Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Guest Gamer
An Interview with Dennis Meadows
Thiagi's role model shares interesting insights.

Simulation Game
Harvest by Dennis Meadows
A simple simulation for exploring a complex concept.

Encouraging Participation in Debriefing by Roger Greenaway
More practical advice from Roger Greenaway.

Creativity Technique
Double Negatives
Applying algebra to solve soft problems.

Web Game
Another addition to our web game shells.

Pithy Saying
Performance Testing
Cheap testing is not really a saving.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor: Raja Thiagarajan

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Les Lauber, Matt Richter, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2005 by The Thiagi Group. 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 © 2005 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( for permission.

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Guest Gamer

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. Earlier this year, I met my longtime role model Dennis Meadows at the 2004 ISAGA Conference in Munich and invited him to appear as a guest gamer.

After 35 years as a professor and institute director in three US universities, Dennis Meadows retired from academia to focus full time on simulation modeling and game design. His specialty is computer simulation. The second of his ten books, Limits to Growth, presented a simulation model of global futures. It was translated into 30 languages and awarded the German Peace Prize. He has co-authored three books that present games for use by trainers. The most widely used is Systems Thinking Playbook with 30 short games (see ). Dennis is Past President of ISAGA and a member of the Editorial Board for Simulation and Games. He has received three honorary doctorates from European universities for his contributions to education.

An Interview with Dennis Meadows

PFP: Dennis, what is your specialty area?

Dennis: I use games of all sorts, from 30 second exercises to 4 hour roleplaying simulations. But my special interest is in the design and use of computer-assisted games which confront players with responses to their decisions that come from a complex feedback structure. I first create a computer simulation model of an issue—ocean fisheries depletion, pharmaceutical drugs spoilage, prison overcrowding, deterioration in the quality of a university, whatever—then I convert it into a game that can be used by those interested in or affected by that issue.

PFP: How did you get into designing and using games?

Dennis: My first graduate course at MIT started with a simple game that I eventually adapted and used in my own teaching. At Dartmouth College I managed a graduate program for 16 years, The Graduate Program in Resource Systems and Policy Design. At my 40th birthday celebration, attended by over 20 of my former students, I asked each of them which aspect of their academic work had turned out to be most memorable, most important. Most of them mentioned that simple game—not my lectures, not my reading assignments, certainly not my exams. So I decided to shift the focus of my teaching and make it much more experiential. I took a year-long sabbatical and taught myself gaming. Games, in one form or another, have been the foundation of my teaching ever since.

PFP: How long have you been designing and using games?

Dennis: I encountered my first serious academic game in 1964. I made it simpler to understand and to facilitate. Then I used it. I designed my own first game from scratch in 1984, Stratagem. It portrays the life cycle of economic and demographic growth of a region over 50-100 years. The World Bank is among many thousands of users. Since then I have created and used many dozens of games. I have also taught college courses on educational game design; doing that greatly enhanced my own mastery.

PFP: Where do you use games?

Dennis: When I had regular classroom lecture responsibilities, I would use games in the classroom. I lecture in many countries each year, and I try to start and end each talk with some simple, relevant exercise. During the 1990s at the University of New Hampshire I supervised a 100 acre teambuilding campus that serves 10,000 clients a year. The work there is principally based on games. When I consult for corporate or government clients, I often use games to help them better understand their own issues.

PFP: How do your clients respond?

Dennis: When games are professionally selected to serve client needs and masterfully facilitated, clients are extremely enthusiastic. But if clients suspect their time is being wasted, they understandably get aggravated.

PFP: What is the most horrible or embarrassing moment you have had in conducting games?

Dennis: Most embarrassing was at the 1986 ISAGA conference. I introduced a new computer-assisted game on the management of renewable resources. The computer program crashed in the middle of the first round, and I had to complete the game, painfully slowly, using a hand calculator. The most horrible moments must probably have been at our team building center when, looking back on an exercise, I realized that it could have evolved in a way that might have caused physical injury to the one of the participants. It never did, and we used such events to improve our procedures, so it never will.

PFP: What advice do you have to newcomers about designing and using games?

