Gamestorming at Boston PHP


By Joe Baz

Is it possible to develop a product idea through games? Dave Gray, co-author of Gamestorming, believes so, and the results of his visit to Boston PHP’s Gamestorming event provide a powerful testament to this idea.  With twelve insightful, self-explanatory posters answering the question, “How can we make Boston PHP better than it is today?” and a room full of 75 excited PHP developers, it’s clear that Gamestorming works.  But what’s the magic?

Magic in the Gaming

Gamestorming is the catchy name for an idea conceived by book co-authors Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo: make meetings productive and fun!  As the word suggests, Gamestorming’s goal is to create a game out of brainstorming.  But the game differs depending on the focus.

For instance, though the Gamestorming event did feature group games, Dave kicked off with a game that can be played solo: Empathy Map. As the name implies, this game helps each player empathize with a person, or even a group of people. (think personas!) For setup, each audience member drew a circle representing the person to be empathized with – in this instance, “someone with whom you’ve recently had a conflict,” and then divided the paper into the 5 following labels: thinking, feeling, saying, doing and hearing.

To play the game, the audience was given five minutes to think about the person’s sensory experiences in context of the conflict, jotting them down as they went. In the final step, the audience reviewed what they wrote to make that final empathic connection.

While this game is good for persona creation and better interpersonal relationships, it is not well suited to visioning and defining company goals, for example.  The secret to a successful game, no matter the focus, is to subscribe to the basic game structure. A traditional game includes a few essential ingredients to run properly, and Gamestorming activities follow the same structure:

  • Objective: Without an objective, the game has no meaning and is played for the sake of being played. Think of a question that you would like answered and write it down; that’s your objective.
  • Rules: Every game needs rules. Without them, it is impossible to accomplish your goal in an objective manner.
  • Materials/Artifacts: What materials are needed for the game to run? It could be markers, sticky notes or anything else that you need to meet the objective with the given set of rules.
  • Game Space: Every game has a world, whether real or not. It’s important to define the boundaries of the game space. This may be as simple as a wall where everyone puts sticky notes, or a flip chart that the team draws on, or as complicated as a room laid out with materials at different stations.
  • Players: What’s a game without people? Make sure you have the necessary people for your game and identify each role in the game.

Keeping these ingredients in mind provides a framework for creating uniquely tailored games for every meeting. And if you’re pressed for time and need a game for particular meeting or activity, you can easily grab one of the 100+ games from the Gamestorming Wiki.

Poster Session

The crème de la crème of this event was the game played for half the evening: Poster Session.  As the Gamestorming book describes, “The goal of a poster session is to create a set of compelling images that summarize a challenge or topic for further discussion.”  Broken into groups of five, the audience was presented the challenge: How can we make Boston PHP better than it is today?

On Dave’s “Go”, groups were off in a flurry of flip chart pages, masking tape and poster markers, trying to gather and convey their ideas while keeping to the following game rules:

  1. The poster has to be mostly visual. Some words are okay, but the idea here is to tell a story visually.
  2. It has to be self-explanatory.

The teams had 30 minutes to whip up their artistic masterpieces before the peer judging began. The judging process was quite simple; each participant was handed a small strip of five blue dot stickers and was asked to place a dot on the best posters, with no restrictions of how to vote.

Image of People Voting on Posters

People walked up and down the gallery of posters, voting for their favorites. Photo Credit: @joebaz

The winning poster was chock full of brilliance, but each poster offered unique ideas for how to improve Boston PHP.  Head organizer, Michael Bourque was even sketched as part of one poster, emphasizing the growth and continued passion he brings to the table.  As Bourque reviewed all the posters, he simply asked “Can’t they all win?”  The ideas generated will surely help Boston PHP become even more of a success, just as poster sessions with your team or clients will bring out myriad ideas for potential innovation.

Gamestorming for One and All

The night was a definite success, according to both attendees and hosts. Bourque said, “I was really humbled and amazed at the creative ideas and passion demonstrated by all,” and attendee Gilman Callsen plans to apply his learning right away.  Callsen commented, “[this was] a great experience – I am excited to look up more ‘games’ for internal company sessions.” Check out the Gamestorming event page for more photos and comments from attendees.

Gamestorming is about playing games for a larger purpose: uniting people around a common goal. It allows the chaos of a game to inform the structure of a business. Though a game is a means to an end, it is one that, when done properly, can be extremely rewarding for the people involved and for the business itself.

What did you learn from the Gamestorming event? How has Gamestorming helped your team to reach their goals?

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