A Design Challenge: The Uniform Room.

edited June 2010 in Story Games
My mother, among other things, runs a summer program out of her church for kids.

This program is largely visited by new-immigrant children, many of them from troubled regions. They have serious problems with authority and uniforms, to the point of being frightened of police.

One of the events at this summer program will be a room intended for play in general, and which has been used in previous years for large game-like activities. She'd like to have a large, uniformed-authority-positive "floor game" of some kind hosted there this year. Fire and rescue, sinking ship, or something like that - a very short, simple board-type game played across the floor by multiple kids at once.

So she asked me if I have any thoughts. I said I knew a lot of game design folks, and I'd ask them what they thought.

So, game design folks: Got any thoughts?

Comments

  • I love this idea. I totally don't want to offend, but I just adore the idea that somewhere out there we have a community program intended to actually school people to trust the police in an arguably free country. Just precious from a postmodern developed country anarchist viewpoint.

    The first thought I get on the actual game design problem is that you want to have funny hats. Some game where a player gets to be a "cop" and therefore has some task, and this is signified by giving him a hat to wear. Of course this means that you also need to have the game be pretty short, so that many players have a chance to be the authority figure.

    I'm picturing... perhaps something where the authority figure acts as a referee, like a football referee or such? A game that is not so much about getting to order others around but rather about being credibly impartial towards the play activities of the other players? Perhaps you could have many cops or whatever, even as much as a third of the players? Perhaps the core activity of the game for the rest is something inherently chaotic that needs an impartial referee to work well?

    Another angle is that perhaps we need a list of interesting uniforms, like Maid has. The game could be about learning what the role and purpose of each of the various civil servants is in the society. This sort of thing would be easy as a talking game, but making it more viscerally concrete is tricky...
  • edited June 2010
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenI love this idea. I totally don't want to offend, but I just adore the idea that somewhere out there we have a community program intended to actually school people totrustthe police in an arguably free country. Just precious from a postmodern developed country anarchist viewpoint.
    It's a strange one, yah.
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenThe first thought I get on the actual game design problem is that you want to have funny hats. Some game where a player gets to be a "cop" and therefore has some task, and this is signified by giving him a hat to wear. Of course this means that you also need to have the game be pretty short, so that many players have a chance to be the authority figure.

    I'm picturing... perhaps something where the authority figure acts as a referee, like a football referee or such? A game that is not so much about getting to order others around but rather about being credibly impartial towards the play activities of the other players? Perhaps you could have many cops or whatever, even as much as a third of the players? Perhaps the core activity of the game for the rest is something inherently chaotic that needs an impartial referee to work well?

    Another angle is that perhaps we need a list of interesting uniforms, likeMaidhas. The game could be about learning what the role and purpose of each of the various civil servants is in the society. This sort of thing would be easy as a talking game, but making it more viscerally concrete is tricky...
    Notably: While there could be hats, they would need to be disposable, cheap, and wouldn't be exchanged.

    (The incidence of lice among the kids isn't that high, but it's enough to make it a potential risk).

    I'm somewhat tempted to put down a neighborhood of large-ish toys, and have kids each with a toy car, and a dispatcher / sergeant at a desk to send them out, and call out turns as hours - "It's 5 o'clock! Make a move!.... Any new problems? Okay, 6 o'clock!"

    Or something similar. But a "what does this person do?" game might also be a very cool deal.
  • I'd simply fill the room with costumes -- police, fireman, paramedic, civilian and let the kids play. Once the kids have dug in and dressed themselves up, adults could suggest scenarios.
  • You could fill the room with origami mice and play Mouse Cop.

    "These mice that I made out of blue paper are the mice cops." (iirc, I learned how to make origami mice from a book by Kasahara. Really nice, little legs and tail and ears, everything.)

    If you skip the beliefs and goals then you wouldn't need dice, flipping a bunch of pennies would do just as well.

    Actually, even if you do use all the rules, you could use pennies and just count every third head as a "six".
  • Posted By: Luke Wheeladults could suggest scenarios.
    For example?

