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NASAGA '06 conference, day 1 of 4

Posted by wwake on October 13, 2006 at 11:49 PM PDT

NASAGA - the North American Simulation and Games Association - is a group consisting mostly of trainers and facilitators who use games and simulations in their training.
They're having their conference in Vancouver BC this week - and it's lovely here. (The only problem is - the conference has been so busy I've only been outside 2 hours.)

A lot of the fun at a conference is reviving old friendships and making new ones, but it's hard to capture all that. Instead, I'll focus on the sessions I attended.

Pre-conference workshop: Dramaturgy of Games, by Bernie DeKoven.

Childrens' games can contain deeper messages, when looked at through the lens of "theater."

For example, in DUCK DUCK GOOSE, you have to act certain ways if you want to be picked or don't want to be picked. You can use status clues to say "don't pick me." There's a drama in who you pick - the slowest kid? the fastest kid? your best friend? the kid you wish were your best friend?

Another game is HOT BREAD AND BUTTER. The kids all stand together at "Home". One child hides a belt. (And it must be a belt - Bernie described trying unsuccessfully to get the kids to use a rolled up newspaper.) He calls out, "Hot bread and butter, come and get your supper." Everybody runs away from home base, trying to find the belt. When someone finds the belt, he hits the other kids with it until they get home. (It was described as tapping a "coup" hit, not a beating.)

Bernie interpreted this as a play about the need to grow up. The kids who played were about 11 years old, and they were realizing there is such a thing as adulthood. You aren't granted adult-ness, you seize it. Now, if you stay home (as the home base was literally called), you won't have to deal with the consequences of adulthood (here, getting hit). But if you stay home, you can never become an adult.

We spent a fair bit of time playing, WHO STOLE THE COOKIE FROM THE COOKIE JAR? ("Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? Number 7 stole the cookie from the cookie jar. Who me? Yes you! Couldn't be! Then who? Number 5 stole the cookie from the cookie jar.")

We talked about fun. "Having fun in public is almost a political statement." "We package fun [movies, sports, etc.] but it doesn't touch our core. And we've lost our ability to create our own fun."

Bernie described Csikszentmihalyi's flow model; with challenge and ability on two axes - too challenging, we're anxious; too simple, it's boring; right on the edge - we may get flow. Flow is characterized by a sense of timelessness, focus, stillness, vividness, oneness.

Bernie has another model to go with it: "we" is on one axis, "me" on another. With way too much "we" or too much "me", we have alienation. More "we" than "me" leads to problems like co-dependence and mob rule. More "me" than "we" leads to self-absorption. In the middle channel, we have "co-liberation". When both are together at high levels, this co-liberation is confluence.

We played a few more games, PRUI, I DOUBT IT, BATTLESHIP(tm), and we tried an exercise from Agusto Boal's "Theatre of the Oppressed." We discussed a high-jump bar like this: |\| that lets everybody choose their own level (rather than a constantly raising high bar that makes everybody a loser).

Although we talked some about application, I really liked the general enthusiasm of just enjoying play as fun. And the theater notion yields some insights.

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