Dennis: Games are a tool. It is essential to understand clearly and in detail the needs and constraints of the participants and the curriculum for which a game is intended. Once you fully specify the context of use, look around for games that might be adapted for your use. It is always easier to change an exercise that already works than to start from scratch. Beware of the adage, “When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Don't fall into the trap of defining each new opportunity for a game as one that just happens to need the exercise you have already mastered. Last of all, keep it simple! There is a tendency to try and stuff more and more detail into a game. I like the simple exercises that serve as metaphors or frames and that let the participants draw on their own insights and knowledge for playing and debriefing the exercise.

In using a game, I like Dick Duke's “Rule of 10.” One has to use a game at least 10 times before you really understand it. That is profoundly true, but note that I am still learning from and adapting games that I have run over 100 times.

In getting acceptance for the use of games, respect the time commitments and the risks that your participants assume when they enter into one of your games. Make sure the exercise will be useful. Be clear with them about what they will do and why. As a desperate last resort, you can always mention some peer group of your present participants that has played and benefited from the game you are about to run.

PFP: What do you think is the most important characteristic of a facilitator?

Dennis: A good facilitator needs to work out of empathy and profound respect for the psychological, physical, and intellectual needs of those participating in the games.

PFP: What is the most important characteristic of an effective training game?

Dennis: It needs to be framed and debriefed in direct connection with the objectives and the experience of the participants. Make sure you have the mechanics down totally. It is naturally upsetting to a participant when it becomes clear that the facilitator doesn't understand a game and is, therefore, forced to change the rules, make mistakes, or terminate a game in the middle.

PFP: What is the most important characteristic of a receptive participant?

Dennis: Participants need to know that they are operating in a safe space, where mistakes and fun can be experienced without losing face or being hurt. They need to respect the professional competence of the facilitator and acknowledge their own needs for new skills or knowledge.

PFP: What is one thing that you hate the most in a facilitator?

Dennis: “Hate” is a strong word. I wouldn't use it to describe my feelings. I greatly disrespect a facilitator who puts her or his own needs above those of the participants. I don't appreciate lazy facilitators who do what is easy instead of what will work.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike in a training game?

Dennis: Some games are mechanically complex and conceptually simple. You have to spend a lot of time and effort introducing and running them, and there are not many lessons to be derived. I prefer the opposite—mechanical simplicity and conceptual richness.

PFP: What is one thing that you dislike in a participant?

Dennis: It is difficult to work with participants who feel, and state, that they are present because they are forced to be, not because they want to be. I will stop an exercise if it becomes clear that one participant is using the game to achieve political or psychological goals vis-à-vis others in the game. Where there are physical or psychological risks from participating in a game, every participant must respect the others and assume responsibility for their safety. If a participant is unwilling to take on that responsibility, I move them to an observer role.

PFP: What types of games do you use most frequently?

Dennis: I most often use extremely brief and generic games that can be introduced into standard lectures. But I spend the most time facilitating a two-hour exercise I created long ago, FishBanks Ltd, a game that takes groups of 15-50 through a process of discovery about the factors that lead to overuse of renewable resources. I have run it well over 100 times in at least 20 countries for groups from 12 years old up to senior policy officials.

PFP: What is your favorite game?

Dennis: I honestly do not have a favorite game. There are many games I do not like, because they do not work. I am most proud of FishBanks among all the games I have created. But when it comes to using a game, I have a collection of perhaps 50 exercises that I consider when trying to find just the right experience. And I am always ready to ask friends for recommendations, when I can't seem to find the right initiative.

PFP: Who are your favorite game designers?

Dennis: I have learned a great deal from Dick Duke and his books and games. I respect Thiagi enormously, because he has committed himself to making a full time living from games. Most gamers get a full salary from some other activity. John Sterman at MIT has pioneered in the use of games for research into the cognitive psychology and the strategic habits of managers—he has done some very original work. There are many other clever game designers out there doing elegant and useful work.

PFP: Do you have any book recommendations?

