Games make a difference

August 2, 2010

Jane McGonigal has created a game called SuperBetter, which turns the rehabilitation process into a game.

SuperBetter covers an area on the play graph straddling pretend play and games with rules, with a similar footprint to Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft except a little to the left (the pretend setting is self-directed), and larger footprint vertically (the gameplay is highly emergent from real-world experiences, pushing it lower, and it’s goals exist in the real-world and are quite serious, pushing its upper border upwards).

Note to self, perhaps I need a better vocabulary for talking about this.

Anyway, here is Jane talking about the origins of SuperBetter briefly:

and a longer video of her TED talk on the origin and purpose of her “serious” games.

Conference poster

April 9, 2010

The types of play model didn’t quite make the cut in the paper I’m submitting. This poster, however, is essentially Table 1 of that paper and an outline of the structure of it.I’m uploading it here— “submitted for your approval” as Rod Serling would say.


2010 PSHA poster & Bowker (manuscript in preparation)

(Edited 11 April: converted to 150dpi PNG, now less than 8MB file size!)

References coming soon.

Types of Play

March 24, 2010

Lazzaro’s 4 Types of Fun corresponds well to the constructivists’ theories of development (Piaget; Bruner) as well as the literature on play development (Singer & Singer; Garvey; Fein). The Y-axis here owes a lot to cognitive psychologist Robbie Case.

Model for the types of play based on two factors: symbolism and goals

Metaplay 5

October 18, 2009

Some definitions:

Game: Play with rules.

Rule: A constraint upon behavior that is imposed by social convention.

Play: Good luck with that one.Better scholars than me have tried and failed to define play.


Suck on this Thing I Found

This is a popular play activity performed by infants everywhere with all manner of intended and accidental toys. Is it play? I would say, yes. Does it have rules? No, it does not. It is play, but not a game.

Peek-a-boo (novice player)

Player 1 initiates play by hiding and abruptly returning while vocalizing. Player 2 is startled by Player 1 and reacts. Player 2 realizes that Player 1 is not a real threat and that his or her startle reaction was unwarranted. Comedic irony ensues. (The foundation of all things that are funny is, “I’m in distress; oh, wait, no I’m not!” and it starts right here.)

In this play, Player 1 is using rules, but Player 2 is reacting only with basic physiological/emotional responses. I suppose it counts as a game for Player 1, but not for Player 2.

Peek-a-boo (expert player)

Player 1 initiates play by hiding. Player 2 recalls this from earlier and anticipates the forthcoming abrupt return. Player 1 returns, Player 2 pretends to be startled, reenacting the novice game, and comedy ensues. Or players skip that step altogether and jump straight to the giggling. At this point, the startle effect is assumed, but not obligatory.

A symbolic transformation has occurred! This is a social convention, and thus it is a rule. Player 2 has joined in the game.


Player 1 drops Cheerios from high chair tray. They fall on the floor as opposed to hovering in space of falling to the ceiling. (Not a rule, natural principle of the universe).

Dog eats Cheerios. (Not a rule. More of a natural consequence. Although this does have some qualities of agency, in that the dog’s motivations and behaviors are its own, unlike gravity, which has no agency.)

Player 1 drops spoon. It makes a different sound upon landing than the Cheerios. Dog licks, but does not eat spoon. (I’m beginning to sense a pattern here in that objects tend to fall toward the floor consistently. More data are required to confirm)

Player 1 drops sippy-cup. A third unique sound occurs, perhaps accompanied by more bouncing and rolling than the previous objects.

Unwitting Player 2 returns cup, but not the Cheerios or the spoon. (Okay, now we have a socially established rule. How consistent is this rule? Gravity is pretty persistent, but how many times will Mom give back the cup before the pattern changes? What else will she give back?)

New definition:

Goals: Goals are motivations that are established before the play activity begins. Much play involves behavior directed toward an intended outcome, but there is a difference between intentions that arise as a reaction to things inside the play frame versus intentions that come from outside the play frame.

Examples: Chase each other around in circles

Any number of player run around in imitation of one another in an attempt to catch one another. (This game has pretty simple rules, but it doesn’t really impose a goal.)


Like above, but players run away from a specific player who is intending to catch them. Who the chaser and chasees are change depending on some criteria, most commonly a touch indicating one player has caught the other. (While it looks on the surface similar to the above game, Tag one is much more goal-oriented than the Chase. Tag is much more sophisticated and played by older children.)

Notice that a goal is not the same as a win-condition. Tag is not a game one can “win,” although one could be quite competitive in pursuit of the game’s goal.

Sadly, I’ve started to realize that most of this is not contributing to my dissertation at all, even though it is important and useful to my thinking. I don’t really need this model to make the Pentad work as an AAC intervention. It may be a separate paper at some point.

Game players play

August 24, 2009

At this year’s Gen Con, an annual convention for tabletop game players, there was a fire alarm which resulted in the evacuation of the convention center.
Gamer Nate Price tells a story about the evacuation.

Naturally, the herd of gamers occupying the room simply stared in stunned silence for solid thirty seconds before reluctantly heading to the exits. I think Brian David-Marshall put it best when he told me his story. He had just cracked open the second pack in a draft when the alarm started going off. He glanced around the table, saw that no one was really making a strong move to leave, and then offered a solution. “Do we all agree that we would rather burn to death than have to put this on hold and come back to it?” When everyone else nodded, he just laughed and went back to making his pick.

