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Gamestorming March 2, 2012

Posted by Arian Shams in Uncategorized.

By Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo

Gamestorming, as illustrated in the Book, is a technique for navigating toward solutions for fuzzy goals. Unlike clear goals, fuzzy goals do not have a foreseeable, step-by-step sequence of processes to follow in order to reach the goal. Instead, fuzzy goals often have uncertain, diverging and converging patterns where ideas are juggled multiple times until a feasible solution is reached. Gamestorming provides a framework to manage the maze of diverging and converging patterns as one navigates towards finding solutions by defining the sequence of activities leading to the goal as a set of games.

What is a Game?

A game is exactly what it sounds like, a game. A game has boundaries in time and space, a set of rules, artifacts, players and goals to achieve. This basic definition applies to sports games, board games and other leisure games but it can also be applied in a business context. For example, brainstorming can be considered a game because it has boundaries in time and space (brainstorm session for one hour in meeting room), a set of rules (all the brainstorm rules we discussed in class such as those from IDEO), artifacts (post-it notes and a board), players (team) and goals to achieve (a collection of ideas on the board).

Playing a single game alone cannot lead to a solution for a fuzzy goal, rather games need to be sequenced, each with a different purpose so that the sequence of games support the diverging and converging patterns of idea exploration often needed to reach the fuzzy goal. The Book defines three chronological acts when designing a game sequence; opening, exploring and closing. There can be any number of game sequences in any number of patterns but the main point is that the conclusion of one sequence feeds into another sequence, thereby producing the diverging and converging patterns of idea exploration until a feasible solution is reached. The three acts of a game sequence are discussed below.


The opening act is composed of games meant to open people’s minds, to get all the ideas out in the open. Opening act games correspond to the diverging part of the diverging/converging pattern. The idea is to jump-start the brain and identify the main themes that need to be explored. Some example games that can be used in the opening act are: brainstorming, heuristic idea creation, and anti-problem.


The exploring act is composed of games meant to examine and experiment with some of the ideas from the opening act. Examining an idea is to study the idea in more depth (narrowing the diverging/converging pattern) whereas experimenting with an idea is to consider other possibilities (expanding the diverging/converging pattern). Some example games that can be used in the exploring act are: 5 whys, affinity maps, and business model canvas (this game is in reference to our business model generation textbook).


The closing act is composed of games meant to move or converge toward a solution. Decisions need to be made in this act as to which ideas will be part of a feasible solution or will feed into the next game sequence. Some example games that can be used in the closing act are: dot voting, $100 test, and forced ranking.


It seems the goal of the book is to define a framework built around the concept of games to guide the reader toward creating a diverging and converging pattern of idea exploration when presented with fuzzy goals. It is useful to break down such a pattern into a set of game sequences with chronological acts because it provides a concrete method of approach to such challenges. In addition, the diverging and converging pattern of these game sequences introduce ideas that may not be apparent if a person approaches the problem individually. By treating each step toward the eventual solution as a game and by recognizing that there are multiple games required until a feasible solution can be reached, it alleviates some of the uncertainty or doubt that a person tends to place on the effectiveness of a standalone game, such as brainstorming, because that game is just one of many that is needed to solve fuzzy problems.

The Book provides a list of MANY games, each categorized as games for opening, exploring or closing acts. Some games are well known, such as brainstorming and affinity maps but many are not (at least not to me). I found it thought provoking to look over the various games because they can all potentially be used for different types of problems and circumstances. It was also helpful that the authors categorized the games as to which ones were good for opening, exploring and closing. However, I felt the Book was lacking in providing direction or strategy on choosing games effectively for differing circumstances or industries. For example, the games listed for the opening act include those that are meant for idea generation but also those that are meant for team building and project management tasks (such as stakeholder analysis). If I were designing a sequence of games for members of a team that did not know each other, I may want to start with a game for team building but I may not use that game for a team that has been working together for a long time. Although that’s a trivial example, the point is that some games can be good for certain circumstances whereas others may not. It would have been helpful to identify which games are good for which circumstances. In addition, it may have been helpful to identify the games useful for specific industries. The authors did mention in some games as to which industry can benefit from it but I feel that there needs to be a separate chapter or guide that helps categorize games that are effective for say software solutions, or product solutions or service solutions, etc.

Overall, I felt the authors developed a well thought out framework for approaching fuzzy problems and have aggregated a useful collection of games to help the reader navigate through the diverging and converging pattern of idea generation. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore different types of games or needs a handy reference of games to help them approach fuzzy problems.



1. shangsong0 - March 2, 2012

This process of opening, exploring, and closing in a game reminds me of Doug’s presentation. Choosing the right game to use is probably very difficult especially if one doesn’t have the experience.