Dennis: I have found the series, Games Trainers Play, to be a fruitful starting point for many of my simple exercises. Cathy Greenblat wrote a book in 1988, Designing Games and Simulations: an Illustrated Handbook that has many interesting examples. I recommend my own book, Systems Thinking Playbook, because it is the only text I know that is accompanied by a two hour video on DVD showing each of the games in action.

PFP: What is your prediction about the future of games?

Dennis: There are positive and negative trends unfolding; I don't know what their net effect will be.

Video and other recreational games are already an enormous commercial success. The good news is that they open up people to playing games for other goals. The bad news is that they bias expectations about games in ways that are not conducive to learning complex new knowledge, for example they rely extensively on vicarious violence.

Training is slowly migrating to the Internet. The games I like require face-to-face interaction and time enough to make mistakes, reflect, discuss, ponder, and experiment. The Internet makes all that more difficult. But when you create a game that can be used over the web, you now have massively large audiences for it.

The number of trainers and academics who recognize the didactic value of games is rising. You see this in the rise of attendance at the ISAGA meetings. But growing numbers means that it is harder to sustain high ethical, literary, and technical standards among members of the profession.

The Internet has enormously simplified the process of finding and acquiring relevant games. Also new computer software for graphics, text editing, and simulation have made it much more efficient to create the materials for a game. Given these conflicting trends, I really don't know what way the field will move. I think those with real expertise in game design and use will see growing demand for their skills. I certainly see that in my own work.

I can predict my own future. I will spend the next decade creating a variety of complex, computer assisted role-playing games about many different social issues. And I am going to have a great deal of fun doing it.

Simulation Game

by Dennis Meadows

In the 1980s I created FishBanks, Ltd, a 2-hour, computer-assisted role playing game that teaches key ideas about the sustainable management of renewable resources. Thousands of sets are in use in at least 15 countries. But there has been demand for a simpler, faster version that does not require a computer. So I created the following exercise, which I call Harvest. Some features of this exercise were originated and used by others, long before I came along. But the exercise described below has unique characteristics for which I am responsible. It is in the public domain, and it may be copied and adapted by anyone for any purpose. It would not be correct to give me full credit for this game. I do not know its parentage. I am describing here a very simple version intended for children. But you'll see it could be modified by replacing the candy with money or poker chips. Then it would work as well for adults. A slightly more complex version of Harvest, based on teams, is described in the Systems Thinking Playbook.


To run the game you need one medium-sized bowl, a whistle or bell, and 150 - 200 pieces of candy.


The game may be run for groups of from 3 to 15.

Player Instructions

Here is a bowl with 50 pieces of candy in it.

In just a moment I will blow my whistle to start the first round. Then all of you will have 5 seconds to take from the bowl as many pieces of candy as you wish to or are able to grab.

After 5 seconds I will blow my whistle again, and you must stop.

After you stop, I will count how many pieces of candy are left in the bowl, and I will double them or bring the total up to 50, whichever requires fewer pieces of candy. So, for example, if you left 35 pieces in the bowl, I would add 15, making the total for the next round 50. If you left 20 pieces in the bowl, I would add 20.

After I have added the required number of pieces of candy, I'll give you a few moments to consider your strategy, and then I'll blow the whistle again to start the second round. In that round each of you will once again have 5 seconds to take as many pieces as you wish to or are able to grab.

After 5 seconds, I'll stop the round, count the candy, add the necessary pieces, and give you few moments to consider your strategy. Then I'll blow the whistle for the third round.

We will continue in this way for several cycles.

Your goal is to get as much candy for yourself as you can.

Facilitator Notes

I usually try to blow the whistle for the first round before they have a chance to talk about a common strategy. But after that, if they ask about the possibility of talking together, I say they should do whatever they feel will let them maximize the amount of candy they can get. If they ask how many rounds will be played, just say, “We'll do this for awhile, until I decide to stop.”


One key issue in the game is the choice between collaboration and competition. Collaboration requires joint decision making, coordination, and trust. It is useful to get the participants to share their thoughts, observations, and strategies on this choice and to discuss where and how this choice confronts them in real life.

