Playing games, gamification, and the gulf between them

games and gamificationMy post on gamification last week garnered plenty of comments on LinkedIn. Many responses exposed the vague ways people use the word gamification to imply, well, something good about a service that some companies provide. Like advertising’s liberal use of  improved! without explaining what’s improved, the genius of the word gamification is that it can be applied as a plausible sounding selling point to all kinds of products, without ever saying what gamification is, or specifying its benefits. So let’s explore the gulf between playing games and gamification in the world of events.

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Gamification makes about as much sense as chocolate-dipped broccoli

gamification chocolate-dipped broccoliGamification “makes about as much sense as chocolate-dipped broccoli”. Education professor Amy Bruckman, coined this analogy in a 1999 paper on game software design:

“Most attempts at making software both educational and fun end up being neither. Fun is often treated like a sugar coating to be added to an educational core. Which makes about as much sense as chocolate-dipped broccoli. The problem is that too many game designers are using long-outmoded models of what it means to be “educational”.

Can educational be fun? Amy Bruckman

Game designer and author Ian Bogost makes the same point, somewhat more forcefully:

“…gamification is marketing bullshit, invented by consultants as a means to capture the wild, coveted beast that is videogames and to domesticate it for use in the grey, hopeless wasteland of big business, where bullshit already reigns anyway.

Bullshitters are many things, but they are not stupid. The rhetorical power of the word “gamification” is enormous, and it does precisely what the bullshitters want: it takes games—a mysterious, magical, powerful medium that has captured the attention of millions of people—and it makes them accessible in the context of contemporary business.”
—Ian Bogost, Gamification is Bullshit (2011)

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I know the world is crazy right now — and here’s what you can do about it

the world is crazy

“I know the world is crazy right now. I know it’s hard to find the good in the news but you won’t find it there because the news asks you to be only a passive consumer of the world’s pain and joy. What we need to do is rise from our seats and participate in the world as fully as possible.”
Chris Corrigan, Pick up the unclaimed portion of joy

Illustration from The Never-Ending Play Of Life, in which Bernie De Koven is quoted by Chris.

Create Your Dream Conference Collectively On This Friday’s #Eventprofs Happy Hour

Creating the perfect conferencesubscribe_nowJoin me and my special guest Bernie DeKoven on Friday, November 20, 2015 from 4 – 6 pm EST for a unique online experience where we’ll collectively create our perfect conference. Instead of our usual Google Hangout, we’ll be hosting this show for the first time on the live-casting video platform Blab.

Bernie DeKoven is a legendary American game designer, author, lecturer and fun theorist. He is most notable for his classic book, first published in 1978, The Well Played Game “one of the most brilliant and overlooked books on games to date”, for his contributions to the New Games Foundation, his pioneering work in computer game design, and for his long-running web site, Bernie has spent the last 45 years working to teach new ways to play and create community.

Bernie is also a sweetheart.

The blab will go live at 4 pm EST. Join us before 4:30 pm, when Bernie will lead us through the first ever online version of “Did I Mention“, which we will then use to collectively build our ideal conference.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to play with Bernie, building a collective vision of what a conference can be. To participate, you’ll need to be logged into Twitter in the browser you’re using. Simply click on the “Subscribe Now” below to subscribe to (in advance) or join the blab.
subscribe_nowHaven’t blabbed before? No worries—this post by Jocelyn Gonzalez covers everything you might need to know.

Join us!

[Added November 20, after the Blab was over.]
Here’s a recording of the resulting Blab!

Buy my new book—The Power of Participation—before July 1 at never-to-be-repeated prices

I’m happy to announce that my new book—The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action—will be available for purchase in all formats and outlets on June 30. But you can save money by purchasing directly from me before July 1 at never-to-be-repeated prices.


