Newsletter: Do games really improve engagement?

In this month’s newsletter

  • Do games really improve engagement?
  • Gamify to Clarify
  • Upcoming
  • Time for a new Bristol brand?
  • Introducing Nia
  • Play, design thinking and Free Ice Cream to map sustainable futures
  • Gamify Everything?

Do games really improve engagement?

Saturday, March 23 is the penultimate Bristol Urban Forum! (see details here)  Here are some things we learned from playing Snakes and Ladders at February’s forum.

A year ago, we joined forces with placemaker, Ben Stephenson, to hold a series of public conversations about our home city. Through the Bristol Urban Forum we’re addressing urgent issues facing our city while innovating our play-based approaches.

Last month we explored Inequality; a particularly sticky challenge for Bristol. We used a brilliant set of inter-connecting parts, designed by the folks at KitCamp (and thanks to #NickOurWorld, UK Community Fund, and ChangeX) to construct a human-scale Snakes and Ladders board. We laid it out in a busy, indoor thoroughfare at Sparks (the site of a former M+S, now a mixed-use community space in a shopping centre), gathered a crowd of willing volunteers and asked “How do we play Inequality Snakes and Ladders”?  None of us knew how the game would go before we started— the players would fill in the details.

Using games and play-able experiences is a pretty hot trend within civic, academic and policy spaces, with a promise of improving public engagement, but they can get overcomplicated with rules that detract focus away from the issues at hand.  Our experience at the Forum demonstrated for us the advantages and disadvantages of gamification. First, the advantages:

  • Games show rather than tell.  Within the Forum sessions, a lot of information is exchanged, and without the use of any power point presentations!  In the forum, we incorporated sound/music, visual, physical and experiential stimuli and creative expression, all of which offer opportunities for exchanging information and experience across learning styles, cultural differences and ages.
  • Games expose power.  Often people’s concern about power and authority is not that people have it, but a lack of transparency about how it is used. In a game, roles and rules are clearly laid out. In delivering Snakes and Ladders, we were accompanied by Alexandra Lindsay, a Bristol-based songstress and ‘World Change Consultant’, who suggested the rule  ‘take 3 extra steps to win, or share them out with the other players….’, prompting personal stories about privilege, power, injustice and nepotism from players. Valuable talking points like these, arising from play, helped us to frame a more formal, post-game discussion.
  • Games are novel.   It is not everyday that you walk through your shopping centre and come across a huge playing board covered in snakes and ladders. Novelty is associated with the release of dopamine which activates feelings of pleasure and motivation. It also makes something more memorable and engages the imagination.

But gamification also has drawbacks.

  • Games are not for me?  Even the words ‘interactive games’ can bring to mind adrenaline, extroversion, youth and able-bodied-ness, associations that might put some people off. We need to consider all who might be present and may want to be involved. Informed by our experience as street performers and facilitators, friendliness, porosity and agency are at the core of everything we design. People encountering Inequality Snakes and Ladders had choice at all stages. As hosts, we helped people to feel seen and welcome. They could come close and join in, watch from the sidelines, stand back and observe or walk on by. All of these levels of engagement have value. As a result, not all involved were young, able-bodied and extrovert, but a diverse range of people who might not otherwise exchange views about the city.
  • Games are not thorough problem solvers. While they are great at getting people involved and sharing information, we use other skills and layers of engagement to ensure that what is learned and raised through play can be channeled into solutions and action. Our newsletter and website will continue to share about these and related topics.

There are two more sessions left of the Forum. If you live in Bristol, or are simply curious, please do come along. We’d love to meet you.

Gamify to Clarify

Making a chore into a game can activate playfulness, attention and a little motivational lift. But what about more complex challenges? Here’s a game (for any number of players!) to blast through blocks and move towards action.

1. Think of a challenge you are wrestling with.

2. Give it a name. What’s is the essence of it in one or two words? This is the THEME.

3. Think of a game–it could be from the playground, board games, casino, x-box, whatever– choose one that links in some way to your theme. This is the GAME.

4. Ask “How do you play ‘THEME + GAME’?”  Be open to all ideas. This is an exercise for the imagination. What is the objective roles, rules? How is a round is played? Design the playing space, equipment or board. This is playing!

5. Reflect. What does your game design tell you about your challenge? What do you want and need, what gets in the way, what kinds of outcomes are important to you, etc? What solutions emerge from this understanding?

6. Plan. What is one action that you could take, within your existing resources, towards shifting this challenge for the better?

We’d love to know how you get on! Please tag us @playdisrupt, using #gamifytoclarify if you post about it or email us.

Here is a link to a page with a game encouraging innovative approaches to local economies, from the social innovators at Nesta.  Scroll down to link that says “print outs” to get access to a Creative Commons game designed by Digital Liberties called Flourish.

If you want to explore more about using games in your setting, please do get in touch.


Time for a new Bristol brand?

What is Bristol’s reputation? What do people from outside the city think about it and are they accurate? Does the city’s branding attract or repel? Does there need to be a change in the message Bristol sends to the outside world?

Play Disrupt are one of the lead conveners of Bristol Urban Forum, a one-year listening project where the people of Bristol are co-creating a Place Manifesto for the city. All are welcome–please come along. We’d love to meet you. The drop-in sessions run from 13:00-15:00 and are free to attend.  You can register on the forum’s website or by clicking through on the links below.



Introducing Nia

We’re so pleased to welcome Nia Evans to the Play:Disrupt team. Nia joined us in December to lead on operational management and community engagement.  She brings combined experience in public events, projects, partnerships (Hay Festival, Watershed, BS3 Community, UWE) and participatory arts practices (Compass Presents, Wyldwood Arts) to our interdisciplinary approach. When you ‘get in touch’ with us, it’ll likely be Nia who replies first!

Nia will build on Play:Disrupt‘s established methods to grow our relationships with community and organisation partners. She is committed to wide representation and impactful, transparent engagement.  She will also ensure that the qualitative and quantitative data we collect during our work is properly stored, analysed and compiled into accessible, evidence-based reports.

Nia grew up in Swansea and is a fluent Welsh speaker.  She enjoys swing dance, experimental film and baking ambitious meringue-based desserts. Welcome Nia! We’re so glad you’re here!

Play, design thinking and Free Ice Cream to map sustainable futures

This month, we’ve been in Anglesey, Wales to launch an exciting, two year Public Mapping Platform with with researchers, young people, and a range of other practitioners. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), our work is part of a larger project that looks at how design and technology can help chart green transitions and neighbourhood ecologies. We will be using our play methodologies with young people and asking, among other things, what are maps good for? What would your ideal map include? We will then co-create ways of representing the outcomes of our explorations in a digital map.

Our approach is rooted in the ethos of the Future Generations Act’s 5 Ways of Working, a sustainable development principle that focuses on collaboration, integration, involvement, long-term and prevention. Among other things, we’re looking forward to serving up some ‘happenings’ with our co-conspiritors Free Ice Cream!  For the extra curious, you can get a flavour here of what we’ve done in the past with Free Ice Cream and digital mapping

Gamify Everything?

If you have any colleagues or associates who might find this newsletter interesting or inspiring, please consider forwarding it to them, and inviting them to read and subscribe. See, we have a challenge on to grow the reach of the newsletter by ten new subscribers a month and we’d love your help. Who will win? Me, Me, Me!!! Oh wait, its a co-operative game! We all win! Better, more playful places and services for all! Whoo hoo!
Thank you for reading!  If you’d like to learn more about any of our work, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

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