Build and Respond (Evaluation)

        A game that is based in elemental metaphor, such as Build-and-Respond, can be adapted to serve many special ends. The process of adapting a basic game depends on inspiration and practice, but it can be helped by getting a clear idea of what you want the game to do. Once I had a workshop to lead at a large conference on education, run by and for people in the humanistic psychology movement. Almost until its start, I was stymied about what to do. I didn’t want just to talk or to run some arbitrary learning game, however interesting the subject. I wanted to focus on the educational experience of the conference itself, and to do so through a game which itself would be a different sort of learning experience; for nothing less seemed integral and appropriate.

        My worship drew thirty people. For most, it was the last event of the two-day conference. I asked them to think for a moment about the conference so far, about how useful they felt it had been to them; and then took a casual hand census of who, on the whole, liked or disliked it. On this basis, I divided them into the Malcontents and the Contents; and since the Content group was too large, I divided it by gender. When the ten people who didn’t want to play exited, we were left with an interesting array. All but one of the Malcontents were male; there were as many Content Women; and one Content Man formed an uneasy group by himself.

        In phase I, I had them walk around the environment to assess the materials they could build with; and then go off outside for ten minutes to center themselves privately on their feelings about the conference, and think about how to translate these into construction. In Phase II, I brought them into their teams to plan non-verbally for six minutes; phase III involved them in building for fifteen minutes.

        The conferences, languages, and people then associated with the humanistic psychology movement each had quite definite characters, which began early to be expressed and indeed were the ground of the game. And so neither large team paid any attention to concrete materials, but used only its own bodies for its construction. The first Content Women to meet fell into a hug of sisterhood, at once genuine and self-conscious, which was joined by the others and lasted the whole of Phase II. They continued it unbroken into Phase III, enacting a linked circle of sweet humming unity, strong and simple in its energy. Meanwhile, the Malcontents had an uproarious meeting, preparing mischief. The first act of their theater featured a demagogue standing on people’s backs and haranguing (in mime), while others applauded, simpered, and kissed his ass; it was followed by other tableaus with different central figures. The Content Man jittered around uncertainly, doing nothing.

        So far, there was no interaction between the groups. Indeed, each seemed oblivious to the others, perhaps because they weren’t encountering over materials. I meant to halt and regroup them for a phase of strategy-planning, and then to have them make responses to each other’s presentations. I began this by asking them first to continue their own actions but also to observe what the other teams were doing. When they did so, the rest of the game played itself out spontaneously, without explicit gamekeeping.

        The Malcontents turned their derisive or demystifying theater on the Contented Women, but less rapidly than the women reached out to them in warm embrace. This was received by some Malcontents as being both saccharine and aggressive, smothering both of bodies and of dialogue. This contradiction was real, and had been central to the conference’s entire educational process. When it was exposed in this social theater, the unity of the women’s presentation – itself due partly to the currently-vigorous ideology of women’s liberation, as well as to the humanistic clime – disintegrated, as the women tried individually to respond from their authentic and complex feelings. Some began for the first time to express their own partial discontent; others tried to act out a new theater, welcoming but not obnoxious.

        Meanwhile, among the Malcontents a sub-current of theater developed, as some tried to act out their feelings about the kinds of unconscious constraint and oppression their own team had re-created while reacting to these factors in the conference. For a while, this became the dominant action to which people responded. The lone Contented Man was ignored by all and rebuffed when he sought to join in; and was saved from his alienation only by the belated act of building something physical out of dead materials to express it -- i.e. by art, which again all ignored. Though I must omit all the subtle details that surfaced in subsequent discussion, it’s worth mentioning that the women’s original theater, doubly ideological, permitted no individuality of response, and quickly lost both interest and energy. The Malcontent’s theater seemed both more democratic, expressive of individuality in a cooperative frame; and more personally oppressive to some; and it kept surfacing renewed energy.

        The details of all this theater are less important than their general character, which defined a specialized function for this game. Through their own experience within its neutral framework, the players were led to describe and evaluate the nature of their recent learning experience; and to engage their first opinions in a genuine and open-ended dialogue. The dialogue was sharply relevant to the unique milieu of humanistic-psychological educationalese -- but I imagine it would be as sharp in different contexts, for the vehicle of the game is simple and powerful.

        This version of Build-and-Respond is an evaluation game, then; and need not be applied only to education. It can be used to express, and to ground discussion of, the varied feelings people have about the progress of work, or the mixture of experiences, in many different contexts.


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