So this is the start of Something. I am not quite sure what this will be but it won’t be boring and it won’t hang about on the sofa wandering about what’s on telly this evening. It will be a Thing that is restless and irreverent, explorative and hopefully cooperative. The Game is afoot.
I agreed to get involve in Sea Salt Learning, specifically in the role of Games Guy because to me games are more than just diversionary pastimes in which you can prove you are still smarter than your twelve year old daughter (well obviously apart from memory games, she could murder Sheldon Cooper on memory games, or games involving trampolining or walking on your hands for ten minutes obviously those games she would win but I digress), no to me games take up all the gaps between the other stuff they are the weft and weave, the underlying fabric of the known universe. To misquote Kipling if you can fill each unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of games played, rules tweaked, scenarios contemplated or mysteries strategically revealed at just the right moment then you will be a man my son.
First a quick bio. Professionally I started life in education. Teaching was a good fit but I met an American girl one night in a club in London and adventure beckoned, as a side effect of my love of games I am addicted to adventures be they real, imagined or a composite of the two. So after spinning dough in a pizza shop in Pittsburgh I was back in the UK and looking for work. I got a job at what we came to regard as the ‘local mill’ albeit in fact was one of the world’s major Investment banks and the lure of a comfortable life and never having to see the kids from 9E again proved too much and I turned my coat. I stayed there for the next twenty years, although working in Japan, Singapore and the US provided ample scope for adventures.
The important bio of course, the bio of the fabric, started when I was nine. My uncle bought my sister a game for Christmas. The game was War of the Ring, a hex and chit board game based on the works of Tolkien. Now it is worth noting that in my house the Lord of the Rings was a bit like the bible in the house of an evangelical preacher. You grew up with its stories, you devoured the lore and could probably quote the genealogy of Aragorn II, son of Arathorn going back to Isildur. In fact my English teaching sister’s one act of teenage rebellion was not reading the Lord of the Rings… the shame… Anyway this game was entirely unsuitable for an eleven year old girl. The vast hex map of Middle Earth covered the dining table and the hundreds of cardboard chits with Orc or Samwise written on them were arcane at the least and despite the best efforts of the adults the Boxing day attempt to play the game was halted due to the twenty page rule book and the lack of interest from the gift’s beneficiary. I on the other hand I was hooked. For the next two years I played that game to death, though usually on my own.
— Sam Westlake (@samjwestlake) March 24, 2017
Like all drugs, games start you off on something small, it’s just a hex and chit war game they say, no big deal, I can handle it. Then at a party where my mum hosted for her economics students a guy started telling the eleven year old me about this game called Dungeons and Dragons. It didn’t make any sense. No board, no cards, you played the game in your head and people just talked about it and rolled dice. I was hooked. My name is Jon and I am a gameaholic.
School was mostly fitting the lessons in round games of D&D and quickly games of my own design that replicated something that the rules didn’t really cover. By the age of thirteen I had founded the school’s first RPG club and produced some tasteful membership cards of a black priest sacrificing a virgin (hey no D&D virgin jokes). Other games were added to the portfolio but it was in the creation of ideas that I revelled. Also at this point, and this will be relevant later, I realised that games were the easiest way to learn something. Want to know about vector thrusts in 3 dimensional starship combat or how to construct an iron age hill fort, write a game about it. By the time I had left school I had the knowing of many things and the probability of them happening and how to replicate that probability on a range of odd looking dice.
It all came together in Teaching. Rather than deliver a lesson on the factors affecting the siting of a new factory through essays and comprehension, I was teaching Geography, I would assign the class roles and get them to act out the town planner, the locals, the environmentalists etc. Rather than discuss inequalities in world trade we would play the Trade Game (one of the best educational games ever created). Which brings us back to where we are now starting Something.
We are launching a new division to look at Games. How we can use games to disseminate knowledge and ideas, build shared narratives and understand how we can work together to navigate the Social Age.
There are many reasons why games are so good at this engagement and I don’t intend to rattle off a list of the ten reasons why you need to be using games to deliver your learning. It’s probably enough to ask if you remember that those long training seminars with lots of graphs or the time you were taught to juggle blindfolded by that woman from Preston. Games are memorable and they engage us. Unlike some activities a great game will work on many levels, engaging your cognitive skills to process the rules and the ‘strategies’ whilst engaging your affinitive aspect to negotiate and create alliances within the group. The best games are Social and Logical, Creative and Tactical.
For me one thing stands out above all. Games create a new space where you can try out ideas and experiences in an unfiltered way without worrying about failure or the existing baggage of hierarchies.
Anyway I have overrun. Julian Stodd has posted some great ideas on Game Dynamics in learning, and next time I will specifically be looking at how we can use this, and maybe I will give you that list of ten reasons why you need to be adopting game based learning NOW.
All the best,
Find out how Sea Salt Learning can help you to explore Game Dynamics within your organisation. Get in touch with Jon or Julian using the contact page.