Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Teachers should be Gamers

At the very least, I don't think my fellow humanities teachers have any excuse. I follow Costikyan and Aarseth I view games as a form of text capable of conveying certain kinds of information more efficiently than others. Specifically, as Costikyan notes, games are systems and they are therefore amply suited to convey information about systems. This includes social structures, economics, environments, physics, chemical reactions, demographics, and politics. Teachers, think of your domain, and think of the overarching interrelations you wish to convey. A game is a much more efficient (and engaging, as the lingo goes) way of communicating them than a block of text.

Why are games so appropriate for education? To begin, no one can be forced to learn. Learning is an active, not a passive, process. End the days of didactic education: get the students moving, talking, arguing, and learning. I have students that can talk my ear off about celebrities, cars, sports, music, mythology, and (big shocker) GAMES. Why can they do this? Why do they display such motivation and commitment to becoming experts? Because they give a damn. They do not give a damn about the textbook.

A game conveys a depth of knowledge that is simply impossible to convey via other media, precisely because it offers alternatives. Play the Battle of Waterloo and learn why it happened like it did. Play third-world development (a simulation I currently have in the works for my year 7s) and understand why there still is a third world. Play political corruption and learn more than any newspaper would ever have taught you.

Of course, sometimes after playing a game, a student will discover that a winning strategy was not (or is not) the strategy taken. This sets the scene for a great inquiry project. Students will be desperate to know why Henry V didn't take Paris, since it won the game. They will critique the game, a vital skill for all kinds of literacy. They will encounter the fallibility of leaders, the contingent factors that shape history. And, with your support, they will design their own games to enable an expression of what REALLY happened, games that other students can play and critique.

And, of course, there is a political dimension to all of this. As an anarchist-communist, I desire the abolition of the distinction between work and play. It's part Aronowitz part Mary Poppins, I admit. But I don't give a damn.

Teachers of the world, play! You have nothing to lose but the dirty looks from your students, you have a world to win!