path, so rather than go a direction where they're certain of an unsatisfactory outcome, let's change the direction and see if the results are better. My experience with clients has been that they are very pleased with the results, especially for retreats and conferences.
Thiagi: How do your participants respond?
Les: I have lost count now of the number of people who have come to me after a session saying, “I don't do games, but this was great and I really learned a lot from it.” If someone doesn't want to play a game, I never ask “Why not?” but accept it at face value. I assign that participant a task that involves observation of what is happening in the game. I don't find that happening very often, though. Games give me a couple of advantages in a session: first, there is a common set of experiences, so nobody is wondering “why is that person talking about something that never happened to the rest of us?” Second, the discussion and learning points become intensely personal to participants when they are the focus of the training, instead of the “sage on the stage.” Third, people remember experiences, and they will remember what happened to them and what they learned in the games. Finally, when people are involved with the games, they are more receptive to learning.
Thiagi: What is the most memorable moment you had in conducting games?
Les: I once conducted several workshops for a corporation in another state. I started the first workshop with an icebreaker where participants finished the statement “If I were braver, I would try…”, then disclosed the answer. The first person gave the typical “skydiving” or “bungee-jumping” type answer. However, the second person finished the statement with “finding a better job.” I thanked this person for her willingness to take risks, and reminded the participants of the importance of maintaining confidences. The next person said, “Well, I'm glad you said that. I have the same answer!”. By the time we were through with the icebreaker, exactly one-half the class had given some version of the “quit” answer. This did not start the session on the most positive possible note! I made sure that everything we did for the rest of the session we tied back to how the participants could use what was happening when they returned to their workstations. The class actually recovered well after that—in fact, right after we dismissed that afternoon, the supervisor came running into the training room and said “What did you do to those people? I've never seen so much energy out there on the floor!” I don't believe, though, that I'll ever forget that feeling when I realized that most of the class didn't care to be working there, but were afraid to leave.
Les: When a rule doesn't make sense, or detracts from the learning experience, change it. Games are like pizzas—changing the rules is like changing toppings or sauce ingredients. You won't get the same flavors, but if you're not in the mood for olives or if you're allergic to mushrooms, why on earth would you have them? Same thing with game rules. Don't keep them just because someone wrote them. Focus on your goal for using a game: You want a specific group of participants to have a specific type of experience. If some of the rules of the game prevent them from having this desired experience, get rid of those rules. However, just to be sure, play-test the revised game before using it.
Thiagi: What advice do you have about conducting training games?
Les: Let me repeat the previous piece of advice: Play-test the game before using it. If possible, play-test it with people who are like members of the target audience. Think about the accessibility of the game—is it accessible to individuals with sight, hearing, speech, or other impairments? Adapt the instructions to meet learning styles: provide written instructions for players who need to read something for it to make sense, explain the directions for other players who process best when they listen, and demonstrate the game for players who learn best by mimicking others. Let the game take on a life of its own. Trust participants to get from the game what they need, not necessarily what you think they need. At the same time, don't let the game go too far. When people get too wrapped up in winning the game they may destroy relationships.
Thiagi: What's the best way to get acceptance for the use of games?
Les: I seldom tell non-trainers that we're playing a game. I explain, “We have an activity to get to the heart of what we've been discussing.” This approach signals to the participants that what is going on is job-oriented. One of my team members does a brilliant job of getting acceptance for the use of training games. During the debriefing, he asks the participants, “If the Governor had just walked in, how would you explain to him what important things you are getting from playing with remote control cars and mousetraps?” By using this question, my friend gets participants to tell him how to justify his use of the games.
Thiagi: What do you think is the most important characteristic of a facilitator?
Les: A facilitator should be comfortable when the game takes on its own life. They should tinker with the game to make it fit what the participants need for their learning. One of the hardest and yet most important things for a facilitator to do (especially if this person loves games like I do) is to refuse to use a game that is "cool" but does not fit the learning needs of the participants.
Thiagi: What do you think is the most important characteristic of a training game?
