Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Serious Play

I am just returning from the Serious Play Conference -- on gaming -- in Redmond, CA, heart of Microsoft, home of DigiPen, a university dedicated to interactive technologies.  OK, so why Serious Play?

First off, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (phonetically: chick sen me hi. Along with everyone else who has ever read this brilliant guy, I wondered) reminded us that play is always serious.  Play, for children, is the work of learning, how to bond, walk, talk, eat, read, compete and collaborate.  For adults, same, and then some -- rise to the challenge, necessary for personal development into old age, a component of creativity and of cultural evolution.

And playfulness?  Playfulness is the quality of experience people feel when they do something they enjoy for its own sake, usually in games, sports, artistic activities, but also in work, love, cooking, and other "serious" activities.  
And play is the a primary component of Csikszentmihalyi’s primary topic: flow. What is flow? A person can said to be experiencing flow when his attention is focused on a limited stimulus field -- like writing this article -- fully concentrating, not even thinking of what is occurring, really. But I did here that motorcycle driving by... As Csikszentmihalyi said, the roof could cave in and go unnoticed.  Action and awareness merge.  There is freedom from worry about failure.  You feel nothing can stop you. Self-consciousness disappears.  You are unaware of your body.  Time becomes distorted.  The experience becomes its own reward. You do it for the satisfaction it gives; because you love it.

What resonated with me about games for museums, seriously
    • Play can be seen as practice: Build, fail, test, do again. What better model for learning? You fail often in order to succeed. The pace is set by the player, through interesting choices, if the game is well designed, and includes meaningful, challenging choices.  All of this, just good pedagogy!  But remember, a game in an exhibit is usually played only once by the visitor so it better be easy to access.  
    • Making and playing games are an act of creativity. No systemization in place yet.  System architecture is long way off, apparently.  As when technology first infiltrated our hollowed halls in the 70s (I was there), the technology budgets are weak, and games can be expensive. Our organizational structure and staffing are probably inadequate. 
    • Building the game - 25% of cost; evaluating, tweaking, improving, the game - 75% of the cost.  Marketing is on top of that.
    • The business model for all current museum games mentioned at the conference -- in exhibits, played in the museum halls, or online -- had the museum, not the visitor (the player), paying for the game. Could we find a way to up-charge for games as we might do for a special exhibit?
    • t was reported at the Serious Game Conference that new production models frequently applied to games could bring creativity and innovation in design thinking to museums: empathize, define, ideaize, prototype, test, do over.  This could have positive effect on exhibit, publication, and program development, it was said.  This was also said in every decade since the 1970s by every group of smart young technologist with shiny new toys for us then.  Edwards Deming Plan-Do-Check-Adjust Change/Quality Management Cycle helped in the 1980s. I won’t belabor the point with Jim Collins in the 90s, etc.   

My final point: our multigenerational audiences watch and play games, in droves, online, on boards and screens of every size, on playing fields and swimming pools and woods and hiking trails, in urban environments and in the backs of cars, and they learn as they play.  We need to be aware of that and make rational decision to include game making and play, or not, in our programming mix.

Find out more and online games at the following museums:  Science Museum, UK; Strong Museum of Play, Museum of London, J. Paul Getty Museum, Indianapolis Children's MuseumNYTimesNYTimes Article by Chris Suellentrop. 

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