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NASAGA '04 - North American Sim. & Games Assoc.

Posted by wwake on December 6, 2004 at 6:16 PM PST

NASAGA is the North American Simulation and Games Association, held in Washington, DC, Nov. 3-6. The games under discussion are mostly for teaching and facilitation more than pure "fun."

Nov. 3

"High Performance Teamwork," by Thiagi et al. This session used the commercial game Break the Safe (TM Mattel) as a vehicle for looking at a team's ability to work together. "Break the Safe" is a cooperative game - the team wins or loses as a whole. Thiagi made the point that high-ropes courses etc. can be too exciting - the teamwork they engender doesn't necessarily transfer back to day-to-day experience.

What makes a team? Having one (clear) goal, and more than one member. Ideally, these people are interdependent, and have diverse skills.

Thiagi reported a modest experiment around anonymous vs. identified feedback; they found anonymous feedback was better. But feedback that's a laundry list is too much - better to give people one actionable item.

"High performance teamwork depends on individual skill."

Nov. 4

"99 Seconds". This session gives each presenter 99 seconds to make their point.

Judee Blohm showed how to fold a piece of paper in half and make a book, "My story" in 10 minutes: a cover, 2 pages of content, and a back page "About the author."

Thiagi described a good 99-second session:

  • It's auditory, not visual
  • It's a blended medium - should provide both entertainment value and educational value.
  • No bait and switch - be self-contained.

"Play Their Games Your Way" - Les Lauber and Bill Wake. We provided a boatload of games, brought from yard sales, and encouraged people to study how they worked, and to take inspiration to make their own games.

"Six Keys to Making Learning Active", Mel Silberman. "People have to go through a learning experience to have a change experience."

  1. Hearing: Clear overview, catchy headlines, vivid examples, creative comparisons and analogies.
  2. Seeing: flipcharts/whiteboards, overheads, handouts, live demo, video, props, posters, dramatization, cartoons.
  3. Questioning: pair questions, written questions, highlighting, planted questions, question selection. "Asking learners questions is 1/10 as effective as letting them create their own."
  4. Discussing: don't use open discussion. Use subgroup discussion, partners, go-around, next speaker, panel and fishbowl. Discuss in groups of four.
  5. Doing: test, experiency, practice, perform without prompts.
  6. Teaching: jigsaw teaching, peer lessons, peer tutoring.

"Cracker Barrel". This session gave people ~20 minutes to make their presentation, with a bunch of people presenting simultaneously at different tables (with 5-10 participants at each for each 20-minute session).

Sonia Ribaux showed off easy board games. One example was tic-tac-toe made with post-its - answer the question and acquire the square. She also had some generic board templates. Another group showed off a board game they'd had a graphic artist design, and Kinko's put on vinyl; that looked very nice. Another table had Thiagi present magic tracks. Another table had Leslie Brunker demonstrate a number of interesting (if obscure:) skills.

"Classic Games Night" - I went to Chris Saeger's demonstration of the classic Beer game. His version used a smaller board that a pair could manage, but demonstrated the same systems issues.

Nov. 5

"Junkyard Sports" challenged people to use found materials to create a golf course.

"Sharpen Your Thinking Skills", by Brian Remer and Bill Wake. We developed a session to compare intuition/flow, deduction, and induction.

"Dancing with Garbage: The Art and Science of Putting Stories to Work", by Jo Tyler. This keynote led with a touching story about a garbage man who dances.

The speaker works with teams to help a company hear its own stories. This helps with both explicit and tacit knowledge, and lets people mentally rehearse a situation without consequences. She helps find stories by asking and listening, by using stringers, by soliciting stories from outside, and by web sites and so on.

There are shadow stories as well: the dark side. They take longer to tell and are harder to stop. You need to be careful with them.

In telling stories, space matters: line of sight, acoustics, lighting, chairs, airflow.

Tellable stories that listeners like: authentic, relevant, structured, audience awareness, engagement, theatrical devices.

"Training Games for Two", Thiagi et al. They used traditional card games, modified to work with custom cards.

"Free Cell": this was free time for game-playing. I spent most of my time on Vanished Planet, another collaborative game.


"Ten Secrets that I Learned in the Last Ten Years", Thiagi.

1. Profound truths. Bohr said, "The opposite of every profound truth is also a profound truth." Ex. "Look before you leap" vs. "He who hesitates is lost."

4. Diversity. He took an exam and was found to be "naive and racist". "Treat humans as humans, and don't patronize."

3. Perseverance. Do something a little each day and keep doing it - for years!

7. Game design. Three approaches: realistic model (takes too long - by the time you're ready, the world has moved on); "build an airplane while you're flying it - design a game while you deliver" (using improv and situated cognition); framegames (content and process separately).

8. Goals. "Focusing on goals is the most dysfunctional behavior you can have." "If you have objectives, you cannot be objective." Consider Open Space approaches; most conferences are BLM - Be Like Me. Don't have SMART goals - if they're achievable, what's the point?

5. Facing reality. "Reality is an illusion."

6. Training. Individualized.

2. Fun. "Immersion and engagement are what matter, not fun." People learn when they're in an emotional state, happy or sad. Fun is a byproduct of learning.

9. Problem Solving: managing polarities is what's important.

"The Wonderful World of Words", Sonia Ribaux and Kevin Eikenberry. "Fractured Proverbs" had us fill in creative answers to half-proverbs. "Quote and Questions" had people find the person holding the card matching the other half of a quotation. "Speak One Word at a Time" is an improv exercise.

"Demagnetic poetry" has a set of words printed on half a file card, and teams could create their own poems.

"The Wizardry of Accessing Your Mental Potential", by Sandy Lieberson and Sandy Dignes. They used "Serious Play" tools from Lego (TM) to have people create art demonstrating a challenge.

This is one of my favorite conferences. I learn so much, in an environment full of caring people. From the game end, it gives me an environment to think about what makes a game a game, how can we teach, and what matters in a simulation. If these topics appeal to you, I encourage you to join us in October, 2005, in Manchester, NH.

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