Games for Group Play: Detective

This is a fun indoor game for group play with a dozen or more. It can be played as a warm-up activity or stretched out over a longer period, such as weekend work project.

One person gets to be the detective. They leave the room and go to an isolated “sound-proof booth.”

The rest of the group selects one person to be the criminal. Make sure the group doesn’t use their selection to stigmatize or single out someone who is a little bit on the fringe. Everyone in the room needs to think of an alibi, something simple (and easy for each person to remember) that explains where they were at the time the crime occurred. For example “I was putting my hair in pin curlers on the train” or “I was oiling my baseball glove in my third floor apartment.”

Once you have a criminal, the detective returns to the room and asks each person, one by one, to state their alibi. When each person states his case the detective interviews everyone a second time. Everyone needs to state their alibis in exactly the same way as before – except the criminal. The criminal gets to make one tiny change to her story.

The game continues until the detective catches the criminal in the act of lying.

Because there’s no real setup or preparation – though you could make this part of a fun mystery night using props and costumes, Detective is a great game for group participation that you can pull off in a pinch.

[Photo by Penarc]

Game-Changers: Homeless World Cup

preparation for the Homeless World Cup

Inviting homeless players into the game

Our youth group has a regular activity that we call “sack lunch evangelism” where we go into the downtown area and share a meal with someone we think would appreciate it. At the same time we share our stories and listen to other people’s stories. It’s a great time.

But our activity is based on the presumption that homeless people need food. Maybe homeless people need something else as well?

Reading about the Homeless World Cup, an organized tournament of street soccer that brings together homeless and disadvantaged people from around the world in a global trophy challenge, I got thinking. Homeless people also need the ability to participate, develop or restore a sense of self worth, they need teamwork. And they simply need to do something fun every now and then.

Some ideas: Checkers on the Square. Arm your kids with checker boards and send them downtown in teams. See if they can strike up some play with people on the street.

Soccer for a Change. For a youth group activity play some street soccer. Show some video clips to get some discussion going on how we can find creative ways to reach out to others in our community. TIP: Check out this crazy freestyle street soccer clip!

Board Game Street Soccer. For a rainy-day small group activity, try this Street Soccer board game. Follow up with video clips and a discussion of the Homeless World Cup.

Taking it to the Streets. Grab some kids and a soccer ball and start a pickup game in public alley or square. See who joins in. Discuss.

More freestyle Street Soccer Videos:

Football Freestyle
Freestyle Futbol (atop skyscraper, skeery)
Street Futbol from Brazil

Dorodango – Mud Pies for Older Kids

Dorodango, a mud pie polished to perfection

There is something uniquely Japanese about taking a handful of mud and patiently refining it until it takes on the gemlike quality of a fine ceramic.

Dorodango, or shiny mud balls, have been preoccupying Japanese youth for about a decade, after nearly becoming a lost art.

These marbley marvels take more perseverance than talent to make. Bruce Gardener details the steps, which can be summed up as:

1. Mix fine dirt with water to make a doughy ball.

2. Squeeze and shake the ball to remove moisture and air pockets.

3. Add a layer of fine, dry dirt and gently shape the ball into a spherical shape.

4. Remove excess moisture by placing the dorodango in a plastic bag for a few hours.

5. With very fine, dry dust shape the outer capsule of the ball until perfectly smooth.

6. Polish with soft cloth.

Fumio Kayo has even more detailed instructions including a short video clip on his very busy website.

Photo – Bruce Gardener

The Lesson that You Taught is Not the Lesson that You Thought

Good or forgiven | Image Public Domain

Good or forgiven? | Image Public Domain

Last week I was reminded why I love using games to teach. They create an immediate experience that can be discussed in the present moment.

On Sunday I ran a prototype of a game I’m working on, codename “Temptation Nation.” Players had the option of contributing to the church offering or keeping two “dollars” for themselves. Those who kept the money got an immediate reward (an Oreo and a glass of milk), but those who contributed to the offering would get a greater reward – but only when everyone chipped in.

