Game Design

Zendo

Tabletop Tuesdays: Puzzle Making Trainer

Type:
Tabletop
System Requirements:
Tabletop and Literacy
Developer:
Kory Heath

Zendo is an inductive reasoning game by Kory Heath. Heath reworked Eluesis, a game designed to play with a standard 52-card deck by Robert Abott. Eluesis was first published in Scientific American, June 1959, but has been published several times since in card game rulebooks. Heath created a complete boxed set with colorful transparent pyramids, guessing tokens, sample puzzles, rules and a new Buddhist theme rather than the original Judeo-Christian theme. Zendo is more colorful and tactile because it uses 3D pyramids rather than standard cards.


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Changing the Game

Because The Old One Sucked

Type:
Book
Developer:
David Edery, Ethan Mollick

Changing The Game is a well-researched, concisely written exploration of how game design has been applied to business, and where this is taking us in the future. The first section, covering all things related to advertising and games, is covered in greater detail and critical poise in Persuasive Games, but the latter two sections cover relatively new ground with a fresh take. If you are a game designer, you will find some parts of it interesting; however the majority of the book is designed to serve as a sort of gloss for more suited types (that is, those wearing suits). Therefore, this is worth buying if only to skim the interesting parts and then gift it to your boss, who probably lacks imagination (just throwing out a wild guess here) and could use the teaspoon of Valium to make the medicine go down.

First the bad: This book kind of reminds me of Greenspan's memoir at times, not in the writing style (which stays pretty crisp) but in the blatant skimming over of extremely worrisome issues. There's a sort of understated exaltation of the business-as-usual mindset even as terms are put forward for changing how business is done -- more of a creepy "New World Order" vibe than a radical empowerment vibe, for those who read with those goggles. For instance, a discussion of grinding goes on for about a page or two when describing how game principles can galvanize and focus a workforce. They cite the infamous World of Warcraft. The matter-of-fact way this phenomena is described reminded me of how Greenspan casually mentions that former Fed Governor Paul Volker was recommend by David Rockefeller, or how accelerating account deficits could be an issue in the future (as we face looming systemic collapse brought on by the fundamental design of inflationary money). Basically I'm concerned that the brutal interest-slavery of the near-future will be enabled by the masses getting glued to a dopamine drip, of which WoW's economy is a refined prototype, and anyone who doesn't participate in the global zombie MMO will be hunted down by Pentagon demon dogs. I wish I was exaggerating. Then you get bits claiming without footnote that a game increased productivity by 32%, and so forth, and I'm reminded of Adam Curtis' The Trap but narrated with that flinty voiced woman from the Focusin episode of The Simpsons ("It's not about slavery, it about helping kids learn").

The good: There's real potential in these ideas. The sincerity and simplicity of the lesson from the chapter on "User Innovation Communities" almost makes up for the clouds haunting other sections. It's like "yeah, you're talking from a sort-of lobotomized business perspective, but you have to talk that way to keep the child-like fears of the management class from going haywire as you explain how their fundamental assumptions are wrong." The lessons on designing games for training, recruitment, data aggregation, company organization, advertising ect. are all very concrete and more or less current with the body of theory up to Flow (that is, the whole other side of the medium's potential, what I call "phantasm" and Bogost calls "procedural rhetoric", is omitted). That's ok though, the book cites numerous examples of organizations applying game design, and all the examples are both successful and unsophisticated compared to the design of, say Passage, or even M.U.L.E.. Little did I know that by playing Video Store Clerk I was helping someone else make a million dollars.

The book concludes by exploring the power of games to harness collective intelligence. I'm going to weave this into the idea of an "emerging global brain", as well as the notion of a Corporation as an evolutionary successor to human beings, as it is an immortal entity based on collective intelligence. Now, human beings were evolutionarily succeeded by technologically empowered governments thousands of years ago, and then by corporations hundreds of years ago. Currently, we have the opportunity to evolve more astute and dynamic collective intelligence, as games like Superstruct attempt to explore. I was inspired to investigate the term "noocracy" after reading Bogost's book, and the concluding term "gameocracy" seems to be in that vein -- where individuality and collective intelligence are given equal ground to both compete and reinforce each other, where processes evolve and integrate to define the law in a complex, non-linear algorithm. The book concludes "We are in the early days of an extraordinary time." and here our divergent worldviews become congruent. Fuck yes -- we are. I believe, however, that the best designers aren't going to be materialistic douche-bags, and I say that as a designer who was formerly a materialistic douche-bag. Therefore, the corporate world is going to be scraping proven mechanics to effect their desired controls, while the cutting edge will be faster, freer, and possibly anti-corporate. Looking to L'Oreal's recruiting tools or IBM's virtual world/panopticon is like looking at GTA IV for inspiration; just get over it. The future of the artistic medium is going to be about love and sublime experience and relationships, and the future of the business medium could just as easily be about non-profit growth models and public/private partnerships as it could be about psychopathic corporations. We need to apply nothing less than the most challenging and dangerous of game designs to our current business, the foundation of the future: the game of thinking original thoughts.


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