    (Trying to see what you're visualising here...)
  • I'm visualizing the little kids (ages 4-10) I know who like to play with costumes. Kids play games for different reasons than we do. Just merely familiarizing them with the uniforms in a safe, playful manner -- in which they can even don the identities -- is useful. I think directed exercises have less utility for younger kids.

    But if adults observe kids donning police uniforms and abusing other kids, they can ask them questions about their experiences.
    Once the kids are just goofing off, adults can query them, "So what does a policeman do?" "If you were a policeman, what would you do if..."
    They can also propose impromptu scenarios -- "Oh no, firepeoples! There's a fire over here! Help us put it out!" Insert fwooshing hose sound effects here.

    I guess this all depends on the ages of the kids, though.
  • It occurs to me that the kids might like a simple randomization of roles done with playing cards of some sort. So you get to draw from a deck and then be excited that you can be the policeman or doctor or whatever. If the turn-around of the roles is fast enough, you get the excitement of random draw several times per session.

    One possible simple role game would be one where the role cards are used to find out who's the police officer and who's the criminal, and then you play a game to find out whether the cop can catch the robber. The traditional game in this context involves having the criminal murderize people in a dark room while the cop waits outside and tries to figure whodunnit afterwards, but really, there are many possible games of cop-catch-the-robber, as it's an easy theme to understand.

    In fact, what other useful themes are there? Levi mentioned fire rescue, are there other simple and viscerally understandable scenarios for authority figures? I guess doctors are pretty easy to understand and they almost have an uniform in their white coat, too, but the job's not very flashy.
  • I agree with Luke insofar as children under 8-10 years or so go. Those don't find it too difficult to just do some play without structure, and doing such is in fact the proper way of getting them to relate to things, I find. Above that age, though, things start to get more complex as the kids begin developing social restraint and relationships - essentially becoming little adults who find it difficult to "just play" because they're afraid of doing it wrong.

    I suppose that the ideal game would have flex in this regard, at least if the age of the children is not known in advance and might even be mixed.
  • Posted By: Luke WheelI'd simply fill the room with costumes -- police, fireman, paramedic, civilian and let the kids play. Once the kids have dug in and dressed themselves up, adults could suggest scenarios.
    Be sure, though, that you help the children set up positive scenarios in these costumes, and not kill, maim and torture-scenarios.

    Only question is; how do you help them do that?
  • edited June 2010
    I *believe* the age range is 7-13. I'm, uh, not sure how much difference that makes - I don't normally work closely with kids, beyond a once-a-year-or-so thing I run on how to use puppets.
  • That's a pretty big difference when it comes to ludopedagogy, it seems to me: those kids are in the process of switching from unstructured play to structured play.

    I've done a little bit of work on this sort of age spread... my current thinking is that the best results come from having a relatively loose game framework that allows the older kids to engage the game in a robust manner while not shutting the younger ones out socially. It might be helpful to think of this in terms of how family boardgames go for families with multiple children of different ages: the 5-year old will insist on getting to play simply because he does not want to be excluded, no matter whether he understands the game or not; the 8-year old will observe the adults playing from a respectable distance with intense curiousity, because he knows his limitations, often much more strongly than the adults around him; the 12-year old will act like a miniature adult, taking or leaving the game depending on its own merits, not merely the merits of the people playing it.

    A boardgame with a disparate crew like the above will often be a disaster: the youngest kids have no patience nor mental framework for the game, while the older ones get frustrated by the disturbances caused by the younger. I've found that roleplaying games are not nearly so vulnerable to this, simply because it's much easier to play such a game around the younger players: they don't really want to play after all, they just want to belong in the group, so just giving them a bit of attention now and then will allow the older players some relative peace in their own play.

