AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: October 30, 2004 11:44 AM
DESC: These little game frameworks are a great way to introduce some fun into a learning situation without the teacher having to do too much work.
led a fun games session at the
last week. Not only did we play four games, but
Steve and Bill taught us a way to generate more
games of the same sort. The games we played were
instantiations of what they call frames,
which work a lot like frameworks in object-oriented
programming. Each frame is a partially-defined
game, with the primary control rules built into
the frame. To create a new game, you simply fill
in the missing content on which the rules act.
You can, of course, specialize or override one or
more of the rules if that best suits your context.
As an example, consider the first frame we learned,
Best Fit, which is adapted from the game Apples to
Apples. Apparently, Apples to Apples has been a
popular party game in recent years, though I hadn't
heard of it. In Best Fit, the game master sets up
the game by creating a set of five adjectives, say,
"confusing", "underrated", "specialized", "inspiring",
and "weird". Players break off into groups of five
or so. They create twenty noun cards, say, the names
of twenty famous computer scientists. (Can you name
20? That seemed to be a challenge for some folks at
the symposium!) The name cards are shuffled and dealt
to the players.
Play proceeds as a sequence of 'tricks' in which one
of the adjective cards is revealed and each player
plays the card from his or her hand that best fits
the adjective. Players take turns sitting out of
tricks and acting as judge -- which player has played
the noun that best fits the adjective in play?
Variations include allowing lobbying or not and
disqualifying the last card played from judging (in
order to encourage rapid recognition and a little
excitement, I presume). Winning and losing the game
is less important than the thinking that goes into
playing nouns and judging fit. Though we didn't
discuss debriefing the game, I imagine that doing so
would give the class as a whole a chance to explore
the content of the game at a deeper level.
From the teacher's perspective, the idea behind the
frame is that the adjectives and nouns can be just
about anything. We played a second instance in
which the nouns were algorithms and the adjectives
were big-oh classes and other characterizations of
of algorithms. Creating a new game is as easy as
choosing suitable nouns and adjectives from any area
The second frame we learned is Envelopes, attribute
to a fellow named
In this game, three groups of five players or so each
compete to produce the best answer to a question written
on the outside of an envelope. The game master prepares
three envelopes, each with a different question on the
outside. In round one, each team is given an envelope,
drafts an answer to its question, writes it on an index
card or sheet of paper, and stuffs it into the envelope.
For the second round, each team passes its envelope to
another group, which does the same thing the first team
did, without looking inside the envelope. In the third
round, the envelopes are again passed to the group that
has not yet seen the question. Instead of answering the
question, this time the group takes the two answers from
the envelope and judges which one is better.
Teams score points for having their answers selected as
the winner. The game can consist of any number of rounds.
Again, debriefing may well add learning value, as players
explore why one answer was judged better than another or
what the nuances in the question are. And, again from the
teacher's perspective, creating new instances of Envelopes
is as easy as drafting three questions that require some
thought and that can lead to useful discussion of course
material. Heck, three good midterm questions might do the
job just fine.
Maybe I will break the tension of one of my classes
later this semester with an instance of one of these
Bill said that he will post the slides of their presentation
to us on his
XPlorations web site