The game introduces a concept analogous to “Maximum Sustainable Yield” in a renewable resource system. If the participants take the candy to zero, you do not add any more for the subsequent rounds. But blow the whistle anyway for several more rounds, so they can experience intensely the frustration of going to an empty bowl. If they do not take any candy, leaving it at 50, you also do not add any. By taking enough candy in each round that the bowl is left with 25 pieces, the participants can maximize the amount that you must add each round.

Of course, over the long term, they cannot take out on a sustainable basis more than you put in. You can draw a graph to make this clearer. On the horizontal axis is “Number of pieces at the end of the round” ranging from 0 to 50. On the vertical axis is “Number of pieces added” ranging from 0 to 25. The data curve has the shape of a equilateral triangle with its peak at the point (25,25). Engage them in discussions about where this kind of regeneration confronts them in real life. The relation to fisheries, forests, and ground water is obvious. The game also makes points about softer resources, like faith in government.


Encouraging Participation in Debriefing
by Roger Greenaway

Last month, Roger Greenaway introduced seven strategies for encouraging participation in debriefing (investigate, facilitate, clarify, demonstrate, change, consult, and inspire) and explored the first strategy in detail. This month he explores the next two strategies in greater detail.


Use tasks. If participants like doing tasks but not debriefing discussions, then set up debriefing sessions as production tasks for groups to carry out independently (examples: creating cartoons, maps, graphs, collages, songs, or news reports about what they have done). This may not take participants all the way around the learning cycle, but high levels of participation are likely both during and after such tasks.

Ask direct questions. Give some warning to the quieter people so that they have time to prepare a response.

Give people questions to think about. Give out questionnaires to help individuals (or pairs) to think things through in preparation for a group review. Questions can be the same for everyone, or can be personalized, or random. They can also be self-selected from a list of questions generated by the group.

Give people time to think. In a guided-reflection activity, people lie down while you talk through the events and prompt their thoughts with questions (which they answer silently inside their heads). After 5 to 10 minutes finish the activity by focusing people's thoughts on what they will say to the group (or to individuals in the group) (example: thanks, appreciates, apologies, regrets, or congratulations).

Encourage alternative ways of communicating. Encourage the use of pictures and objects as visual aids to help people to focus and express their thoughts and feelings. Visual aids are also useful props for those who lack confidence.


Create a climate in which it is easier for everyone to contribute. Some ground rules may help you achieve this. Try to get rules expressed positively as DOs rather than as DON'Ts. If rules sounds too much like school, find a more positive (and accurate) title such as “Mutual Expectations” or “What we expect from each other” or “How we can encourage each other”.

Use a body image. To encourage everyone to contribute to this process of clarifying expectations, place a big sheet of paper on the floor—big enough for a volunteer to lie on. Ask everyone to help draw the body outline. Then give everyone a felt pen and ask them to write down what they want to experience during the course within the body, and experiences they don't want outside the body. (Ask people to focus on processes rather than on goals.) Then ask everyone to step back and say what they can do to help prevent the unwanted experiences (outside the body) from happening and what they can do to help generate the wanted experiences (inside the body).

Clarify personal objectives. Understanding people's motivation towards the course as a whole will help you (and them) to see where debriefing fits in. Will debriefing help them establish or clarify objectives, or help them achieve their objectives, or both? Rather than coming up with a standard explanation of why debriefing is important, you can explain how debriefing (of a particular kind) can help them achieve their particular objectives.

What Next?

Next month, Roger will explore two other strategies for encouraging participation in debriefing. If you are in a hurry, you can read about all the strategies (and much more) by visiting .

Creativity Technique

Double Negatives

Do you remember that the negative of a negative is a positive from your algebra classes? We use this principle in the Double Negatives technique for generating ideas. This technique is effective because your brain gets excited whenever you do something negative and mischievous.


To brainstorm a set of strategies for achieving a goal.


1 to 30


10 to 30 minutes, depending on your goal and the number of participants.

Team Formation

If you have 2 to 7 participants, ask them to work as a single team. With more participants, divide them into 2 to 5 teams, each with four or six members. It does not matter if some teams have an extra member.


