Initiated by a research project examining agricultural and water resilience in South Africa and tested in workshops on a range of topics, we reflect on our application of a half-to-one day “games designing” format for constructing dynamic metaphors for complex systems and related concepts (e.g., the resilience or sustainability of a catchment/agricultural marketing system). While this short format gives rich and detailed games that potentially could be played in an extended version of the workshop, we did not go ahead with this step. Instead, we devoted the limited time available to supporting participants in designing, comparing and discussing their games and to exploring the concepts and meanings of a given complex system, even if the latter was initially deemed by participants to be abstract and “academic”. Our abridged term for short-format games designing is “rapid games designing” (RGD). Key benefits to participating individuals, the whole group and workshop organizers include (a) the highly productive and creative use of limited time; (b) an inclusive group exercise that draws everyone into the process; (c) rich discussion of pluralist viewpoints through the comparison of the remarkable variety of games generated, including their differences in purpose, players and rules; and (d) observations on how the games construct a dynamic metaphor for the system and its properties, leading to deeper insights and knowledge building regarding system concepts and components. Here, we use two case studies in South Africa to explore what value RGD provides and how it does so, and then we briefly compare it to other similar methods. We also provide practical guidance for facilitating RGD workshops. In conclusion, we argue this format offers an option for the ongoing evolution of games about complex human, natural and socio-ecological systems and that it generates considerable creativity, learning, discussion and insights amongst all participants.
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