Making Fun!

  • July 24, 2020
  • Posted by David McCord
Post Title

Over the years I’ve provided many games workshops for audiences of all ages. In addition, I work with Boy Scouts who wish to earn the Game Design Merit Badge. (Yes, there is one!) In these situations I share a glossary of game mechanisms and talk about the games that use them. Whether the games are well-known or obscure, my point is that games the world over offer a rich spectrum of possibilities, and I try to help people see what it is about a game that they enjoy. I help people see beyond the commercial package or colorful licensing to find a game’s roots in the history of play.

When I do my workshops, I bring along a kit of components that often raise a few eyebrows: Cowry shells, popsicle sticks, Sharpie markers, bottle caps, and a handful of pebbles. (Depending on the setting, I might “plant” some of these components to emphasize their common availability.) Depending on the setting, I’ll have a large pad of newsprint and some Sharpies, but in some cases a dsidewalk and some chalk does the trick.

And I ask, “What kind of game shall we play today?”

I’ve done this enough times to be prepared for most of the usual responses. Some people will naturally give some silly responses, but I will try to guide my audience into thinking about “basic basics” and the embellishments that make games fun for them.

We usually start with a simple race game. We can draw a long line and divide it with cross-hatches into a track of intersections and spaces. Or we can draw a winding circuit of little circles meandering around the page. Or we can create a grid and zig-zag from point to point in some predetermined pattern.

dice “On this track,” I say, “let’s have a race. Go ahead now, and let me know who wins.” (In this example, you'll note that it's a race between a sports car, George Washington, and a rock.)

“But what shall we use for game pieces?” to which I respond, “What do you have in your pockets, or on the ground, that you can use?” Talk about the materials at hand, and what they might represent in our race. (The player? An animal? A rocket? A robot?) Once everyone gets a token, I repeat the command: “Go ahead now, and let me know who wins.”

dice “But how do we know how to move? What shall we use for dice?” This gives me a chance to talk about chance. What are dice, or spinners, or tee-totums, or casting sticks? They are “randomizers”—methods of generating a range of unpredictable results within a certain range. After demonstrating a number of these options (including a deck of cards), I get the players to choose their own methods and materials. (Here's a picture of some randomizers from my collection.)

OK, it’s not rocket surgery, but it’s a start.

For the next phase of my workshop, I ask the audience for their favorite game. That’s risky, but so far I’ve only been stumped a few times. Taking a few examples, I try to show everyone the roots of their favorite game — the building blocks are at its core. Is it a race game? A set-building / collecting game? A matter of chance or of choice?

The objective is to inspire the group to think about things in a little more depth, and to be a little more analytical. And then to realize that all the complexity we see can be broken down into simpler components. Games are life lessons, even when they’re not intended to be so.

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