Knowing the group pretty well I expected four or five kids would be tempted to “cheat” and keep the rest of the group from getting their Oreos. Then we would sit down and have a good talk about temptation and how our behavior impacts other people.

Something entirely different emerged in the group. Only two of the kids gave in to the temptation for immediate Oreos, and these were kids who have some verbal processing challenges. In other words, their behavior might not be a good example of giving in to temptation. What followed was even more unexpected – some of the players started using namecalling to try and bully the holdouts into cooperation. Now we had some unexpected material to talk about.

The thing that I imagined would be tempting, Oreos, turned out to be mostly uninteresting to the kids. Too soon after breakfast one player told me. But something that I hadn’t imagined, the temptation to resort to bullying, turned out to be a pretty big problem for the group.

If I’d been giving a talk I might have been a mile off the mark and never known it. I might have talked about temptation in terms of the Big Three (sex, drugs, and gangster rap), plus the temptation to cheat on tests, shoplift, lie about things to one’s parents. I hadn’t thought at all about bullying, self-doubt, the temptation to conform. It took a game to bring these issues to the surface, issues that these kids are struggling with all the time.

What comes up in the game may not be what you started out to teach, but it may be just what the kids need to hear most.

Urgent Evoke Is Urgent

In seven days it’s all over. The ten week alternate reality game Urgent Evoke will close its first “crash course in saving the world.”

Players take the role of special agents in a dystopian world, tasked with learning about social problems, shadowing leaders and innovators, and launching collaborative projects. The game brings real-world materials, news and people into play, giving players bite-sized challenges that take them closer to being agents of social change.

If you haven’t started yet, you’re behind the 8-ball for sure. But, at least initially, the challenges can be done fairly quickly. Complete 10 challenges and you can be certified as an EVOKE Social Innovator – Class of 2010.

Urgent Evoke

[Via Howard Rheingold]

The Color of Happy

Colors mean different things to different cultures

Colors have cultural meaning

Yellow is a happy color. Think of the big sunny Happy Face that’s as common as dandelions.

That is, unless you’re a Native American. In that case yellow means “danger” and red means “happy.” Of course, red means “danger” to North Americans of European descent.

Using the color wheel in the gorgeous wall chart available through Information is Beautiful you could easily create a quick cross-cultural game where teams have to communicate an urgent message using color alone. Of course, the teams wouldn’t know that the colors have different meanings until one or two rounds have gone past.

Knowing the cross-cultural symbolism of color is also useful for theming games or experiences that involve people from diverse backgrounds.

A Simple Event Flow for Educational Games

Quite Coyote also known as Focus Fox

Quiet Coyote Grabs Attention

There’s a lot going on whenever you bring a group of people together for a game. Some people will be nervous. Some people will be angry. Some people simply want to shoot the bull with their friends.

In order to have a successful group experience you need to get everyone on the same page quickly and as naturally as possible. With younger children you can use  a “Quiet Coyote” (see above) or “when the hand goes up, the mouth goes shut” approach to focus redirection.

My group likes to argue about the focus device – is it a Coyote? A Focus Fox? What about Silent Spiders? And off they go into the woods again. In this case, getting them up and moving them to another location is a good way to get everyone into the same head-space.

Here’s a simple event flow that brings people together around your activity:

Excitement Builders

Fast, fun hilarious stunts capture attention, get people laughing and loosened up. If you have energetic, enthusiastic song leaders then a couple of songs can bring people together socially and spiritually.

Centering Stage

This is a transitional move designed to focus attention on the main event. You can have people move to tables, fill out a questionare, make name tags. If your learning experienced is themed, this would be a good time to introduce theme music, dim the lights, don costumes or whatever is appropriate.

Essential Experience

Here is the main event where everything works to reinforce the emotional state of the experience. For instance, if your learning experience has to do with the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert, here is where you turn on the halogen lights and turn up the heat. Do your best to get everyone into the essential experience of the lesson.

