More fun than frustrating

About 14 years ago, I wrote an article called "Learning by Dying." It was a response to a worried parent who was concerned about the kinds of games her kids were playing on the computer (this was in '95). I was writing, as I oft do, from the perspective of a play advocate. I wanted her to help her embrace her the relevance of fun, at least in her children's lives. What's been especially reassuring to me is that what I wrote in response is at least as relevant now as it was then, and not just to the nature of kids' computer games, but to some very fundamental principles of user interface. As the following from an article about the design of the iPhone so clearly describes:
"Any new system or gadget has a learning curve, but where the iPhone differs is that the nature of traversing that curve is more fun than frustrating. You swipe and pinch and tap and shake your way to familiarity instead of pressing awkward buttons and navigating byzantine menu structures. You learn the iPhone by playing with it, which encourages interaction because humans are built to play. Even in a system like this, we could quickly be dissuaded from doing so if wrong actions had negative consequences, such as getting online or sending messages accidentally. The iPhone is mostly devoid of these sorts of consequences. The only time I’ve run into this is repeatedly calling people I didn’t want to call while viewing my Recent Calls list.

"The iPhone goes further than encouraging play; it rewards play. If you explore the phone’s applications, you will often find them anticipating your needs. When viewing a video you’ve shot and press the action button, you can email it or upload it to YouTube. If you try to email it and the video is too large, it will ask if you want to send a smaller clip from the video instead of preventing you from sending it. The iPhone then presents you with the UI to trim a clip and continue with your message. The original video remains untouched. Simple, sensible, satisfying."
 Fred Brecher - The iPhone is Not Easy to Use: a New Direction for UX Design

via Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Jesse Schell, conceptual optician

Dear Jesse Schell,

I know, I know, you sent me a copy of your book and your card deck. Me. That was no business card. It was a sizable gift. And by it, I am honored you thought my opinion worth the investment. And I’ve been honored now for maybe a half year and I still have written barely anything about your work. Not about how deep it is, how thorough, how it touches the very same things I would hope to touch upon if I were writing about the art of game design. How it goes further, even, instantiating and substantiating, almost tangibly building the sensibilities that are central to the art of designing for fun.

The Art of Game Design, a Book of Lenses. Exactly. A book of ways to look at games, through different perspectives, through different paradigms, like, for example, fun.

If I hadn’t been so busy with moving and traveling and redefining my pschyo-ecological niche, I’d have told everyone about what you have accomplished here, how even the “game” you made up, with that beautifully rendered deck of cards, each acting as a “lens” (very deep concept here, lens) through which you can see and even judge the nature of the game, as it were. How you actually made an genuine game that can truly be played for fun. And yet, with serious import and surprising value…A game that can be fun to play and still border everso closely on what one would call “serious” – full of purpose and significance and learning objectives and messages, even – fun of a very useful kind.

This in itself is an accomplishment that would send especially me into paroxysms of praise and public cavorting. And yet, until now, I remained silent.

Alas for the exigencies that kept me from this for so long. I embrace thee, Jesse Schell, with gleeful noise, and hereby, for as long as the connection lasts, bestow on you the Defendership itself.

Jesse Schell. Author of the Art of Game Design, a Book of Lenses. Designer of The Art of Game Design: a Deck of Lenses. Industry veteran. Leader of a "highly talented group of artists, programmers, and game designers." Defender of the Playful.
from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Bilibo Game Box - a child's tool kit for game invention

The Bilibo Game Box is not just a toy. It is a tool kit for the very young game designer (age 4 and up) and an invitation to inventiveness for the rest of us.

The Game Box contains a die with interchangeable faces and six sets of differently-colored discs that fit in each face. There's also a set of six, plastic, hand-sized "mini-Bilibos," in each of the six colors corresponding to the colors of the discs.

Bilibos are shaped something like pregnant plastic Pringles, with holes that look almost like eyes. Full-sized Bilibos are big enough for a kid to sit, spin, rock, float, climb in or on, or pretend with. The simple, friendly, colorful design invites creativity, exploration, and invention, and nurtures playfulness. No moving parts. Just a funny shape to explore, define, redefine, shape your dreams on. Mini-Bilibos are just as strange, just as funny, just as fun to play with. And, as son-in-law Tom observed, function quite satisfactorily as doll helmets.

The die is called a Bilibo Pixel. It is made of some surprisingly bouncy and slightly stretchy plastic. The corners are so wonderfully rounded that it rolls as well as bounces almost as well as a rubber ball. Button-like pieces fit in each of the faces of the die where there are cavities deep enough not only to accommodate any of the discs, but also to fit little messages or prizes, or, if you are so inclined, weights. So you can play around with fate, as it were, making some of the faces the same color or all of the faces different, adding and removing things behind the colored buttons to influence where the die might fall and add further elements of surprise.

