Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Hack the Folk Tale/Nursery Rhyme Game #clmoocgames


I have sooooo much I want to share about games, but I also want a chance to read what others in clmooc are doing this make cycle so I’ll start with just this one idea of a game i have got, in the hopes that others will read it and give me ideas on how to make it more game-y

My objectives (though students may learn something different doing it!) are to:
A. Encourage people to critique familiar folk tales or nursery rhymes
B. Encourage cross-cultural mixing of traditions or ideas in folk tales or nursery rhymes
C. (Need help here) do this as a game doable f2f or online.

It’s a “nursery rhymes/folk tales hack” with a cultural twist. Someone puts up a challenge related to a nursery rhyme or folk tale; if this is an online gsme, then people would write the tale on their blog or link to the original tale (could be a famous Anglo or cross-culturally known one, or a local cultural one), and then challenge others to do any of the following functions:
-Complete (finish the story, this favors ppl who know the culture and story)
-Critique (this favors ppl who know the story but asks them to critique it)
-Modify (this changes the ending or makes a twist on the story)
-Merge (this combines two stories together into one story; this can get interesting cross-culturally)
-Create (this creates a graphic or video representation of the story)

If this were an f2f game, it could be two piles of cards, with one pile having the original tale/nursery rhyme we will work with and the other pile with “actions” to do to it (e.g. Merge, modify, etc)

The first pack would be player-generated, i.e. Players create their own tales and add them to the pile. The “merge” function could have two formats, a “free” merge, where you choose the second tale/rhyme from your own head, or a “fixed” merge where you pick another tale from the pile and you have to merge the two stories.

Here is sort of what I had in mind. If I were to “merge” Humpty Dumpty with an Egyptian folk story character, Goha (known to be clever but tight-fisted) here is how I would do it (the Humpty Dumpty story is problematic for me because it is morbid: why couldn’t they fix him? But also annoying me as a mom coz my kid likes to now sit on high things and say “humpty” – lesson NOT learned; anyway)

So Humpy Dumpty sat on a wall, he had a great fall, and Goha passed by to try to help him since neither the king’s horses (how could horses help?) nor the king’s men (busy protecting the king from street protestors in Egypt) were helping. Since Goha could not afford to spend much money on taking Humpty to a good private hospital (and the public ones, while usually good, might not be fast enough), Goha made a quick fundraising campaign in the street so people donated money to get Humpty fixed and he convinced a doctor donated his time to do the surgery. Humpty was back to 80% of his previous strength πŸ™‚

Or some such thing! The above story may sound awkward if someone doesn’t understand the Egypt context or the Goha character, but them the game would maybe allow people to ask questions and understand?

I don’t know… Ideas how to make this more game-y?

Could it be like a board game, or one that is team taking turns like charades or pictionary? Could it be just one of those games where we sit in a circle and play it like truth or dare, or a “complete the story” type of game where each person adds a sentence or paragraph that builds on a folk tale or nursery rhyme? Can the latter be done as a twitter tag game? Am thinking aloud here and soliciting ideas as I might be stuck in a rut πŸ˜‰

Let me know what you think…

(Critique also welcome! Hacks also welcome, go ahead and play the game in the comments or your blog)

NOTE: if you’re here to play the game, the rules are not terribly clear, but the basic idea is to take the thread of a nursery rhyme or folk tale, and “hack” it by changing it or merging with another. You can do it on twitter or link to a blogpost or put an image, etc., as long as you use #clmoocgames hashtag… Let’s see where it goes…


  1. Maha, These are some very inspiring ideas, but let me add something that might be further outside the box.

    Since “gaming” and “playful” learning became all the rage in the academe, I think the conversation has been dominated a bit too much by the idea of new media, hi-tech, interactive games. In reality, and as you’ve pointed in that direction in some ways, games and play can be socially interactive (rather than interacting with machines and software); they can use words/communication as the means of interaction and engagement; and they can draw on age-old traditions of verbal as well as physical, musical, artistic, and intellectual activities/interactions. In fact, in a world where physical, verbal/human, and artistic “games” are being rapidly replaced by engaging with people, I think that we should be wary of moving too much of our time and attention to the mechanical and virtual. (As I write this into a computer, my five year old son is playing Angry Birds, and I realize that I should have spent more time during the day playing with him during such beautiful summer days.)

