Wednesday, June 18, 2008

BarCamp Topic: Bringing Insights from Game Designers into the Workplace

It happens that I attended my first BarCamp over the weekend of June 14 & 15. One session I attended is the title for this entry. But to zoom out a level, BarCamp itself has the quality of a "game" of the infinite variety, not the finite kind. What are finite and infinite games, you ask?

Words I once used to describe the infinite game characteristics of Open Space Technology can apply equally as well to BarCamp. BarCamp builds the context for an entirely different type of game: an infinite game. As James Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility (1986), "A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play" (p. 3). BarCamp has many of the attributes of infinite games. Plus, the experiences Carse attributes to infinite game players could as easily be described by participants in BarCamp.

Finite games have ranks, levels, winners, losers. Infinite games have enjoyment, laughter, learning. Finite games are played to win, infinite games are played for the joy of playing.
It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play. (1986: 4, emphasis in original)

Infinite players cannot say when their play began, nor do they care. (: 7-8)

While finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined (: 8).

Infinite players play best when they become least necessary to the continuation of play...The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish
(: 32). An interesting feature of Open Space and BarCamp is that the organizers and facilitators are noticeably casual and laid-back. They can be seen comfortably talking with others while the event is in full bloom.

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise( :19).

everything that happens is of consequence (: 19).

In infinite play one always plays dramatically, that is, towards the open, towards the horizon, towards surprise, where nothing can be scripted (: 31).

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