Exploring game mechanics and much more

On an Open Space session of the Conference of the Applied Improvisation Network in Oxford (August 2016) Dave Cooper facilitated the game “Cat on yer head”. The group who played grew very fast up to 30 people and had lots of fun. You can find a free description of the game here– in this video you will see how it is set into action in a conference setting.

It is a great example on how embodiment fosters learning and understanding. I think the game is fantastic to really feel the concepts of game mechanics / design also very valuable to experience, explore and evolve…

  • Mutual awareness and perception
  • fast and agile collaboration
  • how (together) to cope with obstacles and challenges
  • interdependence of things happening in a system and your possibilities to influence them
  • creativity (also by together inventing and testing new variations and elements of the game)
  • reflecting verbs like “chasing”, “winning”, “losing”, “interacting” and why we often mentally (and in our actions) support the mouse and not the cat – so it is also could be a game dealing with oppression, refugee-crisis…

Some ideas to variations of the game:

  • play with emotions and colours of voices “cat”, “mouse” and others utter depending on tempo, distance, success, failure…
  • substitute “mouse”, “cat” and other components with parts of a mathematical or chemical formula, a statistic method, archetypes of members of a team (or a family), elements of a project, process or also of a story / treatment / concept: Who is chasing whom? Who “wins”? What happens else when two components meet? What nourishes them?
  • While “cat”, “Mouse”… are chasing the group also passes on a Word-by-word or sentence-by-sentence game – which also could influence “cat”, “mouse”… and their actions
  • Play the game parallel with two, three or more grids that represent different “worlds” – what happens, after these grids are combined with or without the people involved know something of the other worlds, rules, heroes or villains?


Playful Debriefing

In The Open Space at the Conference of the Applied Improvisation in Oxford (August 2016), there also was a session on debriefing. On my journey of doing a thesis on Applied Improvisation in higher education (offline and online) i very quickly decided, that debriefing will be one of the center stones.

Of course you benefit and you also learn with applied improv from the very first second. And this outcome will be intensified and more structured and more connected to very tangible aims in your life with a good planed debriefing, which also needs enough time.

I am a playful person, I love to use very different games and adapt them. And debriefing till now was something with lots of words and talking. Which is not a bad choice, and there are many other possible choices. Thanks to Anne-Marie Steen who reminded me on that!

She recommend the book “Play” by Stuart Brown (look at this which I also think is a basic literature for anybody who is in the areas of teaching, facilitating, training, using applied improv… Anne-Marie said there are the following categories of how to use a playful way in debriefing:

  • Movement (eg using hands and arms to show a learning outcome on a scale from 1 to 10, movement through the room, body images, dancing together…)
  • Social (eg role playing)
  • Creative (eg first drawing in 60 seconds a picture of a learning experience; showing and explaining it to a partner and then amend the own picture with something that you saw / heard inspired by the drawing / explanation of your partner)
  • Objects (eg using toy blocks, chairs & tables, material from nature or a bag full of objects from which participants draw and explain why they have picked this as a symbol)
  • Inventing together a debriefing game

Of course how to put and phrase the debriefing questions is also important on this methods.

Here are ideas from my side:

  • Using the structure, the language, typical protagonists from a fairy tale to tell (or play out together with others), of course you also make a short fairy tale comic strip
  • Write and sing together the song of your learning journey
  • Transforming results in newspaper headlines or advertisement / pr slogans – then go through the room shouting them out or trying out different emotions in shouting / enacting them


  • Some more ideas are collected here by Michelle Cummings M.S.
  • and
  • “Another method of having learners think about how lessons learned can apply elsewhere is to put them in the role of a game designer. Learners are asked to think about a game idea that would take the lessons taught in the activity they just completed and allow someone to learn how to apply those lessons into a new environment. By providing the learner with a variety of icons to drag into a game design document, the learner’s creativity can be jostled in directions different than a text – only document would provide” Nicholson, S. (2012). Completing the Experience: Debriefing in Experiential Educational Game. In Proceedings of The 3 rd International Conference  on  Society  and  Information  Winter Garden. Abgerufen von (there are more ideas and background in this article!)
  • Also from Nicholson: An emotional timeline; writing and/or drawing and/or showing body images of emotional feelings along one methode or a whole workshop
  • Self assessment with the help of scales



A room-atmosphere-transforming way to start a conference (and other learning journeys)

Ok. You could say, this was a special conference with special people (Applied Improvisation Network in Oxford, August 2016). And there are other conferences. And those can learn a lot out of what is happening here.

So here has been an opening done by a president (Paul Z. Jackson). Short. To the point. Witty and making you smile. And an opening session with over 200 peoples, using the room as it is: It’s called “theatre” and it’s more like a lecture theatre. People sitting very near to each other, seemingly no place to move. Seemingly…

Firstly we say “Good Morning” to each other, in our very different languages, groups stand up from the different countries all over the world.

Then: Matt Weinstein ( and Erica Marx ( are the facilitators – I list some of the methods, that were used and add reflections on their effects on learning, fruitful communication, self efficacy. (see this beuatiful video that captures some moments!)

