Gaming at Barcamp Sheffield 3

Barcamp Sheffield 3 organised by the GIST foundation was somewhat different to the other barcamps I’ve been to, as it went right back to basics, there were no sponsors, no free food, drinks or swag, leading to a very lightweight and open unconference.

As there was no food provided, it allowed people to do their own thing, to split into smaller groups or to go on mass to the local pub for Sunday lunch. Similarly on the Saturday night, where we had the interesting exercise in self organisation that is ordering for 14 people in a Chinese restaurant!

This openness was also reflected in the spaces and session structures, pretty much the only rules in play were:

* Rule of two feet
* Pimp your passion, not your product
* Only new stuff

Talking about rules brings me nicely to my main theme of the weekend, games! There were sessions around people’s favourite video games, debates about whether they are good for you and numerous sessions around using them for learning.

Liam (@losvaive) kicked of the game theme by telling us about his video gaming bucket list. A run through of some of his favourite games, with some fondly told stories about the special moments he has experienced with each of them.

The saturday closed with a impromptu extended session about whether games are good for us, hosted by Liam, Claire (@kitation) and Katie (@katie_fenn). The session ended up running over into the next, a testament to the breadth and depth of the subject and the strong opinions felt by those in the group. We discussed the individual, social and health implications of playing games, comparing them to books, films and sports amongst others.

Starting with the discussion of adult addiction to World of Warcraft (way more prevalent than I thought), we focused on whether we think differently about it when vulnerable people are involved, e.g. children, socially isolated people. If we drew any conclusions, it would be that games can have significant positive and negative effects and there use should be respected, particularly where children are involved.

This theme continued into the Sunday, focusing on the learning aspects of gaming in general, not just video games. The inspiration for this focus came from a session around video games as a learning tool (ran by Liam, Claire and Katie once again), which discussed specialised games designed for learning (largely not very successful) and the more accidental or emergent learning involved in many games, in which Portal received high praise.

Having spent much of the previous day talking about games, we felt it was about time we played some, Catacombs (ran by Hannah @yorkhannah) just for fun and Zombie Fluxx (ran by Jag @Jagusti) for learning about emergent behaviour and team dynamics, oh and maybe some fun too. If you haven’t played Fluxx, I thoroughly recommend it, it’s great fun, easy to play and works well as a learning tool. The way that rules and goals can change throughout the game, leads to some pretty exciting, tense and comedic moments.

The first game of Fluxx was intended to be an introduction, with some ongoing observations of how the game dynamic teaches emergent behaviour. It was fascinating to watch the way the style of the game changes based upon the rules in play and the objectives set and how easily they can all change many times during the course of the game. Many parallels were drawn to software development projects, which inspired us to play a second game with some additional elements, to see if we could teach team behaviour and some of the common roles on a software development project.

This was done by making it a cooperative rather than competitive game, where all players share the objective of allowing one of them to win. This sounds very simple, except we placed restrictions on players communicating too much about there hand and what they intended to do and gave different roles different distribution of types of card. This led to interesting dynamics between the different players, particularly when the player representing the sponsor or product owner changed the games goal.

I also attended a number of other interesting sessions, where I learnt how a technical author is often a developer wrangler; how a system administrator can go rogue; how we can discover stories and how often we overcomplicate software solutions.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Barcamp Sheffield 3, it was a great example of how just enough structure and some simple constraints can lead to lots of fun and learning.

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