Free Play

I got an interesting letter from my alma mater on Saturday. I mean, it was actually a super straight-forward donation request, but the envelope was interesting, at least!

It had a cute little drawing of a bear (our mascot), and the bear was saying, “Find the typo inside!” Minus five points if you didn’t read that in your head with a cute bear-y voice.

So apparently, this donation request wanted me to play a game! I was intrigued! I didn’t actually give, but I delayed a lot longer than usual before taking that piece of mail to the shredder. Imagine if I was actually inclined to possibly give to my school…

And the really interesting thing is, this didn’t cost the school anything. I guess a little bit of extra ink to print the cartoon bear. But they didn’t have to buy any plastic pieces, or re-design a pamphlet, or think of an entirely new product sell.

They just took what they had (a letter with a typo in it), and then added a thin layer of play on top of it! For free! That’s what’s incredible about game design, to me. You can make play out of almost anything. You don’t need new things to make a game.

When I was a kid, we played with grass, dirt, hands, string, sticks, and words. Sometimes expensive videogames, but also not. Car-trip word games, Rock Paper Scissors, and paper football are all played with whatever’s on-hand. You just add some intangible rules (“Find a typo, win a prize!”) to what’s in front of you.

So if you’re thinking that to add game design or play to your organization’s activities but scared it’ll be a major investment, I encourage you to think again. Look at what you already have.

Can you play with it?