Debriefing and Decompression

Essentially your group has just taken a hero’s journey. You’ve gotten the goods, now is the time to return to the real world. Spend the last 15-20 minutes of group time talking about the experience, the emotions and feelings that came up and practical applications in the real world.

The temptation for an educator is to feed the flock, stuff them full of information. But when everything goes well your group will be lit-up, and eager to do it again. Your job is to send them out into the world hungry for more.

Toward a Theology of Game Design


Design for Blueberry Garden on Gamestorm by Erik Svedäng

Sometimes you read a book that flips a light switch in your head. For me one such book was  A Theology of Children’s Ministry by Lawrence Richards. It changed the way I thought about teaching.

Richards looked at the way children learn best and concluded that heart-knowledge was more effective than head-knowledge. A lecture or a lesson plan can’t penetrate the heart the way friendship can. He believed that faith is best taught by modeling behavior in the moment.

It is in fact our emotional responses to situations that trigger our thoughts and shape our perceptions, rather than an analysis of a situation triggering our emotions. As long as our understanding of the Bible and its teachings is not linked to our emotions, it is unlikely that we will remember and apply appropriate Bible truths. (As cited in People in the Presence of God.)

Certainly this is the way Jesus taught. When he wanted his A-team to learn about trust he took them out in a small boat and into a big storm. And then he went to sleep.

If I had the energy, the patience and the grey matter to go to seminary I might attempt to scribble out a theology of game design. Youth workers can’t drag out a leaky boat every time they want to teach a lesson. But using a game youth leaders could capture the essential experience of fear that the disciples felt, and walk students through it.

There is a catch however. Experiences within a game are endogenous, which is a fancy way to say that what happens in the game, stays in the game.

The endogenous nature of gaming experiences is a good thing if you’re playing Grand Theft Auto. But it’s problematic if you’re trying to use a game as an experiential learning tool. For instance you could create a game where the recitation of Bible verses made it possible to overcome obstacles. Inside the game those verses would be valuable and powerful. Would they retain their power outside the game? Or would they become  just that much Monopoly money?

Important things to think about. And if you’re the thoughtful sort, by all means feel free to post a comment.

Hello World

Hello World | Photo by Rosan Harmens

Hello World | Photo by Rosan Harmens via Unsplash

The other day I was thinking about our High School guy’s small group ministry. We have a lot of fun, particularly in the form of beating each other black and blue.  But I can’t say that I’ve created a really good faith-based experience. I’ve tried a couple of promising studies (ie. The Gospel according to The Simpsons ) but every time I bring a book into the room the guy’s eyes glaze over and their tongues unroll. It’s more like Zombie school than Sunday School.

Rick Bundschuh once offered a little insight. “Most curriculum is written – or edited – by women. And most women think very differently from men.” Bundschuh went on to describe a seminar where the leader asked the people in the room to describe their day using a color. The women in the room found the task easy and enjoyable. Their days were mauve or peach or kiwi, amber or blush. The guys on the other hand were “huh? A color? I guess it would have to be blue because that’s the only color I can think of.”

Most curriculum is designed around two goals. The first goal is to drive home some bit of knowledge. The second goal is to generate discussion. Asking a group of women what color the day was is something that works. By and large most women enjoy discussion and the question simply provides a framework. Guys on the other hand are more likely to be energized by a challenge. Who can think of the most names for the color blue? The person who succeeds is 1) the winner and 2) recognized as having a special power and a special place in the group.

All this got me thinking. If guys (on the whole) aren’t motivated by learning information and aren’t interested in discussion for the sake of talking then how do I get more Bible knowledge into the group? Well, let’s rephrase that. Guys are motivated by learning new skills and they are interested in a challenge. They want to compare themselves to other guys and see how they stack up. They want to discover their own unique “super powers.”

And then I had an idea. What if, instead of another small group study we rolled out something entirely different. What if Thursday night Guy’s Group wasn’t centered on a study guide, but was based on a game?