Why Games Matter

Mayer, B., & Harris, C. (2010). Libraries got game: Aligned learning through modern board games. Chicago: American Library Association.

In Chapter 2: Why Games Matter of Mayer & Harris’s (2010) book Libraries Got Game, the authors make the case for the inclusion of modern, so-called designer board games in school libraries. The term designer games refers to the recent movement of a design renaissance in the board game world. Arguably starting with with Klaus Teuber’s Settlers of Catan over 20 years ago, board game design and culture has flourished and thrived and we are now truly living in the Golden Age of board games. From large publishing companies like Fantasy Flight, to indie designers using crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter to get their project off the ground, around 3000 new board games are published each year. Mayer & Harris argue that many of these new, carefully designed games have at least four inherent aspects that make them beneficial and applicable to school settings in ways that are not only fun and playful, but that also encourage and support learning.

Modern games engage players in “Authentic Experiences” and opportunities for players to develop expertise in modelled complex experiences, such as managing farm life in Uwe Rosenburg’s Agricolaas well as embedding practice in curricular knowledge that would normally be practiced through the bore of homework, such as dividing treasure equally with remaineder in Alan R. Moore’s Incan Gold. Games, by their very nature, are deeply engaging, and when paired with enriching content, can immerse players in a level of directed focus not often found with typical classroom assignments. Games are also an opportunity for players to interact, and develop social skills. Cooperative games, like Bruno Cathala’s Shadows over Camelot require players to communicate, develop common goals, and plan and problem solve together, and competitive games like Richard Garfield’s (of Magic the Gathering fame) Android: Netrunner require opponents to enter into something of a social contract when facing off, an agreement to follow the same set of rules, and communicate their own actions clearly and unambiguously. Finally, modern board games elicit high level thinking patters, such as the analysis skills required by strategic cooperative games mentioned above, or the building and synthesis of a supply chain and economy in Andreas Seyfarth’s Puerto Rico.

My growing board game collection

My growing board game collection (picture already out-dated)

I love modern board games, so I’m biased towards this kind of thinking, but I very much agree with the arguments Mayer & Harris lay out in this chapter. I’ve been involved with a weekly board game club at the high school I teach at, and it’s been very fun and interesting watching young minds tackle problem solving in board games with rigour and devotion that I rarely see them apply to school work. So I definitely think there is something to be gained here. Certainly complex games give players practice and insight into the analysis of complex systems; I wonder how transferrable this is. Has being a gamer (both board and video) my whole life fostered my personal appreciation for complex systems like robotics? As well, cooperative board games could potentially be an interesting venue to look for clues about collaboration, and collaborative discourse. These topics I would very much like to explore in future research.