Les: Early in experimenting with training games, I used games that were fun but didn't relate to the training content. We all had a good time, but didn't learn anything that was job-relevant. Recently, I learned another important lesson from participating in a training game. The trainer had designed a game about motivation that intentionally frustrated the players. The learning points were related to motivation, but they were lost on the participants who were wrapped up in the frustrating experience and in being disgusted with the trainer. These experiences helped me discover the two critical, inviolable rules to using a training game: there must be a learning point, and the game must be satisfying to the participants.
Thiagi: What type of participants do you like?
Les: I like participants who are curious and willing to explore both the game and their reaction to it.
Thiagi: What do you hate the most in a facilitator?
Les: How many times have I been in debriefing discussions in which a facilitator took my comment about what I experienced during a game, in my work life, or even personal life and “corrected” it because it didn't meet his teaching needs? I hate that! My experience is my experience, and if it doesn't meet the facilitator's training objectives, so be it! If the facilitators want a different experience, they shouldn't ask for mine.
Thiagi: What do you hate the most in a training game?
Les: A training game that is too simple to keep my attention. If I'm not paying attention, what learning experience am I having? And if I'm not having a learning experience, the entire purpose of the game vanishes.
Thiagi: What do you hate the most in a participant?
Les: I become most frustrated with participants who are too cynical to allow themselves to learn. I used a game recently in a multi-day training to discuss how teaming works in our organization. The game had the added benefit of dividing the participants into new teams for the day. We had an excellent debrief regarding what had happened, how people reacted to it, what it meant about their workplaces, and how they were going to behave differently as a result. I mean, this was an excellent discussion! Nonetheless, an hour later, one participant commented that the only reason for conducting the earlier game was to sneakily divide participants into new teams. Even though the real reasons for the game had clearly emerged during the debrief, he held on to his belief that they were only “smokescreens” for changing teams.
Thiagi: What types of games do you use most frequently?
Les: I tend to use a lot of metaphorical simulation games and playing card simulations. Recently I used TEAM POKER I in which each participant receives random playing cards and forms teams with high-ranking poker hands. One group had only four players and therefore only four cards, which came nowhere close to having a poker hand. One of the players came to me and complained that no one wanted any of those four on their teams. So I handed her a Joker! I said, “Here, see what the four of you can do with this.” She instantly became the most popular person in the room. During the debrief, it became very clear that I was the least popular person in the room—because I had changed the rules in the middle of the game. So I asked my favorite question: “Well, how is this like your organization?” and an exciting conversation began.
A technique I sometimes use with role-plays is to sneak interesting incidents to the players. I just write up a couple dozen things for the players to add to their drama, like “you got only three hours sleep last night and it's hard to focus,” or “just before this meeting someone told you the funniest joke you've heard in a long time.” They are not supposed to share these incidents with other role-players, but just incorporate it into their own behaviors. This minor addition adds depth to the game and leads to great discussion during the debrief.
Thiagi: What is your favorite game?
Les: It depends on the game genre. My favorite training game right now is WIN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN from one of the Pfeiffer Handbooks of Structured Experiences. Based on THE PRISONER'S DILEMMA, this activity explores concepts of cooperation, teamwork, negotiation, strategy, impressions of others, following through on promises, and lots of other concepts. It is a simple activity—but rich in its potential for debriefing.
My favorite card game is called THE VERY CLEVER PIPE GAME, designed by James Ernest of Cheapass Games. Players compete against each other to create sets of closed water pipes and collect cards. It appeals both to my seven-year old nephew and my hard-core game-playing friends. No two games are alike, and I can play it for hours.
For years, my favorite board game has been the STARSHIP COMBAT SIMULATOR, long out of print. This game is where I first worked on balancing out a game. The game does not accurately simulate the physics of traveling around in space, but it is a pretty good simulation of Star Trek space combat scenes. I spent hours playing it in high school and college, and it has great sentimental value.
I enjoy a historical simulation series called CIVIL WAR: BRIGADE. The series is an incredible tool for learning about and understanding various battles in the American Civil War. This game's claim to fame is the use of a Command System that simulates the delivery of orders within an army. More importantly for me as a trainer, I learned from this game that a simulation should not be always balanced. Sometimes, when a simulation is perfectly balanced, it no longer simulates what it is supposed to.