The Power of Participation front cover square“This is a book that should be OPEN on every meeting planner’s or event marketer’s desk, and used every day.”
—Paul Salinger, VP of Marketing, Oracle (many more embarrassingly good reviews below)

Smart presenters and meeting organizers are integrating experiential learning and peer connection into their events. This book tells you how to do it. Buy The Power of Participation to learn why it’s so important to incorporate participant action into every aspect of your event, what you need to know to create a meeting environment that supports and encourages participation, and when and how to use this extensive compendium of specific, detailed techniques to radically improve your sessions and meetings.

The following prices for The Power of Participation are only available before July 1. On that date, this page will vanish like a dream.

Thirty minutes free consulting will be provided for any first-time purchase directly from this site.

Shipping paperbacks to U.S. addresses is included in these prices. Shipping paperbacks to addresses outside the United States will incur an additional cost, viewable for single copies once you have added items to your cart.

Table of Contents

Read five free chapters

Combo (Best Deal!)
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OR you can pre-order paperback copies (unsigned) online from Amazon’s U.S. store for $27.95 plus shipping (will ship July 1).

Praise for The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.

“It may be a radical idea to turn attendees into participants, but in an environment of information overload and disconnection, we need it more than ever. The Power of Participation can transform how we act as workers, learners, citizens and ‘participants’ in our globalized world. This is a book that should be OPEN on every meeting planners or event marketers desk, and used every day.”
—Paul Salinger, VP of Marketing, Oracle

“This book is a must for anyone who needs guidance in modernizing meetings. Finally we are moving into a new stage of post industrial meetings where all participants are valued, not only those behind the microphone. Well designed participation is key, and Adrian shows us the way. Buy it, read it and do it!”
—Eric de Groot, Meeting Designer and co-author of Into the Heart of Meetings

“No one should plan a conference without this book!”
—Naomi Karten, Author of Managing Expectations

“We have to start meeting like this! A treasury of proven techniques, clearly written, based on first-person experience and deep insights.”
—Bernie DeKoven, Author of The Well Played Game, game designer, and fun theorist at

“Too many conferences are top-down, over-caffeinated, information dumps. Adrian Segar has figured out a different model: a participatory, community-driven event that yields benefits that last far beyond the conference itself. If you want to make a lasting difference with your group today, you owe it to yourself to read this book.”
—Dr. Nick Morgan, President of Public Words and author of Power Cues

“Love The Power of Participation! It’s a fabulous compilation of techniques to bring more interaction to your conferences. I’ll be keeping this reference book handy whenever I design a meeting for a client.”
—Kristin J. Arnold, CPF, CSP, founder of Quality Process Consultants, and past president of the National Speakers Association

“A must read handbook of the what, why and how to move passive conference consumer-based attendees to active engaged participants.”
—Jeff Hurt, Executive Vice President, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

“Adrian Segar’s work is crucial for the evolution of the event industry. This book is a mandatory read for the modern event professional. Adrian shares a logical approach to changing our outdated event designs, and guides you with practical techniques towards a value centered model, where the clear winners are both the conference organizer and the attendee. It’s time to shake up our conferences and make them more relevant and attractive. The Power of Participation provides the first step towards achieving conference success.”
—Julius Solaris, editor and author of The Event App Bible, Social Media for Events and The Good Event Registration Guide

“Adrian wants to transform attendees into participants. And in this book, he shows you how to do it. As an organizer of professional conferences for the past decade, I wish I had come across Adrian’s books earlier in my life. It would have made me more confident and competent.”
—Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan, Founder and Resident Mad Scientist, the Thiagi Group

“Adrian Segar’s The Power of Participation is a catalog of tools for designing meetings. If you want to improve your meetings, keep a copy right there on your desk, always ready for instant access. Better yet, study the tools in his catalog so they’re right there in your brain, always ready to build first-class meetings that everyone loves.”
—Gerald M. Weinberg, The Consultants’ Consultant, author of over 40 books, including classics The Psychology of Computer Programming and An Introduction to General Systems Thinking

The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action
Publisher: Segar Consulting
Release date: ebook: June 2015 | paper book: June 2015
Page count: 322
Size: 8½ x 11
List Price: $27.95 (Paperback book) | $13.95 (PDF ebook) | $33.95 (Paperback book and PDF ebook combo)
The ebook and paperback/ebook combo are available only directly from the author.