Note: These instructions are for an individual. If you are working with teams, make suitable modifications.

Specify your goals. Write down one or more goals related to the problem or to the opportunity. Select a goal for further exploration.

Here's a sample goal: Workshop participants should return on time after a coffee break.

Write the laog. A laog (pronounced lay-augh) is the exact opposite of the goal. In most cases, you can create the laog by replacing the verb in your goal with its antonym.

Here's the laog: Workshop participants should not return on time after a coffee break.

Brainstorm strategies for achieving the laog. Ignore your original goal. Write down a list of ideas for achieving the laog.

Here are different ideas for ensuring that the workshop participants will not return on time after a coffee break:

Reverse each strategy. Write the opposite of the strategy for achieving the laog.

Here is an example:

Strategy: Make the early participants wait for the latecomers.

Reversal: Get started on time. Don't wait for the latecomers.

Try to reverse all your strategies. However, if any of them appear to be irrelevant, ignore them.

Sometimes you may reverse a strategy in more than one way. Here's an example of a strategy being reversed two different ways:

Strategy: Punish the early participants.

Reversal 1: Reward the early participants.

Reversal 2: Punish the latecomers.

Edit your list of reversals. When you reverse your strategies for achieving your laog, you end up with strategies for achieving your goal. Examine each strategy and rewrite it to make it more specific and practical.

Here's an example:

Original strategy: Punish the latecomers.

Edited strategy: Ask each latecomer to sing a song.

Expand your list. Your edited list of strategies may suggest additional ones. Keep adding strategies to the list.

Repeat the process with other goal statements. If you have more goal statements, select another one, state its laog, write strategies for achieving this laog, and reverse them into strategies for achieving the goal.

Web Game


We have added one more game to our collection of web game shells.

You can play this game right now.

This SPLATTER game tests your knowledge of Multiple Intelligences. In the game, the screen displays a 3 x 4 table with different types of intelligences (example: kinesthetic) and characteristics of each (example: career choice).

The table contains 12 entries. Several of these entries are incorrect—and your challenge is to find them. Click your mouse on an incorrect entry. You will see an arm throwing a tomato which will splatter and cover the entry. Your score will go up.

If you click on a correct entry, the arm will still throw the tomato. But the tomato will bounce off—and your score will not go up.

Remember, your goal is to splatter tomatoes at incorrect entries.

As with all our web games, you can play this game repeatedly. Every time you play the game, you will get different arrangements of rows and columns—and different incorrect entries.

Also, you can play the game at three levels of difficulty. Level 1 gives you plenty of time to find the incorrect entries. Level 3 requires you to work faster because you have a tight time limit.

More About Web Game Shells

Web Games Shells are animated online games. We have a software program that enables you to create five different types of web games. You don't have to be a computer programmer to create these games. Just type the items (questions and answers or statements to be classified) on a template and click a couple of buttons. Your game is ready to play. You can play the game at your computer or upload it to your web site.

You can play different sample web games and read the Game Design Manuals and Instructional Design Tips by visiting the Web Game Shells area of our website.

While the games are effective and exciting by themselves, we blend them in our online learning approach called the Four-Door Approach to Elearning. You can take our free online course to learn (and experience) how to use the library, the playground, the café, and the torture chamber to provide effective and engaging online learning. To do this, visit Online Courses by Thiagi, click on the name of the course, and create a new account.

For more information about purchasing and using the Web Game Shells software, call Matt (415-385-7248) or Raja (812-332-1478).

Pithy Saying

Performance Testing

Performance testing is a guaranteed investment.

All our training design activities are centered on performance tests that involve simulations that authentically reflect real-world situations. Here are some examples:

It costs significant amounts of time and money to design, administer, and score these performance tests. We can save money and time by adopting either of these cheaper alternatives:

Do we really save money by skipping testing or by using easy-to-design and easy-to-score tests? Let's answer this question by recalling two basic principles:

Given these basic principles, we can think of performance testing as an investment. The time and money we spend on designing and administering better tests gives valuable returns in terms of effective learning and profitable application.