Playing Games Works

Cool Choices was privileged to help facilitate a session demonstrating the efficacy of game mechanics at this year’s Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC) Conference. That meant we organized a fun and silly session of charades and got to talk a bit about the power of games.

For me, though, the most powerful thing was watching others play charades. Earlier in the evening, I had serious doubts about our plan. I walked into the hotel conference room, scanned the crowd of professionals networking in small groups and thought, “uh, oh, this is never going to work.”

Our plan, you see, was to put the group into teams and then get them to act out charades for each other. The charade topics would get increasingly silly (shifting from standard charade topics like “Fiddler on the Roof” to more animated topics like “sumo wrestlers”) to illustrate the way that games engage and pull you along.

As I looked around the room though, I had doubts. Could we really get these professionals to pretend to be members of a rock band or a cheerleading squad? Would they be willing to play if play compromised their dignity? The point of the event was to illustrate the power of games but, really, could games be this powerful?

Happily, I did not have a lot of time to express these doubts or to change our plan. As I stood in the back of the room fretting that our plan would not work, others put the plan into motion.

As I stood on stage watching the previously dignified group disappear, people’s playful sides emerged. I was soon watching groups of conference attendees flap their arms like chickens, march in an imaginary parade and, yes, wrestle sumo-style. Some teams argued with referees over point values, instant alliances were born on other teams and laughter—laughter pervaded the room.

In the end my hardest task was to get the groups to stop playing. Their response was a powerful reminder of the potential of games.

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