The Bilibo Game Box gives your child a set of almost infinitely enticing properties and relationships to explore. Without even reading anything even closely approximating rules, the child will find herself using the die in some way to indicate which mini-Bilibo she should aim for. Aim what, you might ask. Any of those color-coded, button-like discs which can be slid or juggled or tossed or tiddled under or over or through. Or strung together, for that matter, or strung together with a mini-Bilibo.

As children continue to explore the properties and relationships of the Bilibo Game Box, they will inevitably discover that the elements can be used in conjunction with a surprisingly varied array of other objects in their environment - chairs and steps, tables, counter-tops, floors. They can make targets and game boards with sheets of paper, ramps and obstacles out of paper plates and sheets of cardboard, die-launchers and Bilibo-flippers out of spoons and rulers.

Alex Hochstrasser, designer of the Bilibo Game Box and associated products, has created a work of playful genius. The simplicity of the components belie the elegance of design and the depth of understanding of the nature of creative play.

There are several delightful videos on Youtube that illustrate a few of the plethora of possibilities contained in the Bilibo Game Box, and a well-illustrated booklet that accompanies each Game Box for yet more ideas, and, soon, even more will be on the Bilibo website.

Despite all these resources, please, consider this: the more you and your children play together with this, openly, inventing games from scratch, without any guidance other than that which comes from your collectively playful hearts, the greater the value of your experiences with this remarkable toy. If you want ideas, let your children be your guide. The Bilibo Game Box is remarkably innovative and brilliantly designed, but the real value of it only becomes apparent when it is used as a tool for playful, inspired invention.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Playful User

Jonathan Follett asks: "What makes a person want to use one particular digital product or service over its competitor? What makes one user experience more engaging, interesting, or compelling than another?"

He answers for us: "An often overlooked, under-appreciated, and rarely measured component of user experience is playfulness."

Yes, he's talking about "user experience" and playfulness specifically in the context of the design of digital services like Twitter and Flickr.

He defines playfulness in the user experience " those elements of a digital design that engage people’s attention or involve them in an activity for recreation, amusement, or creative enjoyment."

"Creative enjoyment." The lad's a definite phrase-turner.

In his article he lists four handy criteria for measuring playability:
  • lots of small rewards and positive feedback for taking action
  • no negative consequences for experimentation
  • the ability to take someone else’s work and build on it
and my favorite:
  • frivolous interaction
"Facebook," he exemplifies, "has perfected digital social interaction for no good reason other than pure fun. All playful applications should have a component of interactive silliness."

Bless his perceptive heart: Creative enjoyment. Frivolous interaction. Interactive silliness. How else could one explain the forces that draw us here to find each other?

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Hard Fun

Today's "quote of the day" comes from Seymour Papert in his essay "Does Easy Do It? Children, Games, and Learning"

"...lessons I have learned from computer games...The echoed by kids who talk about "hard fun" and they don't mean it's fun in spite of being hard. They mean it's fun because it's hard. Listening to this and watching kids work at mastering games confirms what I know from my own experience: learning is essentially hard; it happens best when one is deeply engaged in hard and challenging activities. The game-designer community has understood (to its great profit) that this is not a cause for worry. The fact is that kids prefer things that are hard, as long as they are also interesting."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Siftables are "...cookie-sized computers with motion sensing, neighbor detection, graphical display, and wireless communication. They act in concert to form a single interface: users physically manipulate them - piling, grouping, sorting - to interact with digital information and media." They "...enable people to interact with information and media in physical, natural ways that approach interactions with physical objects in our everyday lives."

These toy/computers, developed by David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi of the MIT Media Lab, seem like so much fun - just watching people play in this TED talk is almost enough. Since I first saw the TED demonstration, I haven't been able to stop myself from thinking about the depth of this innovation, the games, the fun, the creativity, the learning these little compu-cookies could unleash.

So far, this is my third wave of insight into the computer-enhanced future of fun. The first was when I read Howard Rheingold musing on the interpenetration of technology with the social/physical world in Smart Mobs. The second when I started hearing about Pervasive Games on sites like Ludocity and IPerG, in events like the Hide and Seek Festival and Pac Manhattan and from visionary friends like Celia Pearce.

And now, Siftables.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Lego, Games, and me, too

I've been wanting to tell you about this project ever since I became involved with it, more than a year ago. As you can see from this article, it's finally been made public enough for me to write about.

I've only had a small role, actually, as an outside consultant. I got to help them create a format for their rules - one that would be clear enough, well-enough illustrated, as Lego-like as we could make it. I also got to help them think about the entire concept: the educational and social implications, the game system, online and off.

A hint - take a look at the image of the die. It's a Lego die. Note the different faces. Contemplate what it would be like if you could change the faces, like you can change anything Lego - build and rebuild them, even, perhaps, while you're playing a game with them. Think about the impact that might have on the game.