    I also think that educators need to be cautious about potentially causing or intensifying “cultural” divides between those who are on the low tech and high tech ends when they move into new domains like gaming –as well as reinforcing the digital divides between those with more and less access to technology, the internet, and people beyond their local contexts–both in theory and in practice.

    As a bonus, drawing on more traditional “games” can help us do some much-needed pausing and slowing down in our “advancements” in education. Activities that may seem primitive/outdated, old-fashioned, low-tech, slow, etc, seem to be disappearing from education these days. That might make me sound like I’m growing old too fast or something, but there is something about “progress” that tends to make us throw away good tools in favor of new ones, only to realize that old and new could serve different purposes.

    Anyway, that was one long-winded way of saying that you inspired some thinking about gaming with your post. I will be elaborating on these thoughts in my blog today.

  2. Could it be in two stages :
    1. ask people to create a cartoon drawing of what happens next and share /upload to shared online space
    2. Each person or group is then allocated 6 of these images at random, not sure how this would work online but f2f you would shuffle and distribute (ideally having photocopied so same images can turn up in different sets) then ask people to organise their set into a sequence ie storyboard and tell this version of the story. Then share and discuss!
    Lots of scope for multiple meanings and re-interpretations?

    • Oooh really like this idea, Pauline! It does sound easier offline, doesn’t it? Wonder how one can convert it to an online version. Ppl could use a google doc or whatever …. Ummm maybe we assign the groups of ppl randomly to a google doc where they scan and post their cartoons and work as a group on ANOTHER team’s cartoons to make a story?

      • Yes google docs might be the way, but think its important that for stage 2 ppl are working with other peoples images, so they have to make their own meanings out of them.. So need to find a way to randomise allocation. Maybe number them as they are uploaded then give each group a set of numbers? I’m not sure if there are any online apps for storyboarding? I also need to find a very easy way for people to create and share drawings online for an activity I’m running this autumn so will do some research – at the moment I like the Brushes app. Meanwhile there are ideas for f2f drawing activities in some booklets I wrote a few years ago “Drawing to Learn” at

  3. There are two halves to my reply. The first is off the top of my head.

    The thing that I couldn’t understand as a child (and still can’t) is why Humpty Dumpty is pictured as an *egg*, of all things. Nowhere does it say (in the text) that he’s an egg, so why did he become an egg?

    And of course the king’s horses couldn’t help put him back together again. In fact, if I was asked to name a perfect egg-crushing tool I might even choose a horse’s hoof. The assumption that they could help was woefully misguided. πŸ™‚

    My memory tells me that the story was about Humphrey Dumpton (or something like this), who was some kind of royal protester or rebel and who was murdered by being pushed off the castle walls. I wonder if I’m right.

    Now I’m going to look up the origins of Humpty Dumpty and come back to this post in a few minutes.

    I’m back.

    Wow. There is *a lot* of information about Humphrey Dumpty on the Web!

    There are continental variations of the same rhyme: “Boule Boule” in French, “Lille Trille” in Swedish and Norwegian and (my personal favourites) “Runtzelken-Puntzelken” or “Humpelken-Pumpelken” in different parts of Germany; although none is as widely known as Humpty Dumpty is in English.