    Transforming this observation to a more boardgamey context, it seems to me that if the game is to have any sort of ludic properties, those need to be such that they do not rely on the opposition: the game needs to work even when the 7-year old loses interest. However, the game also needs to actually offer a game, as the average 12-year old in my experience is so far past unstructured play that they'll only engage in it in the way adults do, very self-consciously and only in special social situations, such as among siblings. It's a tricky environment, to be sure.
  • I'd definitely split the 7-10s and the 11-13s. I suspect they'll have different issues and needs, and thus require different activities.
  • I'll reiterate what Luke said: the 7-10s and the 11+ group will have very different goals and motivations during play. I worked for several years with second and third grade students (7-9 year olds, basically), and they'd be happily entertained by relatively simple "pick a costume and act like that person!" sort of games/scenarios (perhaps augmented by very general events, e.g. "Fire!" or "Traffic Jam!").

    I also worked for a year with 6th and 7th grade students (11-13 year old Americans). Social concerns, and especially how the children expect that they will be perceived by others, will be the primary guiding concern in this group. More explicit rules and goals for the game will help counter the self-consciousness of the group, but you'll have to be aware that all sorts of meta-level social issues will interfere with their play (it can be hard to accurately predict how adolescents around this age will act without a fair amount of experience with them). From my own personal experience working with adolescents, I'd say that a strong framework and goals will be quite important-- everyone needs clear expectations (and perceivedly* fair enforcement) of "what do the players actually do," lest the game devolve into skirmishes over (meta-)status, etc. Nothing comes immediately to mind in how to facilitate a uniform-themed game like you are asking, but I'm also pretty tired right now and am probably not thinking as clearly as usual. I'll think about it and report back later.

    * Yes, I made that word up. Is there an English adverb that means "with respect to how how it is perceived"?
  • edited June 2010
    Posted By: Stephen P* Yes, I made that word up. Is there an English adverb that means "with respect to how how it is perceived"?
    Observably?

    Anyway. The latent danger here is, as Stephen puts it, meta-status conflicts. If a bully is given a position of authority in roleplay, the effect might be the reverse of the game's intention.
    This falls outside the remit of the design challenge, but if you actually got in a police officer for the afternoon and had him engage with the children as a caring human being with a duty to uphold the law, perhaps that would help break down the fear. To shift this back into Story Games territory, perhaps an interactive narrative can be given - Our policemen comes across a variety of situations (criminals breaking the law, people needing help etc) and the children are asked how he should respond. The officer then tells the children which is the right response and why. Storytelling with an educational bent.
  • Posted By: Stephen P* Yes, I made that word up. Is there an English adverb that means "with respect to how how it is perceived"?
    "perceivably" is in Merriam-Webster, but sure does sound awkward.

    As to the actual issue at hand, I'd just reinforce the notion above that the big concern is to make sure that the game doesn't "backfire" and reinforce the negative authority associations you're trying to overcome. I think the way to go there is to stress the responsibilities of the authority figures rather than their authorities. Like, don't emphasize that a cop can hit you with a stick because you refuse to comply, instead emphasize that he has to help out these people with a problem. Also, stuff like directing traffic and getting cats out of trees might have less potential to be turned into "do what I say because I have a gun and a badge!".

    But I have no experience working with children, at least not since I was one myself.
  • My initial thought (coming off of Luke's suggestion): Once the kids have formed some kind of identities via choosing uniforms and playing for some time, adults put themselves into situations that need to kids to help them. Like, one of the adults slides underneath a coffee table or something and goes "help, I'm stuck, I need a fireman/paramedic/whatever to get me out!" then they play out a little struggle (maybe with cues to emphasize teamwork, like "you need another person to push"), and show how appreciative they are. The key, I think, is putting the kids in positions where someone they usually aren't in control over (an adult) becomes responsive to their uniform and role in society.

    There could be something where each kid has a number of "helping tokens" or something, and the adults need a different amount for different situations (maybe ad hoc) in order to complete the goal. Again, getting multiple kids to work together, and showing that some situations are more difficult than others to solve, but a simple tactile mechanism of handing the tokens over or putting them in a pocket or something.

    But I would try to get in touch with a child psychologist, frankly. Or at least a teacher or teachers who are involved with this age range, and maybe adapt a classroom activity that is known to be engaging.
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