Sunday, October 12, 2008

Blink and you'll miss the Meaning of Play

I apologize for not updating continuously throughout the conference. There was too much awesome for me to channel efficiently to either paper or laptop. As soon as I got home, a peculiar circumstance prevented me from putting the deserved analysis onto the Internet. I'll do that now. Thanks for the patience.

If this conference has done anything, it would be that it reaffirms my suspicions that games are really important. And very, very complicated.

People assume that a game is a strict relation between rules and fun. In reality, from a detatched non-subjective viewpoint, it's actually more like a big engine of rulesy-wulesy gamey-wamey highly-subjective variables.

The sheer amount of different inputs and outputs of this fun engine make it a fickle, but very powerful tool. You can do so much good, and fail so hard when you develop games. There are many more factors and implications than most people understand. Are able to understand.  The truly eldritch powers of Play can elicit growth and peace, as well as fear and madness.

Play is also innate, within us all.  Leigh Anne Cappello, a Vice President at Hasbro and a Play Futurist, was talking about how babies start to explore.  They put their feet in their mouth.  That is Play.  How is something that is essentially programmed into our existance, not Meaningful?

While at the conference, I met Scott Nicholson, and got to play his final prototype of "Tulipmania 1637".  In a half an hour, I learned more about stock speculation than the Mass Media has ever tried to teach me.  This game should be in every elementary school.  I can't help but ask, could our current economic crisis been prevented, had this game become popular two years ago?  Personally, I think it would have.  It's coming out in a couple weeks, and YOU SHOULD BUY IT.

[I'm making a note here - Tangential Learning does work: I had NO IDEA about Tulip Mania before playing this game.  As soon as I got to a computer after playing, I went to Wikipedia.]

Superstruct is like a hyperanalagous version of that question.  Could a game such as that help prevent future crisis?  The Meaningful Play Conference has me convinced with a resounding "Yes."

We need to notice the benchmarks, though.  Nick Fortugno imagined, one day, the President shaking a game designer's hand and saying, "So you're the one who started this..." It's a reference to Lincoln, who shook Harriet Beecher Stowe's hand while saying she started the Civil War with "Uncle Tom's Cabin."  I believe that's going to be the last major benchmark, before Jane McGonigal's dream of a Game Designer winning a Nobel Prize comes true.


  1. Wish I had been there, but I really didn't even know about it. I guess that's the difference between that being your chosen field, and it being my chosen hobby.

  2. Been enjoying these and was waiting for your final impressions.

    A buddy of mine out in San Francisco is getting really excited about this math video game he's working on. He basically combined a JRPG system with Algebra, so that your attacks work like square root, divide, exponents and so on. It's utterly bizarre even when you're just playing it on paper. It also works.

    With Little Big Planet's attempt at turning level building into a game in of itself and Kongregate's 'Shootorial' series for making flash games, one has to wonder what you couldn't teach with enough creativity.

  3. L, does that mathJRPG have a website?

  4. I'm afraid it is entirely in his head at this point but we call and talk about it a lot on the phone. He's in graduate school in physics for...uh, making plasma guns or something, and has been studying computer programming in his spare time to work it out more.

  5. Considering how effective Number Munchers was back in elementary school, I'd love to see something with a little bigger scope. Please tell him my inbox is open if he needs another voice. =)

  6. These posts have been terrific, and I'm grateful for you taking the time to write them. I *so* want to attend the Meaningful Play conference next year. It just wasn't possible this year, but looking over the proceedings and reading your impressions makes me think I've missed something important and special. Next year!

    Thanks again for your notes and all the useful links.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Ahem. Be sure to check out for more on MPC, Michael.