Thiagi: Who are your favorite game designers?
Les: You are one, of course. We repeatedly use your SHOUTING MATCH game to let participants vent their feelings when we find them resistant to the topic. We then cover the factors that cause the resistance and get into the training content in less than 20 minutes; without using it, we may take 90 minutes or more to get through all the feelings. Another one of my favorite game designers is Alain Rostain, whose Improv Game COMPANY PICNIC is always a sure win. Sam Sikes' activities are all interactive, energetic, and involving. James Ernest's games are designed for recreation, not training, but are whimsical, creative, and challenging. I also like the work of Dean Essig who designed CIVIL WAR: BRIGADE. Historical accuracy and playability are paramount for this series, and I admire the integrity they achieve.
Thiagi: Do you have any book recommendations?
Les: For games and activities, I like your books. I have also found 50 Creative Training Closers and 50 Creative Training Openers by Lynn Solem and Bob Pike very useful. Books that have made me think are Lateral Thinking and Edward de Bono's Mind Pack by Edward de Bono. I also have to recommend Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. The protagonists are children in a science fiction adventure, and are trained using simulations of various complexities. I have been thinking recently about how it might be an appropriate work for a “Trainer's Book Club,” even though it's fiction. It really made me think about simulations, how I use or misuse them, their ethical uses and applications, and how people use games to relate and interact with each other. And when you read it, pay attention to the instructors' debriefs! Another science fiction novel prominently featuring games as cultural metaphor is “The Final Reflection” by John M. Ford, a Star Trek novel from the Klingon culture's perspective.
Thiagi: What is your prediction about the future of games?
Les: I can't imagine a future without games. Given that training is both more effective and more efficient when games are used, I am convinced that games are here to stay. I expect that organizations will begin to demand activities and games as part of their training package. I already know of several organizations that divide training catalogues into “highly experiential” and “low experiential” categories.
In our June contest, we invited PFP readers to design a variation of Tic-Tac-Toe that will keep adult players intrigued and challenged. The winning entry, coincidentally, is from this month's guest gamer!
This Tic-Tac-Toe variant challenges adult players by forcing them to trade off tactical gains for strategic advantage, find balance between aggressive play and thoughtful resource conservation, and bluff. Instead of taking alternate turns, players bid for the right to place their marker on the grid, but when they win the bid their available cash resources are diminished.
To explore how individuals use resources to accomplish a task.
Two. You can divide a larger group into pairs to play the game. See variations for team versions.
Explain the Game. Present these two important points to the players, using your own words:
Conduct the Bidding Round. Both players take a blank slip and write a bid on it. The bid must be at least 1¢ but no more than the amount of money they currently have.
Reveal the Bids. Both players ante up with one penny. They then reveal their bids. The player who bid the highest amount takes back the penny. The penny from the other player (who bid the lower amount) is discarded from the game.
Rebid if necessary. If the players tie, they rebid until one player wins the Bidding Round. The original ante maintains until the bidding round is over: players do not need to ante up more than once in any round.
Place the Coin. The player who won the bid places the highest value coin involved in the winning bid on the grid. It is not allowable to say “My winning bid of twelve cents was two nickels and two pennies”, unless the player's dime has already been played onto the grid. The balance of the bid remains with the player for use during the next round.
Conduct the Next Bidding Round. The player who lost the first bid now has a pot worth 50¢ (the ante was not returned). This player may therefore only bid up to 50¢ in the second round. The player who won the first bid now has an amount reduced in value by the largest coin used in that bid. (Example: If the player winning the first bidding round played a dime, that player has only 41¢ available for bid, including the ante that was returned.)
Continue the Game. The sequence of bidding and placing coins continues until one player has placed three coins in a row or the game has reached a tie.
Ask the players how their strategies and tactics changed during the game as they lost or won bidding rounds. Discuss the game experience with these types of questions:
Auction Bids. Instead of a secret bidding round, one player opens with a bid, the other makes a response. The opening player may then bid again or allow the second player to win the bidding round. This continues until one player wins the bidding round.
