I recently picked up Mark Majcher‘s book Twenty Four Game Poems on Bundle of Holding (which is basically the Tabletop RPG gamer’s equivalent of Humble Bundle). I actually bought the bundle mainly for this book, because it intrigued me so profoundly, and I have to say, I’m glad I did.
A “game poem” is basically just a short, simple pick-up game of some kind, for which the rules and mechanics are simple, and the game is focused on a single, straightforward idea, theme, or mini-arc. For example, players might adopt the role of a bird flying around to some purpose, and narrate their flight’s beginning, middle, and end; or they might play the role of a grumpy old man (or woman) sitting around arguing with grumpy old pals, trying to one-up one another with complaints and accusations, until they either simmer down or kill one another. (No real killing, please.) There’s usually a minimum of props, though the props that do get suggested are usually wonderfully conceived, and there’s mostly a minimum of rules for each game, along with a strong sense of game as verbal play. A game, for Majcher, seems to be almost anything with a clear beginning, middle, and end, with stakes, and with a need for creative action on the part of each player.
What’s wonderful about these games, in my opinion, is that they strip away mechanics, to the point where story is the point, and mechanics and rules are just scaffolding allowing one to ascend the structure of the narrative. That might not appeal to people who are all into crunchy game mechanics, but it appeals to me, to the point where I’d probably be using a couple of these games as an introduction to roleplaying games, if I were trying to introduce a newcomer to the hobby. To be honest, I really look forward to trying some of these games with friends without any ulterior motive than to enjoy playing them.
But I’ll also confess that the concept of the book made it sound like it might yield at least a few interesting concepts to be used–either with some adaptation, or directly and as-is–in the TEFL classroom. After all, half the work in teaching English as a Foreign Language is coming up with exercises that are interesting, fun, and challenging for students who basically have to be given reasons and chances to speak in class. With a little fine tuning–for example, modeling a specific verb tense, or a particular grammatical structure–several of the games in Twenty Four Game Poems seem like they will handy classroom exercises for students, pushing them to expand their vocabularies and use English in ways they would otherwise never have to do. I also think anyone who was looking to design some brand-new exercises for TEFL teaching, from scratch, could do worse than to check out this book for some ideas on how to gamify and structure such exercises and develop concepts that are simple, accessible, motivating, and fun.
I probably won’t get a chance to test out any of the game poems on students until next semester, mind you: this semester, to the amazement of my colleagues, I haven’t been assigned any Conversational English courses. But when the time comes, I’ll have a few of the exercises in this book ready to go, and if I remember, I’ll be sure to report back on how the exercises went.
The Bundle of Holding promotion that included this book (Indie Spring Festival, April 2015) is over,1 but the PDF version of the book is still available over at Indie RPG Revolution for $5US, and Majcher sells a print version for just a little less than $12 on his website.
And looking at the list of past bundles, I am kicking myself for missing the Delta Green and Trail of Cthulhu bundles, though who knows if or when I’d ever get to run a game based on them!↩