Okay, these guys are pretty serious about their game. They are competing for a major prize, though. But what about everyone else?

I [Nate Price], on the other hand, had the safety of my friends to think about, plus I still wasn’t really too sure what was going on. So, like a pig to the slaughterhouse, I joined the great gamer exodus. Upon getting outside and watching fire engine after fire engine race down the street to the Convention Center, I realized there was a growing congregation of people at one of the entrances. […]

After milling about for a bit, I heard some veiled whispering coming from behind me. All of a sudden, there was a gasp of air, like an airlock shooting open, followed by the bellowing voices of well over a hundred gamers.


The people on the other side of the street looked confused. That is, until a guy with savage muttonchops and a dashing top hat went sprinting across a four-lane street to join our side. A massive cheer erupted. After about thirty seconds without another response, the chorus yelled, “YOUR TURN, YOUR TURN!”


Unwilling to let the game die, the crowd turned once more and screamed, “RED ROVER, RED ROVER, SEND STEAMPUNK GIRL OVER!”

Within ten seconds, we had a cute little steampunk girl dodging traffic on the way to our side. Apparently shaken by the loss of their steampunk girl, the north side of the street erupted with rage, set on taking one of our most precious resources: Tie-Died Shirt Guy. For three or four more rotations, the epic game of Red Rover across Maryland Street raged on. Eventually, we were given the all clear to reenter. With one more guttural bellow, our newly bolstered forces called out for the end: “RED ROVER, RED ROVER, SEND EVERYONE OVER!” And with that sign of truce, the Great Red Rover Standoff came to a peaceful resolution. And best of all, no one got hurt.

Play is a skill and a mindset that must be cultivated in order to be enjoyed. In Indianapolis a group of adults, all of whom play games as their primary leisure activity, spontaneously played together.

Metaplay 3

July 17, 2009

Turns out, I’m not quite ready to do the play vocab list yet. I haven’t introduced the whole framework. I should explain the framework before I fill it in. There’s a bunch of categories I need to outline and define.

The whole thing makes something of a matrix when it is done. This is a rough draft: you are seeing it pretty much at the same time as I am so wish me luck.

Here we go.


We can improve on this.

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Parallel Play

June 28, 2009

Parallel play

Parallel play

Parallel play is when two children are playing the same play frame, but not collaborating with one another or influencing one another’s play directly.

Rather than through negotiation, the two children’s play frames are synchronized and coordinated by imitation. You often see one child repeating the same action that another child does. (Classic Vygotsky: the play frame is in their ZPD and they are learning how to act in it from one another).

This poses problems for kids with disabilities: #1: their motor and linguistic capacity to imitate.

Can our kid actually perform the physical actions of driving the car up the ramp or putting a dress on Barbie? This is a problem (but is a little out of my universe as an SLP. I’ll let the OT and Rec Therapists work on this one).

Can a child using AAC imitate something that another child says that sounds interesting?


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Last post I talked about metaplay as an important type of language output that is particularly difficult to program into AAC due to its unpredictability and dynamicism.

The imaginary reality that children are engaging in is referred to as a play frame. The play frame can be something established and obvious (I’ll call these “off-the-rack frames”) or it can be something improvised in the moment. If the children are playing House, that’s mostly an off-the-rack frame that we can mostly prepare for. If the House gets overrun by zombies (or worse, as my 7-year-old cousin decided, zombies piloting robot armor suits) our off-the-rack AAC programming for the House frame is going to be inadequate.

The end goal here is to make the AAC system programmed by the players as part of the play. Play frames are co-constructed, so talk about the play frames needs to be co-constructed as well.The action in the play itself programs the device.

I'm the store worker, okay? Pretend you're buying something from me.

I'm the store worker, okay? Pretend you're buying something from me.

And, no, I haven’t the foggiest idea how to implement that in the Real World™. I’ve talked to the foremost experts in the field of AAC and none of them know how either (if they think about it at all). It certainly isn’t possible with the hardware and software available today, nor do current attitudes regarding AAC held by professionals doing the teaching lend themselves to implementing something this radical.

I do have some ideas for how we can structure an off-the-rack schematic setup in an existing AAC system. Here is something that you can use today to make a schematic theme for play within a specific play frame.

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June 3, 2009

Disclaimer: Please excuse the half-formed randomness in this post

Imaginary play shares a lot of features with improvisational theater. It is an emerging narrative that no one participant controls, turns are dynamic and responsive from moment-to-moment, and, most frustrating to programming AAC, the meaning of any action may change as the result of future actions!


Children are playing in dressup area:

Child 1: takes coat from coat rack and puts it on.

Child 2: Are you going to work? Have a nice day.

Same scene, different narrative:

Children are playing in dressup area:

Child 1: takes coat from coat rack and puts it on.

Child 2: That’s on sale today. Eleventeen percent off.

One child initiates an action and the second child defines the meaning of that action. This is why “scripts” in an AAC system can’t work. A child needs to be able to keep up with an uncertain, unfolding narrative. If the first child had an AAC system, if that system was set for “playing house,” it would be useless in crafting a response to Child 2 in the second example.

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What play looks like.

April 9, 2009

I just saw two kids running around in circles chasing each other around a bike rack. Looked like a brother and sister, age 4 and 6 perhaps.

Repetitive, and pointless behavior.

They do it—it looks like silly play.

Our kids do it—it is perseveration that needs to be extinguished through behavior modification.

Think about that…