Monday, November 1, 2010

Cool Monday: Gamestorming

As a gaming guy who has to work in a day job, I was utterly drawn in by Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. Dave Gray has written a lot of interesting things about sketching and data visualization in the past, and this particular book is dedicated to using games in a business context. These are games designed to inspire creativity, build teams, brainstorm and otherwise do the things that are supposed to happen at meetings but very rarely do.

I admit, I'm an easy sell when it comes to the idea of finding utility in games, and this book makes a great case for that, with almost three quarters of the book dedicated to specific examples. That said, the fist section is actually a broad analysis to games which I found utterly fascinating. Specifically, there's a lovely analysis of games as creating a range of ideas, kicking those ideas around, then narrowing down the range of ideas until you have a winner. This struck me in large part because of something that has a lot of utility in Dresden Files city creation. The system's very good at creating a bunch of ideas and kicking them around, but I think the narrowing step could probably use some work. It's a great example of how a good model can give insight into an existing system.

Now, I think this is a great book from a business perspective, but my appreciation is a lot nerdier. See, a lot of the games that are useful for business could also be a lot of use when brought back to gaming. Specifically, a lot of situation, scenario and character design and collaboration can be acquired through these games.

Even better, a lot of the game techniques can be used to solve long-standing game problems. Specifically, a lot of the games are designed with checks to keep the more talkative members of the group from directing everything while at the same time working to draw out contributions form people who might normally be hesitant to speak up. For me, at least, this is a situation I've seen at many gaming tables, and any way to address it is welcome.

To illustrate, I'm going to pull out a couple of the games that really struck me as ones that could apply to RPGs, but I'm just scratching the surface here. If this is even faintly interesting, I strongly encourage you check out the book and the blog.

Start with a topic, (such as a setting element). Each player takes an index card and writes down an idea or object related to the topic. Redistribute the cards (pass to the write) then add to or enhance the idea on the card. Repeat several cycles of, possibly starting fresh. The result will be the equivalent of a loud brainstorming session, but you'll have gotten input from everyone.
As a twist, I note this one can be done entirely by email, if the GM is willing to administrate. Has the advantage of hiding handwriting or groups in which that matters.

Context Map
The context map is a visualization game to study and reveal the influences on an organization, such as the trends affecting a business. It can be applied equally well to fictional organizations and situations, and is a great situation builder.

Heuristic Ideation Technique
Fans of Shock or the 5x5 adventure design system will recognize this method. will recognize this one, and a mention it mostly for that. Basic Idea is a 5x5 grid, with 5 elements on each axis, and the grid used to review how those elements intersect.

Like a post-mortem for a problem, but done in advance, to consider the things that might/will go wrong. Struck me as a great way to design adventures by starting with a goal and building the problems from that.

5 Whys
Start with a problem, and ask everyone to write down why it's a problem. Line up those answers as the top of several columns, then go down each column 5 times, asking why the the thing above is a problem. This is a great way to boil down bigger issues, but in gaming it's a great way to build the backbone of a campaign with problem like "The Dark Lord Rising" and such.


  1. "pass to the write" may be my new favorite typo.

    Pre-Mortem Is essentially Wilderness of Mirrors, no?

    Need to read up on 5 Whys, from the description I'm not quite getting it...

  2. Man, that typo is so good I'm totally going to leave it in there.

  3. Great post Rob. This may be an obvious point to many, but it seems to me that the points you make here would also apply to creating narrative fiction, screenplays &c.


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