Monday, February 26, 2007

Finite into Infinite Play

This week, we read excerpts from Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse. We discussed some practical ubiquitous design lessons from the text.

So here's a unusual design exercise for you. Take any game in the world, and suggest three ways to make it closer to infinite play.

Remember: finite play is play within boundaries; infinite play is play with boundaries. Which 3 boundaries could you play with in your chosen game? What kind of crazy new game would be the result?


lisatized said...

I have always liked playing clapping games or rhythm games like Miss Mary Mack . This game usually involves 2 people standing facing each other and clapping their hands and doing other hand motions while reciting the Mary Mack rhyme. This is a game that has been played for 100's of years with little variation. Just its longevity and the idea that it continues to be passed from generation to generation begins to make it infinite.

One way that this game could become more infinite would be for the rhyme to continue beyond the final verse. Actually, the verses should be free to change more as well. One of the boundaries of the game is the way that the last word in a line is repeated 3 times for a set of hand motions. If that boundary remained, but the rules about what is said and how the hands moved were redefined by each player in a spontaneous manner, the game could become more infinite.

The addition of more than 2 players also grows the game and shifts the boundaries. We used to try to see how many people we could get to form a chain of clapping hands while keeping the rhythm of a single rhyme. The same thing is often done with jumping rope. Kids in the streets have been creating their own rhymes and testing the limits of how many people can play.

The third thing that needs to shift in this game is the idea that it is primarily only played by young girls. More boys and adults need to take the time to play and let their imaginations fly with easy, repeating, rhythms connected to their hands. It seems like this kind of play would be therapeutic in some way: getting people closer to childlikeness, activating the imagination, testing language and coordination skills.

What would happen if a soundtrack of Miss Mary Mack with a familiar beginning, and the sounds of clapping, but a twists in the lyrics were broadcast in public spaces? Would people stop and play? Most, probably not. But it could be an interesting experiment. The same soundtrack could be played in a children's playground. Would there be more play there? The original lyrics are pretty dark, with her being "dead, dead, dead" at the end, but what would it take to get more boys interested in a traditionally girl game? It seems like finding that solution might be the best way to make the game more infinite.

patricknm said...

I was thinking of the children's game telephone, where people sit in a circle and one person whispers a message to the person next to them. Then that person passes on the message until it makes it all the way around the circle. The fun to this game is seeing how the message changes the farther it travels. I envision a more modern version of this game. Pick someone from your contacts in your cell phone and call them, make note of wheat # they are in you phone (i.e. say they are the 3rd phone number.) Tell this person a message and the number. They then call then the 3rd person in their phone and repeat the message and the number. And so on. See how far it goes.

The original telephone game is bound by physical and time restraints. That is the game ends because the players cannot remain in the same space forever. By transferring the game to cell phones the game then becomes mobile. The other advantage would be all player would not have to be concentrating/participating in the game at once. At any given time only two players are actually playing, the one making the call and the one receiving it.

For these reasons the game would only come to conclusion if the message got back to the original sender, but the chance of the message being the exact same are so small. There for, if the original sender receives a new message they would have to continue the game.


Paul Kyle said...

My favorite nostalgic infinite game is Calvinball.

Calvin, such the good little anarchist, enjoyed the game without end, every contradiction and boundary manipulation.

And I love the masks (no one questions the masks).

Paul Kyle said...

A game of Risk "the Game of Global Domination" could be modified by getting rid of all bonus armies (no cards, no continental bonus) and all lost armies get to be placed back on the board in a "homeland" country. As no side would be able to materially cover all the countries, this game would devolve into a "border wars" skirmish that would last as long as the players had the patience.

Paul Kyle said...

Most of us have probably all played Poker with a limitless amount of chips. I played this recently with my three young nieces. While they enjoyed the game just by going through the motions of the gameplay, remembering and applying the rules (and I had a glorious time teaching them, they're darn cute!) the game underscored how the limits on material resources (whether actual money in a casino, home game or tournament or some virtual representation of that limit without the consequences) really make the materially bounded game much more interesting and strategic.

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