Giant Jenga at Spieltage 2012
One of the questions that has come up during my attempts at explaining this project to people is, What have board games got to do with it? If you’re looking at systems modeling, and analysis, in whatever environment – What place does using board game mechanics have?
It seems a strange fit, however the moment you begin to play board games, or rethink common board game mechanics to the contexts we are talking about you realize just how fitting they are. Board game mechanics have cause and effect relationships, can show tradeoffs (to get 4 green in a row you may have to pick up 2 blue), require predictive thinking (those cunning plans you have to thwart your opponents) and give you a fair indication of how effective your attempts to hit your goal have been. They reflect many of the same processes as systems, and our interactions with those systems.
When you’re presented with a board game you must learn the rules – just as when you approach any system you must learn how it works and what parts affect one another-, in a board game you must learn what your goal is (how you can win) – approaching a system you identify what you wish to understand about the system, what your goal is in looking at it-, in a board game having identified the element (or elements) that you as a player have control over you attempt to change and alter these to the maximum efficiency and benefit of yourself using all of the processes highlighted above. Board game mechanics are also common to understand, easily explained and naturally associate themselves with investment and FUN!
In our analysis of various systems (a Newsagency in Euston Station, Batemans Vegas: our beach town system, and now our music festival) we have gone through a process of analyzing the system step by step, from as many different perspectives as possible, then streamlined them into displaying the points at which it functions and those at which problems lie. We identify the spots where there are feedback loops – small chains of cause and effect processes that feed into one another – and then use those, and other points where the sub systems interact to illuminate interactions within the wider system with ‘games’. We’ve been using board game mechanics within these sub system ‘games’ to show these cause and effect relationships in the sub systems, and how they then feed into the wider interactions of the system as a whole.
In trying to convey the operations of fictional systems, quickly and in a manner that is easy to grasp board game mechanics are very efficient. This is not to say that we are creating a board game. We are nowhere near capable of doing that, or wanting to do that. I have nothing but admiration for those who set their minds to that complex task. We are employing the mechanics common to board games to benefit from their familiarity and to get our audience as hands on and involved in these systems as possible. We don’t use the competition bit though. Unlike board games in most systems there is no way to win. There is no set of requirements you must achieve (or that it is possible to achieve) available.