Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seeing Stacket Through the Eyes of a Child

Up until now, I have been wary of designing games for children. I have to say, I still am. But, while playing Stacket with some of the kids at OrcCon this past Sunday, I realized a few key insights about why children like what they like.

The Context
On Saturday, we ran a formal event of Stacket where we showed people how to play Stacket according to the normal rules. In that 'event', we got a range of players from all ages and an equal number of men and women to sit down and play. Even though we had a contest in mind, really, once it got started, people who were walking by wanted in. So, we expanded from one to three tables.

On Sunday, we didn't have anything formally planned through the con so we had to setup our stuff in a less visible location. We didn't have a flag or signage either. So, I decided that I was just going to start stacking the blocks as high as I could. Partly because I wanted to test out the difficulty of getting a tall structure and partly to create a spectacle.

Fortunately, creating a tall stack of blocks seemed to be just enough to attract the attention of one of the girls nearby and she came rushing over asking if she could play.

The Observation
When the girl came over, Graydon started explaining the rules of the game to her. She followed his instructions and they started playing the official 'game'. All the while, I continue to try to stack stuff up. At a certain point, my structure collapsed and a bunch of pieces flew over the place.

When seeing this, the girl lost interest in the official version of the game and moved over towards me to see if she could do what I was doing instead. We gave her another set and she then promptly started building a tall tower next to mine.

After a few trials at the tallest stack, I decided to actually just mimic her plays. When she placed a certain block, I placed the same block. And voila, I figure out the rules for multi-set Stacket just then. Since each set is identical, the players can take turns choosing the piece that everyone will play, but each player can place his piece as he wants. At first, I was just letting her choose without her knowing. But, then I realized that I could make a 'game' out of it by telling her to choose and then letting me choose.

This new version of Stacket was brilliant fun. And, it has the ability to scale to any number of players, as I found out when a third kid started to play and we all took turns choosing a piece. Now, kids like to be able to place their pieces wherever they want, but for me, the challenge was to follow the rules of 'previous touching' just so that I could give myself a handicap.

But, as it turns out, the imitative need of children is so great that they ended up placing pieces on their structures very similar to mine. When they saw that I was creating a precarious structure, they too would create one. Rather than simply do a safe play, they wanted to show me that they could do something just as difficult. And, so, despite my handicap, I still managed to win.

Of course, the term 'win' is unusual in this case. Stacket was no longer a game as much as an exercise for creativity, imitation and control. There weren't any real rules to our game except that we traded turns choosing and the laws of nature. Gravity and the desire to imitate were the only real rules along with the reciprocity that we all teach our kids from a very young age to abide by.

In the end, Stacket was no longer a game with rules, but an activity bounded by what was physically possible and socially acceptable.

The Lessons
Kids like to have control over the creation of own things.
Kids play games that have rules based upon the law of nature/gravity.
Kids like to mirror what other people are doing.
Kids want to find composite shapes in the arrangement of smaller shapes.

1 comment:

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