maura @ 9:51 pm
This afternoon I went to a meeting of the CUNY Games Network. Let’s get this right out of the way: yes, it’s true, we do play games at these meetings. And sometimes I feel a little bit guilty about it, because it doesn’t seem as worky as some of the other parts of my job do. I also waver a bit before these meetings because I have so much else going on in my research life right now, including my main project (probably a multi-year commitment) and an article I’m coauthoring with a colleague.
But I always end up being glad that I’ve made time for the meeting (and not just because we play a game). It’s such an interesting group: faculty from all over the university who are interested in using games for teaching and learning. All kinds of games, too, from board to digital to roleplaying to simulations. It’s really right at the intersection of many of my personal and professional interests, which is why I haven’t successfully convinced myself that I’m too busy for it.
Today (among other things) we played Settlers of Catan. It’s a great game, though it was a little weird to play again after so many years. We had a pretty regular Settlers game night with friends maybe 10 (!) yrs ago, but haven’t played much since. After a couple of rounds of play the group stopped to discuss the aspects of the game that might be used in teaching (a regular feature of these meetings).
Catan is pretty complex, which I’d kind of forgotten, so it was great to have the chance to break it down and see whether the underlying mechanics can be adapted to a classroom setting. Often we discuss games on the micro level, seeing which parts of the game can be pulled out for teaching. But today I was struck by the macro level. Resource management games like Catan are (in part) about using your resources to accomplish small tasks in the pursuit of a bigger goal (winning the game). Which is kind of like scaffolding student work on a research paper/project/assignment. To use the term paper analogy, first students need to pick an appropriate (in subject + scope) topic, then find resources on the topic, then maybe create an annotated bibliography, then write the paper, and finally add their references.
It’s not a perfect fit: part of the gameplay in resource management games is that you don’t always have the resources you need to win, and you need to strategize to get as many resources as you can. In a way what I’ve described is really any game that it’s possible to win. And certainly in a class there shouldn’t be one student who will “win” above all others — everyone can be a winner (in theory, at least). But it was good to be able to map something gamey (har) onto a traditional library/research task. I mean, I always think of research as a kind of game — hunting + gathering for the best info hits many of the same notes for me that playing a good puzzley adventure game does. Transferring that enjoyment of the research process to students, that’s the challenge.