GAMING - The BENEFITS

The following run through options and opportunities presented by gaming is far from exhaustive. However, it does sketch out some of the approaches to fun and learning accessible to kids, (and adult learners), through tabletop gaming and to some extent computer games.

Different games deliver different options, but it is safe to say that neither Ludo nor Monopoly are likely to access most of the benefits on offer.

Tabletop adventure games games are at an advantage, because they have such flexible rules and options for player choice. That said most card games, boardgames and videogames go some way towards offering some of the types of gameplay likely to be of clear cut benefit:

Fish Tank Gameplay

Games can make ideal ‘fish tanks’, where players try out a limited version of a full game. This allows players to learn the structure of the rules or guidelines using a simplified, and largely consequence free, approach to exploring the gameplay.

Sandbox Gameplay

Sandbox games present players with realistic situations and set out to deliver open-ended gameplay, (where players are encouraged to shape their own challenges and make their own choices).

Self-Regulation

Games offering customisation and flexible characterisation let players define their own roles and goals instead of setting a fixed finishing line or requiring a ‘win-mentality’. Once familiar with such games players can become much more interested in setting their own goals and prefer self-competition in terms of playing as well as they can. These goals are more likely to explore how players tackle novel situations and ‘in-game’ challenges than merely counting trinkets and power-ups.

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Improvisation

Improvising solutions to deal with difficult or complex situations is tricky for videogames, as each option adds cost and risks allowing players to bypass content with high visual/ sensory impact. Boardgames with straightforward, quick to learn and play rules can certainly allow a measure of improvisation. However, it is tabletop adventure/ roleplaying games which most invite and foster improvisation - as players interpret and even adapt the rules to focus on devising solutions to dealing with difficult circumstances.

Flexible Challenges

When games leave players to select their own goals the gameplay can set flexible challenges, which may be demanding without ever having to be impossible to solve. In other words, if players are increasingly frustrated by a problem, the problem can be revised or set aside to allow play to progress. Equally, if play isn’t challenging enough a few ad hoc adjustments can make life a little harder or adjust the tempo.

Systemic Thinking

Gameplay and learning take place more effectively when players can see how skills and options combine to form a coherent system. Survival games focused on dropping players into a harsh environment are usually intended to let players progress and advance in a series of stages – allowing players to develop an understanding of how everything fits together.

Meaning

We tend to draw meaning from personal experiences rather than from shared definitions or scientific principles. The many varied situations encountered during gaming may assist learning by allowing players to carry out a wide range of actions that contribute to their personal understanding of comparable experiences. For example, players might find themselves in charge of evacuating a city or in a rush to repair a sinking ship under very difficult circumstances.

Personalisation

Tabletop games and videogames are able to open up opportunities to customize and personalize gameplay when building characters, interpreting rule sets/ guidelines and co-designing play in, for example, the manner of Minecraft. Consequently, players who may be used to having little or no input into how they play or learn can try games which offer a sense of ownership and collaboration.

Design Gaming

The most valued learning skills, (involved in developing the most elusive skills), allow learners/ players to become actively involved in shaping, adapting and re-designing a system/ gameplay.

There are widely-used design games, (most obviously Lego), which allow players to set their own goals, design their own solutions and fine-tune gameplay.

When players start to focus on design they can become drawn into scripting narratives, revising and devising rules, forming story arcs and defining long-term goals.

Create a player experience that’s fun first. If you remove the fun, [players] will feel like they’re being preached to and it’s not a game any more, there’s no agency.
— Mary Flanagan, Director of Tiltfactor

Fun

Everything above is rendered largely worthless if players aren’t enjoying the game they’re playing. Getting involved in open-ended, improvisational gaming can be driven by either immediate or deep motivations. In either case, having fun remains central. As soon as gameplay heads off towards grandstanding or rules mastery the fun is going to die, as a reliance on procedure rather than improvising options closes out novelty.