    From various sources:

    “In 1648 Colchester was a walled town with a castle and several churches and was protected by the city wall. The story given was that a large cannon, colloquially called Humpty Dumpty, was strategically placed on the wall. A shot from a Parliamentary cannon succeeded in damaging the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty which caused the cannon to tumble to the ground. The Royalists, or Cavaliers, “all the King’s men”, attempted to raise Humpty Dumpty on to another part of the wall, but because the cannon was so heavy “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

    So… what I learned in childhood was sort of in the right area, just about, but there’s no mention of anyone named Humphrey.

    “Humpty Dumpty has been used to demonstrate the second law of thermodynamics. The law describes a process known as entropy, a measure of the number of specific ways in which a system may be arranged, often taken to be a measure of “disorder”. The higher the entropy, the higher the disorder. After his fall, and subsequent shattering, the inability to put him together again is representative of this principle, as it would be highly unlikely, though not impossible, to return him to his earlier state of lower entropy, as the entropy of an isolated system never decreases.”

    Now we’re just being silly. πŸ™‚

    “There is speculation that the nursery rhyme had an underlying meaning – in which Humpty Dumpty represents King Richard III of England and the wall his horse. Others have suggested that it refers to the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey at the hand of King Henry VIII.”

    No Humphrey anywhere! I was lied to!

    I think your game would work really well as a wiki, Maha.

    Recently I’ve been watching a Japanese show from the 70s called “Monkey”. It was on on Friday evenings when I was a boy (BBC 2 if I remember correctly) and I went through a nostalgic phase when I turned 40 and bought it again on DVD.

    The point is… Monkey (the lead character) was born on a mountainside, in an egg (naturally). He got a bit cocky with his language and behaviour (there’s a bit of a bust-up in Heaven), so the gods imprison him in rock for about 900 years. Now, released, he has to accompany a boy priest from China to India (on horseback) for a pilgrimage (although the boy priest is played by a girl). Monkey is a monkey in a man’s body. His other companions are a pig in a man’s body (Pigsy) and a cannibal-cum-sea monster in a man’s body, inexplicably named Sandy.

    All of this is based on Japanese folklore and history.

    And I thought *our* old stories were odd enough!

    (And I doubt I’ve answered your question!)

    • hey David, I found this comment on that post, which I *think* you thought had gotten lost? I remember you sending me an email about that – and now that I’ve read it and all the research in it, I can understand your disappointment! But it’s back πŸ™‚ My stupid blog backend thought it was spam! Some sort of revenge for all the emails I send you that end up in your spam, eh?
      Anyway, looooved reading it πŸ™‚ Learned a lot about Humpty Dumpty (obviously) but also amazing how interestingly diverse the things you came up with are…
      And – you’re right! A wiki would have probably been a better idea than a twitter game (what was I thinking? kind of a hammer/nail thing, I guess)

  4. Hey hey! Just saw this post after I wrote this back to you in email….anyway here are some more ideas and thoughts to add to the mix!

    Really love the idea of a game based on shared storytelling, where participants might also be involved in rule making, possibly via twitter. I think your fears about whether or not it is ‘gamey’ enough is actually relevant to the broader discourse & reflection about our perceptions of what constitutes a ‘game’ & where these perceptions come from. So when for example, you say that your game idea isnt ‘gamey’ enough maybe on some level you are comparing your idea to a preconceived (perhaps western?) ‘ideal’ of a good game. (That’s perhaps some critical commentary that might be appropriate for the ‘reflective’ stage of the make cycle)

    Anyway – as I was thinking about your idea of collaborative storytelling and participatory ‘hacking’/ remixing of ‘traditional’ nursery rhymes/folk stories it brought to mind the spontaneous hip hop rhyming ‘thing’ (‘game’?) that Kevin, Terry, Simon & I engaged in on twitter just prior to CLMOOC beginning (which Simon partly storified here:

    Basically this whole thing emerged when Simon and Kevin were waiting for a hangout and started tweeting creative one liners which one of them referenced as ‘hashtag rap’ with a hint to / challenge to write the next rhyme…and a little game started where we took turns tweeting little rhymes to each other. I think what was interesting about this was the emergent nature of it – none of us explicitly set up ‘rules’ for the ‘game’, we just started doing it and all had an unspoken understanding of what we were doing – as well as just making it up and having a bit of fun as we went along.

