The Games of Life
How our agile training workshops might have inadvertently revealed a hidden pattern in our collective consciousness.
Our agile workshops
For the last couple of years we have been running workshops for professional teams to learn the fundamentals of agile. These take the form of a 6 hour, guided, mock project where teams must come up with the concept, rules, design and marketing for a new board game, whilst learning the agile values and principles and the scrum methodology.
As part of the workshop the teams are asked to create a design mock-up of the game’s box, based on their concepts. As one of the designers involved, I have found it interesting to see the range of ideas that teams come up with, and it’s always a fun (and sometimes a little stressful) challenge to deliver a professional-looking design in a single 15 minute sprint.
Over time, teams have used a few themes that have stood out, such as travel, food, and general escapism. But more interestingly, I have noticed that it might be possible to use these themes to gain an insight into what’s going on in peoples’ minds at any given time.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we used to train teams of pharmaceutical professionals in agile by inviting them to build LEGO® zoos. With the restrictions of online only, we transitioned the training to be delivered remotely with a challenge for teams to design new and fun board games.
Then when the pandemic hit we continued to deliver the workshops remotely, and predictably the game concepts began to shift towards beating COVID and escaping lockdown. This did make designing the box graphics a little less exciting as there’s only so many ways to show a virus terrorising the world, but it was very understandable that this was the primary influence on everyone’s mind at the time.
As we progressed through the pandemic, the range of board game ideas broadened and included more ‘normal life’ concepts, but based on the new reality in which we were living. This included Netflix content, mental health and relationship exploration, and frankly more escapism.
Post pandemic (we hope)
As we’ve come out of lockdowns and have started emerging into our new post-pandemic reality there has been an interesting development in the type of concepts being thought up by the workshop teams. I believe these ostensibly ephemeral ideas point towards a deep cultural transformation happening across society, and it’s possible the pandemic has been the catalyst for a few reasons…
During lockdown there was a narrative thread in the media about how we should not return to normal, and an acknowledgement of the positive effect that lockdown was having on the environment, with fewer cars on the road etc. There was also a massive adoption of new hobbies, and people using the lockdown as a period of personal transformation and introspection. It was also an unprecedented, shared experience for everyone on the planet.
So, how has this manifested in the board game concepts? Well, in addition to the usual themes of travel and hedonism, we have seen a number of games that are focused on sustainability and environmental issues, such as ‘Healthy Planet’ which encourages players to imagine what a sustainable future would look like, and ‘No Planet B’ which is about players making various life-style changes to help tackle climate change.
But perhaps more surprisingly was the concept of a game called ‘Zentopia’ in which players are invited to “Find the Zen way to your utopia”. This differs from the environmental games in that it is about an internal exploration rather than manipulating the outside world, but what it shares with those designs is the vision of a positive future, and a grand narrative that suggests we can do things differently.
This apparent progression of thoughts and worldviews is explored deeply in the field of psycho-social development theory, by thinkers such as the philosopher Ken Wilber, the Harvard social theorist Robert Kegan, and more recently in books like ‘The Listening Society’ by Hanzi Freinacht, and ‘The Web of Meaning’ by Jeremy Lent, and many others. They posit that we are moving from a cynical and ironic ‘postmodern’ era to a more sincere and co-created ‘metamodern’ era. It is shown that these kinds of cultural developments often first show up in a societies’ artforms, so it is confluent that our workshop cohorts’ creativity may be expressing this one, as does much of our recent media diet.
As well as being a designer my other vocational hat is a District Councillor, so I am very encouraged to notice these topics emerge as salient ideas in our cultural zeitgeist as time becomes more urgent for us to work together to create a sustainable future. Time will tell if the trend persists but I’m choosing to be optimistic, y’know, for the kids!
What’s your game?
So what would your board game concept be? How might you address or satirise the challenges that humanity faces, from pandemics to other aspects of the so-called ‘meta crisis’? Or might you invent a new drinking game that at least eases our collective sorrows?
The Further Reaches of Adult Development – Robert Kegan
What is Metamodernism? – Hanzi Freinacht
The Future is Not a Spectator Sport – Jeremy Lent
Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality
by Ken Wilber, Fajer Al-Kaisi, et al. – 2000
The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development
by Robert Kegan – 2009
The Listening Society: A Metamodern Guide to Politics
by Hanzi Freinacht (AKA Daniel Görtz & Emil Ejner Friis) – 2017
The Web of Meaning: Integrating Science and Traditional Wisdom to Find Our Place in the Universe
by Jeremy Lent – 2021