Best of 3. This variation focuses on balancing a long-term strategy against immediate tactics. The players start with 3 quarters, 3 dimes, 6 nickels, and 16 pennies. They play three games; the player winning two of the three games wins the match. (If they tie, the player with the larger balance wins.) Money played on the grid or lost in the ante phase may not be carried to the next game.
Teamwork. Two teams of 5-7 people each determine the amount to bid and where to place the coins by consensus.
Hierarchy and Bureaucracy. Each team is organized into a bidding group (2-3 members), a placing group (2-3 members), and a manager. The bidding group may not talk to the placing group. The Manager approves all decisions, and may alter them at will. The manager may transfer members between teams, or remove members altogether, at will.
Challenge: Come up with a lengthy sentence that contains intriguing twists and turns.
Once upon a blue-moon day when I was swimming nonchalantly in the Ganges River which was slowly meandering through a rippling and sensual set of buoys anchored to the gooey mud located at the bottom of an ancient snow-moving glacier that flowed for unknown centuries at the center of on a blue delta and capsized many a ship that carried alien assassins who were on their 87th secret rendezvous looking for some innocent and attractive and young men returning from a workshop on unarmed combat techniques for unmarried men who can cook rice 17 different ways without boiling off their little fingers or toes because that would not have been a pretty way to treat one's own body parts—although it could have been exciting to a masochist or to someone with a Ph. D. in self-mutilation whose great grandfather probably gargled with salt water while singing Nordic drinking songs that have guttural lyrics and many …
If you thought I couldn't do that, you were right. I did not create this sentence, but only one half of it. My friend Steve Sugar created the other half.
To explore the requirements for (and outcomes of) true collaboration.
10 to 15 minutes
Find a friend. Call her on the telephone and invite her to play a fun game with you. Wait until she finds a piece of paper and a pencil.
Explain the procedure. Tell her that the challenge is to create the world's longest sentence. You and your friend will take turns supplying two or three words at a time to construct a meaningful—and lengthy—sentence. Both of you will separately write down the jointly-created sentence to keep track of what is happening.
Play the game. Invite your friend to supply the first couple of words. Then supply your words. Take turns to grow the sentence. Keep writing down the new words, adding them to the sentence as the game progresses.
Conclude the activity. Stop the activity when you have used up about 5 minutes or run out of paper. Ask your friend to read the sentence and have a good laugh.
Okay, that was great fun, but what's the point?
This activity is a demonstration of true collaboration. Here are the key features of such collaboration:
Of course, you can play the game in a face-to-face situation. (In fact, assistant editor Raja prefers that approach.) But making a telephone call may make it more spontaneous and fun. Also, you can play without writing down the sentence, but then you will regret your inability to recall the brilliant creation and impress you other friends.
I am going to debrief you about an intense emotional experience from your past.
Think of a time when you were treated unfairly.
If you recall a lot of such incidents, select the most intense one. If you feel that you were never treated unfairly, you are in a state of denial. Reach back further into your childhood and find something bad that happened to you.
Answer the following questions, focusing on your feelings. Don't be mature and understanding. Avoid intellectual analyses. Return to the time and the place. Relive the experience. Visualize exactly how you felt. Pretend it is happening to you right now.
How do you feel? Sad? Obsessed? Anxious? Agitated? Disorganized? Miserable? Lost?
How do you feel physically? Tense? Stressed out? Aching? Clenching your teeth? Shallow breathing? Sweating? Crying? A knot in your stomach? Exhausted? Sleepless? Lost your appetite? Tearful? Heavy?
How do you feel about yourself? Damaged? Helpless? Hating your life? Hateful? Hoping to die? Self-critical? Worthless? Empty? Like a failure? Sick? Guilty?
How do you feel about others? Abandoned? Alone? Exploited? Singled out? Friendless? Paranoid? Betrayed?
Hold on to these feelings for some more time.
Now think about this question: How would you feel if this type of unfair incident happened to you every day of your life?
This, my friend, is an experiential definition of discrimination.