    So what I’m thinking might be cool to try with your idea Maha, is perhaps to just tweet out a line out there from perhaps a common nursery rhyme or folk story then maybe ask for someone to add a new line. Maybe we post very simple rules (or possibly even no rules at all?! Just the tweet out and see what happens…) The ‘rules’ for the game could perhaps evolve and be co-constructed by participants as it progresses (similar to the twitter vs zombies idea? Although I know there are some initial starting rules for that). we’d use the #CLMOOCgames hashtag so that people in clmooc would ‘get’ it and participate. We could possibly point to this blog post here for some context.

    • Oh – and I guess perhaps hacking part of Pauline’s idea perhaps instead of just tweeting a new line to progress the story, people could upload images or other media….

      • Yes tweeting images would work well – automatically provides randomness to sequencing!

      • Agree, different formats of contributing… Twitter vs zombies asked ppl to do diff things at diff times: poems, photos, videos… For diff advantages, but this one could be open

    • Great idea, Tanya. Maybe ppl can choose whatever way they want to merge whatever ppl tweet? Whatever order, form, etc., then share… I like it… Let me see how to “announce” tho this post and comments are already a start, right?

  5. I am finding it challenging to design an open game with open online spaces — how does one keep track of the moves? It may be that my mind is so set in the ways I think about “games” that I am having trouble breaking out of that confine and can’t “see” the possibilities (although, as you know, #TvsZ helped, and I am still working on the ideas for a #clmooc variation)

    • I know what you mean, Kevin, but I guess yeah: is keeping track the point? I guess we could always ask ppl to contribute things to a google doc or wiki, or more formally like the clmooc make bank or auto storifies on twitter?

  6. I really like the idea of mixing Humpty Dumpty with Goha. What if you also mixed in other elements of popular culture, e.g. celebrities, sports, meme characters…?

  7. After reading about Goha it makes sense that leaving a round-bottomed and fragile person like Humpty Dumpty balanced on a wall must be accounted for. But how?

    • Good point, Scott. How did he get there in the first place, and why wasn’t anyone there to protect him? (Btw when i was around 10 my friends and I found and acted a play where a policeman is investigating Humpty Dumpty’s “accident”, asking people, “was he pushed or did he fall?”)

      • If Humpty Dumpty was famous then it makes sense he’d be protected, but this might have been a career ender for him. Publicity stunt that went poorly, exacerbated by inexpert medical response team and winds of fashion favoring a more slender look? Perhaps he changed his name and moved to Iowa? Fame can be fleeting–and cruel.

        • Publicity stunt went bad, huh? Michael Weller on twitter shared this: and David Mathew questioned whether Humpty was human and whether he was pushed :). Putting your ideas with theirs could make for an interesting story!

          • I like the idea of combining these stories…I think I’ll pick up with this on Monday when the new make cycle starts! πŸ™‚

  8. To me Humpty represents the vulnerability of those who seek to remain “on the wall”, maybe neutral, maybe undecided? Without taking sides, a person would presumably have nothing to defend so it may seem safe to be breakable. But people naturally collect into groups for reasons beyond the assumption that just being right is protective in itself–after all, eggs normally travel in dozens and why do that if striking another egg can have personally catastrophic outcome for both attacker and attackee.

    Another oddity with Mr. Dupmpty is his individuality in world full of multiples such as the seven dwarfs, the ugly step-sisterS, Goha’s 11 and sometimes 12 donkeys, and any matching dinette sold at IKEA. Why is this egg among us? What does his alone-ness and sacrifice represent on a planet where even uniqueness comes with a back-up copy?

    So many questions. “Humbly born of the backside of a chicken our hero ventured blindly and alone until…

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