2. jhpittman - March 11, 2012

It sounds like you felt this was too much a catalog of techniques without enough structure and guidance as to which tool to select and use.

I do expect, to Shang’s point, that experience helps in selecting the right tool.

3. Matt Chwierut - March 12, 2012

Good overview Arian, and at least good to know that it’s a catalog of exercises.

Did the book discuss the challenges of introducing “games” for serious conceptual problems? The serious gaming community has a huge semantic challenge with these techniques – games are often seem as either leisurely play (Candy Land) or gimmicky and tolerated only in certain circumstances (icebreaker exercises). Actually framing a conceptual exercise as a “game” immediately makes many people, especially people who aren’t creatives or designers, skeptical. What is gained by calling something a “game” rather than just calling it brainstorming or collaborative thinking? And, if indeed there are clear gains in labeling something a “game,” how do you get people to take it seriously (well, seriously enough)?

For those interested in the gamification space (using gaming principles to redesign products, services, and experiences), here are a couple interesting links:

Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dE1DuBesGYM. Jane is a leading thinker on serious gaming, particularly massive collaborative public games.

Seriosity: http://www.seriosity.com/. Seriosity helps clients use gaming principles for their workplaces. They help design and develop products and software, not just collaborative exercises.

Games for Change: http://www.seriousgames.org/. A slightly different take on gamification, Games for Change is part of a movement to make actual digital games more serious. Rather than applying gaming principles to real-world exercises, they apply real-world social issues to video and computer games.

Dave - March 13, 2012

Matt, I am impressed with your erudition. Clearly you have a deep understanding of the serious games community and its challenges. Thank you for the helpful links. I look forward to learning more about the “gamification space.”

4. dgrayxplane - March 13, 2012

Hello Arian. Thanks for the review and thoughtful analysis. The issue you raise is one we hear often and is not an easy one to address. It might take another book to answer that question effectively.

5. Arian Shams - March 15, 2012


I think you raise a good point. I do not remember any portion of the book discussing how to introduce the concept of games to people who may be skeptical about their effectiveness. However, I also do not believe the book mentioned anything about declaring that these are “games” to the players who are participating in them. If I wanted to use the Gamestorming technique to generate ideas, I probably would not declare to a team that we are going to play a bunch of games because, as you mentioned, it may cause skepticism. Instead I think the point of the book was how to design a sequence of games in order to help generate and narrow down on feasible solutions to fuzzy problems. This concept of a sequence of games can be a helpful framework for the person who is designing it. That person should know how to use the outcomes of one game and feed it into the next in order to steer towards a solution. If I were that person, I may not want to show a chart of game sequences to all the team members, but rather would just direct the team from one game (or you can call them by their actual names like brainstorming) to another as they complete them. That way it would seem to the player that they are building from the outcomes of the previous game rather than just following some “game trail.”

One last thing about how these “games” may not appear like serious approaches to solving these types of problems. I, myself, think there is a narrow range of people who have the talent to take some concept or idea and develop it into a well-designed product or service. However, I do believe these “games” can help point those type of people toward some directions that they may not have thought of initially. So then even though these games may seem pointless to some, just the act of idea exploration may cause light bulbs to go off in certain peoples’ heads that would help direct them toward new solutions. But that is just from my work experience. For example, there have been people I have worked with who do not normally come up with good solutions but at times they throw out an idea that shifts the problems frame of reference for those who are good at developing solutions. I think that nudge in shifting the frame of reference for the “good designers” is sometimes important.

6. Sunni Brown - April 27, 2012

Thank you so much for the thoughtful summary of Gamestorming. Very well done. In response to your observation that the book is missing recommendations around games for specific industries and challenges, it certainly is. What I call “game sequencing” is one of the most sophisticated aspects of Gamestorming and, as Dave mentioned above, could warrant an entire book in its own right. We chose not to offer game sequences for specific problems because we wanted to target explorers and risk-takers and people willing to jump into the fray and discover what works for themselves rather than give the reader prescribed agendas for group work. That said, I completely agree that that piece is missing and I know that people want and need it. I’m working on a 2nd book (to be published early 2013) called The Doodle Revolution, and it will accommodate those readers who need game sequences for specific and common organizational challenges. In the meantime, my suggestion is that you experiment with triads of games – an opening followed by an exploring followed by a closing. Try and understand what happens to information and to the gamer’s experiences as they move through the mechanics of each game. I’ve found that exercises like that start to build the DNA of gaming while aiming for specific outcomes. Man. That sounded jargony. Anyway, thank you again for your work. And game on.


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