Raph Koster drew attention to an interesting model of play where it is always assumed that play is an interaction between participants (either people, virtual characters, or mindsets). The complete model is a little overwhelming, but the buildup of the model is well worth a read.
The cycles have me a little confused though. The cycle of play has only action / observe / assess / plan / action between the entities. From the model proposed this would therefore be actions in the absence of the conversation, engagement and ultimately fun. Can play exist without those? It would seem that the buildup of the model of play was to advocate fun through engagement, so without these elements the cycle of play doesn't make sense.
On the other hand, the cycle of fun seems to run through action / conversation / shared world / engagement / fun, but doesn't include observing and reacting to other actions. Can you have a conversation or a shared world without the actions and reactions of both parties?
The cycle of learning is interesting in its elimination of fun and in turn preferring to end the engagement to reflect and absorb the activity into experience. With a lot of emphasis placed on engagement as a highly desired attribute for the classroom, it seems odd that the engagement would need to end for the learning to begin. I can see that they are trying to describe the reflective process of learning, but is that all there is out of a play environment?
The cycle of repeated play seems sad. Without fun, experience or goals, repeated play is like being stuck in a rut. I hope I never get to experience that.
I'd really like to see some examples of what Dubberly Design had in mind for each of the cycles. What they are and what they are not. It seems to be an interesting model for looking into how to make games (and classes!) more engaging, or to diagnose what caused a lack of fun.
I just finished my first prac with the grade 10's on games programming and I'd hurredly copied down this model before rushing to class. I didn't get to it (took too long talking about good games vs bad games and distilling attributes), but I'll keep it in mind for a pep talk 1/2 way through the term.