Another hint - think about playing on a board made of Lego pieces. You could redesign the board, if you wanted, couldn't you. You could move the start and finish, shrink or enlarge the board, add or remove obstacles. In other words, you could have exactly the kind of game I've been teaching about, designing, implementing - exactly the kind of board game, computer game, social game that I've been writing about ever since the Well-Played Game.

Which, by the way, is what led the Lego people to inviting me to this whole project. Because of a book by Salen and Zimmerman called Rules of Play, a book for computer game designers which brings the concept of the Well-Played Game to the design of online, multiplayer, role-playing games, which, further because, the leader of the new Lego initiative was astute enough to read.

What this particular Lego genius and profoundly insightful person had to show me was a group of board games, made out of Lego pieces. The real genius was not in his discovery that you could in fact make new and viable board games using Legos, but that you could make board games that could be changed, boards that could be redesigned, that you could let kids design their own variations, that you could make it possible for kids to learn how to design games that would be even more inclusive, and always "new," just as we did more than 30 years ago with the games we taught and created for the New Games Foundation. Only even more flexible, more responsive to the player/designers, and with board games.

I can't really tell you much more about this project or my future role in it, because it is still in the future. But I can, at last, share something promising with you, something positive, something new, something I am proud to have had even a small part in bringing to you, something empowering, something fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Lost Sport

By deep study of the Codex of the Lost Ring, we hope to gather insight into the mystery and vasty significance of the The Lost Sport of Olympia. We seek further guidance from Ariadne, who says of herself: "I woke up in a Labyrinth of Feb. 12. They call me Ariadne." Ariadne, should you consult the Wikipedia deeply enough, also refers to: "Ariadne's thread, named for the legend of Ariadne, is the term used to describe the solving of a problem with multiple apparent means of proceeding - such as a physical maze, a logic puzzle, or an ethical dilemma - through an exhaustive application of logic to all available routes." Ah. Ariadne's thread.

The mystery deepens and at the same time widens. What actually is the Lost Sport? Where is Olympia? Who lost it in the first place?

Perhaps we can deepen our understanding by reading an article titled: 'The Lost Ring' ARG players discover 'lost' Canadian sport.

ARG, don't you know, stands for Alternate Reality Game. Ah, so we are not speaking of an actual Lost Sport of Olympia, but something of a fantasy, something perhaps made up?

Perhaps in deed. But, reality-wise, the reality to which the alternate reality is an alternate, what we actually have is a quite fun game, which, as my colleague, covisionary and general friend Celia Pearce is quick to point out, is very much in the spirit of New Games of yore and ours. See, for example, this.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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New Tic Tac Toe

New Tic Tac Toe was published in 1977, under the auspices of Herb Kohl. It was very exciting to me to be even remotely associated with Herb Kohl, and I was honored in extremis when he asked if I could write something for him that he could publish and distribute through his Center for Open Learning and Teaching. Herb, for gosh-sake Kohl! So honored that I didn't really actually totally mind that someone misspelled my name ("Big K in DeKoven," I told 'em, Big D, small e, Big K, small oven." But did they listen?).

This was in 1977. 31 years ago, comparatively speaking. I only recently found a copy of it in my "trophy file" along with magazines that published articles of mine and newspapers and stuff that I've been keeping for historical reasons beyond my ken. I was about to consign it to eternity (e.g. recycling), when I thought to read it again, and, by golly, I kind of liked it. I think I was almost able to understand what Herb had seen in it and me all those many years ago. So I scanned it and uploaded it.

If you want, you can download a pdf file of the scanned booklet, here

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Hard Fun, Easy Fun, Visceral Fun, Social Fun

In his wonderful presentation on the Core of Fun, Ralph Koster identifies four more kinds of fun:

"Games," Koster conjectures, "mostly focus on hard fun."

I, of course, think of "hard fun" in terms of "flow, complexity and the 'slanty line'," and social fun in terms of "coliberation." Nevertheless, these are in deed 4 more flavors of fun to behold, enjoy, and plant into our many-flavored garden of conceptual joy.

See also Koster's "Theory of Fun." And perhaps this, from one game company that claims to put the theory into practice.

via Craig Conley

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Pachisi & Ludo

When I introduce students to the art of game design, I seem to always start with a relatively intense focus on "game-modding" - taking a classic game of some very familiar kind and modifying it, somehow, into something that is new, different, something inviting a different kind of game experience. This site about the sister games of Pachisi & Ludo gives us a near perfect starting point.

Here you will find the history of Pachisi as well as of more than 6 related games, and lists with images of commercial and other computer implementations - enough to inspire you to new heights of Ludo-craft, as well as to give you a much stronger understanding of an entire genre of game structures.

Also, it's a lot of fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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