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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Acrophobia: Fear of Acronyms

Recently, I have been guest blogging in Phil Charron's (of Learning Simulation) class “Theories of Electronic Communication" which he teaches in the Philadelphia area.

Guest blogging has been a lot of fun as the students were assigned to read the first chapter of my book (available here) and then blog about their impressions of the chapter. What wonderful insights and ideas they have concerning the "Gamers" and the influence video games will have on the future. And how great is it for an author to get open and honest feedback about his work.

As I read their posts, many of them became nostalgic about games they had played while growing up. All of this reminiscing reminded me of a game I loved to play in the late 1990's (1997 to be exact). The game was Acrophobia...the fear of acronyms.

Here is a brief description of the game.(lifted from Wikipedia)

Acrophobia is a multi-round, multiplayer online Internet Relay Chat game. The game was originally conceived by Anthony Shubert and programmed by Kenrick Mock (aka Mach) and Michelle Hoyle (aka Eingang) in 1995. Players enter a channel hosted by a bot which runs the game. In each round, the bot generates a random acronym. Players compete by racing to create the most coherent or humorous sentence or series of related words that fits the acronym - in essence, a backronym. After a set amount of time expires, each player then votes anonymously via the bot for their favorite answer (aside from their own).

Points are awarded to the most popular backronym. Bonus points may be also be given based on the fastest response and for voting for the winning option. Some implementations give the speed bonus to the player with the first answer that received at least one vote; this is to discourage players from quickly entering gibberish just to be the first. Bonus points for voting for the winner helps discourage players from intentionally voting for poor answers to avoid giving votes to answers that might beat their own.

Usually, nonsense backronyms will score low and the most humorous sounding backronym which effectively makes a sentence from the initials will win. Some rounds may have a specific topic that the answers should fit, although enforcement of the topic depends on solely on the other players' willingness to vote for off-topic answers

The thing I liked about it was that it was a Social Networking game...even back then. You could chat with other players online and tell them how great or lame their acronyms were. You could chastize someone for being off topic and generally have a great game and discussion at the same time.

I loved the game so much I wrote about it in my book and how it might be adapted to a corporate environment. Here is the piece from Chapter 2:
With a little modification, this game is a great way to teach acronyms to new employees. This internet game was originally created by Anthony Shubert in the mid-to late 1990s and incorporates a chat room, voting on other players’ answers and the element of speed.

The game play involves entering into a chat room and being presented with a series of randomly generated letters seen by all the players; for example ELO or MLAN. The players then type an acronym as quickly as possible matching those letters; perhaps Electric Light Orchestra or Enterprising Ladies Organization. After all the players submit their acronym and time has expired, the acronyms are displayed and the players vote for the best one. The winner is the acronym/definition combination with the most votes. During the game play, a chat box is available for the players to discuss the various acronyms and what they liked or didn’t like.

Now imagine this game with a few modifications for use as a training tool. Instead of randomly generated letters, the letters represent actual acronyms used in the organization. The players are new employees who compete with one another to see who recognizes the acronym the quickest. Instead of voting, the system determines the winner based on speed. The chat room is monitored by a veteran employee (boomer) who comments on the meaning of the acronym and how it is used within the organization. The gamers enjoy the game while learning acronyms used within the organization. Simultaneously they are mentored by a seasoned boomer monitoring the chat. Players don’t even have to be in the same building or state; they don’t even need to leave their desk.

As we think of the games we played as a child, what modification or change can we make to transform them into learning tools? What games did you play as a kid that could be modifed to be a learning tool?

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Anonymous said...

Hello My name Dianna I am from ohio My sister Laura and my cousin Stephanie and I used to play this game after school every day! It was way back in the day. The game just went to my head and I want to play it I have looked it up But i do not know the link wehre to go So i was wondering if you can send me the link in my e-mail or something I am so excited to hear from you and To play the game!

Once again my name is Dianna and my e-mail is


Anonymous said...

Here is one of the websites that you can still play the game on:

look up channel: acro

Anonymous said...

You can play acrophobia at