A story about turning win-lose into win-win

turning win-lose into win-win

Turning win-lose into win-win? Wouldn’t you like to know how to do that? Read on!

Playing win-lose

As a kid I played chess. I was good enough to get on the school team (which included the soon-to-be-grandmaster Ray Keene, chess correspondent of the London Times since 1985) and even placed in the top ten for my age group in the London Chess Championships.

When I started to play I loved the game, but I slowly discovered that playing chess competitively took a huge toll on me. I equated my self-worth with my success at winning which led to severe stress at every school and regional competition.

I felt sure that playing chess was about win-lose. This conviction even spread its poisonous reach into casual games with my kids. I’d teach them the game and then find myself battling not to crush them and their connection with the game. Removing my queen to even the odds still didn’t change the fundamentals of how I played the game.

So I gave up playing chess.

For 25 years.

Last week, Bernie DeKoven told me how I could play chess again.

A week of improv

On turning 61, I gave myself a birthday present and flew to San Francisco for an improv intensive at BATS. For three days I was immersed in learning improv with sixteen other classmates and two wonderful teachers, Barbara Scott & Lisa Rowland. (I subsequently posted on Facebook that those three days were the most fun I ever remember having in my life that didn’t involve sex.) After a day reconnecting with my daughter who had moved to San Francisco nine months earlier, I attended the Applied Improvisation Network’s 2012 World Conference (AIN 2012), plunging into a four day exploration with 206 collaborators of how improvisation can be applied to facilitation, business, training, learning, spiritual practice, and much more. And there I finally met Bernie DeKoven face-to-face.

Bernie has spent much of his life exploring and championing the power and importance of games and play. In the 1960’s Bernie created the five-volume Interplay Games Catalog containing one thousand games. He went on to create the Games Preserve for the deeper exploration of games, wrote The Well Played Game, and became co-director of the New Games Foundation, designer of the New Games Training, an alternative to competitive sports that now is taught at almost every elementary school in the world.

We had met and connected online when I discovered his Deep Fun website and started retweeting some of his blog posts. Our in person meeting was everything I had hoped it might be. Bernie combines a childlike wonder and respect for play with a deep knowledge and seemingly effortless command of the myriads of way we can play and connect though the tool of games. Let’s just say, I enjoyed his company.

Bernie held two sessions at AIN 2012; one an exploration of play, culminating in a glorious game of the “pointless game” Prui, and the other an interview about his history and involvement in the New Games movement. During the latter, Bernie mentioned chess.

Turning win-lose into win-win in one minute

Chess?! A win-lose game, the very anti-epitome of the New Games movement?! Chess?!

Bernie said: “We used to have a chess board with a game going on it. With a note on the board: ‘white to move.’ Anyone could play a move and update the note.”

And just like that, Bernie shattered my life-long perspective of chess.

One way to turn win-lose into win-win

Anyone could play! Chess wasn’t a two-person game any more! Anyone could play!

When we open up a two-person game to multiple players who can take any side, the concept of win-lose disappears.

Another way of turning win-lose into win-win

And then Bernie added: “We also had this idea for rotating chess boards. If one side was ‘winning’ either player could rotate the board to swap the side you were playing.”

Wow! Chess could stay a two-player game, and yet—with one small change—not be win-lose any more.

When we allow “sides” to be flipped at will, a win-lose game turns into something else.

Thank you Bernie!

With a few sentences, Bernie helped me realize I could play chess again. Chess will no longer be a sink-or-swim experience for me. I can have fun with it!

I like having my beliefs flipped like that. Thank you Bernie!

What win-lose mindsets do you have? Could you flip them too?

Photo attribution: Flickr user government_press_office