Take a deep breath. Let go of the feelings. Return to the present. Relax.
During my cultural diversity workshops, participants frequently ask me for a definition of discrimination. Instead of giving them a direct answer, I take them through this thought experiment. Only after they feel the concept in their guts, I supply them with the verbal definition: treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit.
My name is Sivasailam Thiagarajan.
People sympathize with me when they hear the name. They don't realize the wonderful advantages of having an unusual name.
For example, a while back, I checked in late at the San Francisco Hilton. I went to my room, threw my jacket on the bed, grabbed the ice bucket, and stepped outside.
The door closed behind me with a deafening click. Panic! All of worldly possessions were inside the room—and I had locked myself out.
I walked down to the lobby. There was a long line of tourists at the front desk. Eventually the person in front of me reached one of the receptionists. He said, “I locked myself out. I need a duplicate key.” I was relieved to hear that I was not the only idiot.
But more panic. The receptionist asked, “Room number, please.” The person gave his room number. The receptionist typed it in her keyboard. She looked up and said, “Mr. Dale Johnson, how may I help you?”
Dale said, “I need a duplicate key.”
Receptionist asked, “Do you have a photo ID?”
“Yes, it is in the room.”
“Please go and get it.”
“I cannot go to my room without a key!”
“I cannot give you a key without a photo ID.”
There was a powerful job aid in action here. We were caught in an endless loop. The confrontation escalated.
Eventually, the receptionist said, “Let me call Bill. He's our security chief. He will let you in the room with his master key. Please bring back a photo ID.”
Dale exited with Bill, mumbling that he would not need to come back once he got the key from inside the room. This further upset the receptionist, who insisted that he would have to come back with Bill and show her his photo ID.
My turn. With a silly grin, I said, “Same problem.”
“Room number, please?”
Receptionist typed in the number, looked at the monitor, and began to say, “Do you have a pho—”
She looked at the monitor again. Looked at me. Light bulb went on on top of her head.
She said, “Tell you what. I am not supposed to do this. But if you spell the name correctly, I'll give you a duplicate key!”
Nice to have a built-in personal ID system!
Before you click on the links and disappear, let me bore you with some background details. I am currently designing a workshop on how to motivate people. In this workshop, I want participants to explore the concepts of motivators and demotivators. Simply put, motivators are things (objects, events, and activities) that turn you on and demotivators are things that turn you off.
You can play with the two puzzles by clicking on the following links. (Use your browser's BACK button to come back.) If you've never played one of our 7-DOWN puzzles, be sure to read the instructions before you begin playing. And please be patient; it can take quite a while to download the puzzles, especially the first time. We hope you think it's worth the wait.
If this goes well, we may include more 7-DOWN puzzles in future issues. In fact, maybe we should run a contest to create a new 7-DOWN puzzle….
Every month, we challenge our readers with an exciting contest. The winner will receive a $50 gift certificate toward the purchase of any book or game from Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.
One of the most popular contests published in the now-defunct paper predecessor of this newsletter involved the following challenge:
If GAME were an acronym, what would it stand for?
This was the winning entry:
Getting Aha's Most Easily (Harriet E. Johnson)
Here are some other entries:
Genuine Alternatives to Meaningless Explanations (Andy Kimball)
Go And Make Energy (13-year-old Adrian Toomey)
We have decided to revive the contest with our new electronic readers.
Send one or more suitable expansions for GAME as an acronym. If the judges decide that your entry to be the best, you win the contest.
I don't know who said this, but I know how true it is.
If you want to learn about someone, play a game with that person.
Think back on how you play games. What does your play behavior reveal about your personality?
Whenever I play a game, I keep trying to change its rules. My spouse points out that this is not out-of-box thinking but rather a reflection of my deep insecurity and fear of losing. Maybe she's right. Maybe one of these days I should just play the game without trying to control it.
People frequently behave in a nasty fashion in simulation games and roleplays. Later, they explain that the game required them to do that.
During debriefing, I ask participants to ponder on the question of where their negative behaviors came from.
Do you know what is lurking in the dark side of your self?