Please add to all following bullet points the starting words it “fosters / helps / encourages”…

They start with a “diamond dance” and within half a minute over 200 people are dancing together. (see this good explanation here

  • the balance between synchronizing with others and to bring in own variations and completely new ideas
  • to experience (with heart, brain, belly – the whole body) connectivity and being part of something (more than a participant)
  • To let go fears to show (and tell) something of yourself

And movement gets more intense: Matt and Erica tell us twice to find a partner nearby in the room, not only the neighbor to do “Danish Clapping” (see this explanation and video: Added to that we are invited to exchange with this partner in 90 seconds on “What intrigues you about applied improvisation?” “Where is your edge?”, “What are you really curious about right now, what do you want to explore?”

  • Exploring and finding common rhythms
  • Being aware of the movements of other people (in communication body movements might be far less intense as in danish clapping AND we can not only perceive them but also realize our own movements) -> so it is also about real listening to each other
  • Reframing of the word mistake (Even if you are not synchronized the mutual game keeps on going)

Matt and Erica also invite us to find a new partner and to tell each other the story of our first name in one Minute. 90 or even 60 seconds. How is this possible. Improv is also about to trust the first answer that comes to your mind. It helps to summarize, to cut on the chase (see this nice explanation of this phrase And it often catapults us in a – like Keith Johnstone puts it – trance, a state, where we stop thinking in a “normal” way and surprise us self and others.

Latest here you would have run out of people standing right next to you and people in the theatre started to move around. And it goes on with “find another partner” and the following input:

“The person across from you is your very best friend from back home.  It’s 1 week from now, conference is over, you’re telling them all about it  “ It went super well, AMAZING! Everything you could hope for: for you personally, for your business, for your perspective, relationships.  What happened?  What made it so great?  You will have 45 seconds”

And then “Now, it’s 10 years in the future! Same friend, and you have not seen them in 10 years.  Start with whatever stood you to you from your share.”  And the listener is asked to keep pushing the storyteller with putting in “Because of that…” We are reminded in the aspect “amazing”, “everything you could hope for” and also to find things, we are dreaming about.

After that the question is: “Return to the next days. What have you done in the very first days after the conference to make the things you just described come into existence in the very first place?

  • Finding, defining aims for own / common learning processes
  • Envision a bright future (I often use methods like “letter / email / tweet / drawing / body image from the future”. It is a very powerful way to gain access to hopes, dreams and also the very next steps.)
  • Being inspired by ideas of other persons

The next challenge from Matt is to find an other partner and do the “toothache mediation”:

Tell her or him very fast things, “…that are not wrong in your life”. He reminds us to stick to this very starting every own sentence.

  • Reframing your life
  • Getting stronger aware of own strengths
  • Opening up to each other

And if you thought to find I a very tight space two people very often is an inspiring method to bring together as many as possible people in a seemingly no-time-structure look at this: “Sty together with your last partner, find two other couples. Make a line: left is the one with the least experience on AIN-conferences and right the one with the most”. So we do lines. In the very narrow tiers of the theater, with people we perhaps hadn’t realized they are even here before. The person standing at the beginning of this line partners with the one on the other end of the line: “1 min: What advice can you offer the newbies?  How to get the most from the conference?”. “Newer delegates: What questions do you have of the veterans?“ (it is a variation of a sociometric activity, for more see e.g. here

  • Get to know each other
  • Exchanging experiences (and get to know “knowing people”)
  • Helping each other (sharing responsibility)

No more movement possible in this room? You are wrong! We are asked to find triads and everyone gets the chance to be the “Perfect boss”: So if it is your turn, you have to tell your staff a method how to make as many as possible people in the room happy, feeling comfortable and also appreciated. So for instance I am asked to tell people a superpower. Or to put a finger to their head and telling “I like you very” much”. I tell to give people a short massage for the neck. And even in my roll as boss I not only observe people running in high speed through the room but also am hugged, told that I am amazing and inspiring, invited to let go all my fears and more J

  • Taking and delegate responsibility
  • Mutual kindness
  • Getting in touch with lots of people

We form another group of three and Erica invites us to be our own guardian angel: “You are now each Guardian angels, and you’re hanging out together in the Guardian angel break room, swapping strategies & sharing about your clients.  You are hard-working, dedicated, compassionate Guardian angels.  You’re thinking about this upcoming conference.  You’ve got an important client, someone you really care about.  Because in this next game, you will each play your own guardian angel: what excites them about Applied Improvisation, hopes for how this conference will go and what that means to them, things that are going well in their life. And also… you know what they need and how to take care of them.  You know how they can get themselves into trouble, get off track.  You know how to bring them back.  What advice do you give them?  How are you going to take care of them?”

  • Selfcare and self efficacy
  • Inner reflection, taking in own needs
  • Planning a red thread for the conference (learning experience)

Afterwards we are told to “Take your guardian angel with you” <3

At the end we wave to the partners we had before.

Matt and Erica made for the whole hour sure, that there is no need to think on “who is first”, “ho is next”. They put in inputs like “the one with the most hours of sleep”, “the one who had to travel the longest time”, “speaks the most languages”, “youngest goes first”…

So it is not only to get to know each other but also to look on a inspiring learning journey ahead, to define areas were you want to grow and powers you can use! Thank you very much Erica & Matt for sharing your notes, that helped me remembering most of this fabulous session!