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The Dark Matter of Games

July 13, 2014

Last Friday, Rich, Neil and I ran a prototype at Swinburne University’s Lean Agile Systems Thinking (LAST) Conference of a new futures game we have been iterating (currently) called Dark Matter.

This is another step in the process of gamifying the phases of The Holos Group’s innovation journey, from spotting an opportunity to shipping a new product, service or feature to stewarding an entire ecosystem or movement. Creativity Prism a game designed by Rich Harmer and Adam Jorlen to facilitate the rapid generation of new viable ideas, was one step along this journey. 

Innovation Journey

However, even when an organisation is consciously seeking to change or develop a new offering, so often the deep familiar patterns hold the system in place. As Kegan and Lahey make clear, we have an immunity to change, and some work is needed to uncover the unconscious reasons for keeping things the same. 

That’s why we designed this new game, called Dark Matter (thanks to Hailey at Collabforge for collaborating on the name!) 

Dark Matter and Dark Energy, although still a speculative phenomenon, are estimated to make up 96% of the universe. As one book title puts it, what we see and inhabit is only the 4% universe. It seems natural to question what percentage of organisations do most of us see and inhabit?

Dark matter and energy were first proposed to make sense of the mysterious gravitational pull exerted on visible matter. The standard model of physics predicted the universe should collapse in on itself, yet its measurements indicated inexplicable expansion at an accelerating rate. The metaphor serves when exploring what holds organisational systems together when they could fly apart, as much as what holds current systems in place when we say we want to change.

Our Dark Matter game uses pattern dynamics, a systems thinking language, and the futures triangle, a map of different temporal panoramas, to explore a theme of importance and uncover previously invisible aspects of a question. It helps unlock the dark matter surrounding the theme and its effect on the players and organisational systems at play. 

2014-07-11 11.37.10

Games bring people and ideas to life. A good game has a life of its own, a power and momentum that draws ideas and action out of us beyond the habitual. Games, like any social occasion, also have rules. How people relate to rules is often revealing. We can reject, conform, compete, bend, break, shape, or recreate them. Piaget recognised that as children we explore our relationship to rules through games, and that development is intimately bound to how we think about social rules. But perhaps the most important and valuable property of a game is that it is fun. Research increasingly recognises fun, or in psychological terms positive emotional valence, is the natural field for learning, creativity and development. Although this has been recognised and applied in children’s learning and development, we seldom craft these principles into the adult world of work. If  learning is the pathway to more complex activity and performance, it would seem this is ripe for revision.

In a world of increasing complexity and volatility, the ability to bring groups together to learn, create and co-construct the new is critical. This is one of the reasons why we are so passionate about designing games that bring futures and strategy to life. The other is because, well, they are fun.

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