Saturday, February 14, 2009

Just a thought about instructions, story

I was playing The Ladybug Game today with my children for the first time and was surprised to find that it didn't come with instructions. I told my kids that there must be something somewhere in the box or on the box or in the cards, because you can't make a game without providing instructions. My oldest daughter just started making up the rules, and we began manipulating the game pieces, and we came up with a format that worked for us. In fact, it was quite fun! And then, once we established the gameplay, we kept continually refining it. The game did provide a short story about what happened to the characters in the game, and the board was shaped in a particular way, which guided us in the development of our format. It also made me start thinking about how much more interaction and engagement was involved in playing the way we did. Maybe the best way to create interactive narratives is to start with nothing, except a few pieces and tools and an environment, and let the player broadly determine what comes next. It sure works in childplay, so does it lose its value later because many adults have atrophied imaginations? Or is it just that most adults have had the idea of complete freedom of choice hammered out of them?


Carie said...

Brett, I have had a similar experience with my three children. I took a class in online education, and the instructor said this is a characteristic of this generation: they want to explore, create their own rules, see what works, and fix what does not work. Perhaps your LadyBug Game didn't have rules because the manufacturer things the same? Thanks for sharing the for thought!

Monica said...

Brett, I think adults do loose that sense of experimentation that we have naturally as children. We recently held a "team building" exercise for the managers and administrators (the people in charge) in our department and while I wasn't there (thank goodness) and must rely on organizational lore, I hear it didn't go too well. Apparently, the group was given the tools and the goal and instructed to work out how to meet the goal (they had to fill in the instructions). From what I hear, it was so dynamically dysfunctional that after 30 minutes of no progress and ever heightening tension, the mediator stopped the game play and instructed them in the solution himself. So much leadership among team members. I'm sure had I been there, things would have gone down much differently :-)

I think our environments as adults do little to encourage such experimentation and play. When it's all about deadlines and outcomes and measurable data, we fixate on efficiency and how quickly we can get there in order to move on to the next task. A lot of people complain about not having latitude and freedom in their jobs, but from what I see everyday among my colleagues most of them are pretty comfortable with being instructed.

Chris said...

Heck yeah. One of my favorite computer games (as an adult, of course) has been The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. It offers much the same kind of experimental/explorative sandbox play that we've been discussing in our musings on interactive narrative.

I remember the first time I sat down in front of it; I was so used to the managed, rule-intensive system of other games I'd been playing that I couldn't STAND to play Morrowind at all: I was atrophied! I came back to it eventually, and allowed myself to be opened up to the immersive, discovery-oriented system of the game and found it to be one of the more rewarding play experiences I've had (well, except for chasing the puppy around the living room with my 9-month old, but that's a different kind of game...).

Thanks for the thoughts!