War (and Peace) Games – game design for education and to build a better world

Allright, new post about a super cool training course we just did in June 2018. The topic is very dear to me: I have been playing games all my life, and I still do it: very actively, digital and online format, and also board games or role playing games when I meet with my friends offline. Games, however, have a little bit of a bad reputation. They are considered by many a “thing for kids” (at best), or even “a total waste of time”.

But how can that be?

I am absolutely positive that I have been learning so much good stuff in all this time through games. Notions, from biology to history and geography, and also attitudes and social skills, communication, leadership, problem solving… and if it worked for me, it must work also for everybody else, right?

Turns out, not really. Or maybe not yet. But I am absolutely passionate about this topic, and I want to fix this. “War Games” training course is one step in this direction.

So, we had questions like:

  • How can we make sure that people become aware of what they learn when they are playing?
  • Can we bring youth workers and educators closer to games, and the contemporary gaming culture?
  • Can we become more aware of the games we play, and the values (and behavior patterns) that are reinforced in society through them?

Tough challenges, right? But as the game industry grows bigger and bigger worldwide, so does the attention that media and research is giving to the topic. The stage was set to start doing it by ourselves, too. And we did it, of course, our own unique way.

War Games was an Erasmus+ training course with a very rich program that wanted to explore games – all sorts – and gaming as sources of learning, and invite educators and youth workers to become game designers.

Yeah, that one.

Don’t let the title mislead you: we took inspiration by the classic 1983 movie, which actually had a very strong pacifist message. And so did we! By playing games, we shape the way future generations see the world. And we want to see more understanding, and less violent conflict in the world. So let’s start from the games!

*

My partners in crime were, once again, Michele and Mafalda – and what a treat is it, to be working with dear friends that are at the same time inspiring and dedicated colleagues.

You can also read about the course – in English and Italian – on Michele’s blog. And follow our social platforms: on Facebook (come on, click “like” it!), twitter, instagram.

We were once again in our lovely hostel of Sermugnano, and in June it was simply wonderful to be there, so connected to nature and in an environment that felt very welcoming and free.

We had a cool group of 24 educators and youth workers from across Europe. I really have to praise everybody who was there, it is thanks to their motivation and commitment that we could share a memorable experience.

So, we wanted to use games – and educate about games. And we meant business. We started the course with avatar creation and we used the good old Dungeons & Dragons character sheets – I am talking about the original First Edition of the 70s, of course.

We adapted the stats to our needs and to the context of education, so they looked like this:

and everybody was asked to create their own Avatar (no, not the movie: I mean more like “alter ego”) for the course, and the sheets were then used for keeping track of learning objectives and results throughout the course:

 

We worked on developing skills and attitudes necessary to the process of game design as well, like drawing, communication

the “you can draw too!” session with Mafalda showed everybody that, well, they could draw, too.

and learning also about theory bits, from storytelling structures to be used in games, to bits of theory of game design and Gamification:

The part on narrative and storytelling included also a little take on the Hero’s Journey – but of course – which ended up being really inspirational. And it’s always good to be out in the sun.

Our program was not only based on games and stories, though. We had a relevant part based on the part of our philosophy called “service and care”: a bit of group work every morning, in which the group takes up different tasks necessary to support the wellbeing of the place, the community that hosts us, the group and ourselves.

We included bits of cleaning, cooking, and a lot of garden work:

I mean, look how happy everybody looks in these pics!

And natural life was, as usual, an important part of our life together: some guests were expected,

and some surprised us!

Homemade delicious FOOD deserves a mention, as family hospitality (and yes, too much pasta probably) was another staple of our week together:

I mean, just look at THIS.

And we had one open-air cinema evening – watching guess what? Hint, hint: it’s in the title!

A very interesting part included a full day workshop with Domenico, our friend from Rome who introduced us to the methodology of LEGO serious play:

because everybody loves LEGO! And since the hands learn (and think) in a different way than our brain does. It was really inspiring, and as an immediate consequence, as soon as I was back home, I started buying an insane amount investing in my own collection of LEGO products – to be used for educational purposes, of course.

 

One of our goals was to develop educational games. So we decided to dive right into it, and we challenged everybody to create their own one-page games, right on day 1 of our course.

Cool, uh? Ok, it was actually on day 2, but it sounded cooler that way. Always beware of fake news, even here!

Soon after, the project teams started to develop their games, and they went through the phases of concept, design, prototype, playtesting and production. All in less than a week! Amazing!

yes, amazing! The results were actually pretty good. We have 5 educational games finalized and ready to be shared. Or almost.

To support this process, we were playing (and learning from) boardgames

and video and digital games:

“Orwell”.
“Papers, please”.

Which of course are a controversial topic, and we know it. We didn’t shy away from it, and hosted a very interesting debate to examine positive and negative sides of the medium, and the cultures connected to it. The results are summarized in this infographic:

Did not only play games, anyway. Another engaging session was about the theory of Shalom H. Schwartz Theory of Universal Values. What are our most important values? And in our communities? Do we know why? It’s a very interesting study that shows how values are spread in society, and develop dynamically over time. Every thing we do, say, publish affects the values that are more important (“stronger”) in the communities around us. And while some values are developed, and have a “bleed over” effect over the similar ones; other values see their relevance diminish over time.

As an example, if values of “Power” are reinforced, the opposites (“Universalism” and “Self-Direction”, in Schwartz’s model) decrease.

Everything in communication has an effect on the values that are dominant in our society. Think media, advertisement, political propaganda, sports, arts… and yes, games of course. So our question was, how can we develop games that reinforce the values we want to see in society?

For example, as the world faces new challenges related to limited resources and cultural clashes, games need to emerge that teach future generations how to make strategic use of resources (Minecraft, anybody?), or how to learn from each other without necessarily seeing the “other” as an enemy to defeat, or destroy.

Interesting questions, no? What values are developed by playing, for example, Galaga?

And Pac-Man?

And Chess?

We had so much talent in our group! Thanks to Alessandro, we could also enjoy a professional level Graphic Recording going on throughout the week. How cool!

I mean, just look at how good his work was! A real luxury to see the results of our work reproduced in real time. Thank you, Alessandro!

Of course, every story need a “final challenge“, and so did we. For our final evening, we brought the games to Viterbo, for an event hosted by the Tana degli Orchi boardgame club. They are the fantastic people who every year organize Ludika1243, a medieval festival right in the historical center of Viterbo.

The event was great!

Our participants, together with local board game enthusiasts, could finally play their games and show off! It’s almost unbelievable that the group was able to develop 5 complete educational games in less than a week. Except, we totally expected it.

Our participants were very competent and committed, and worked really hard – also, a little bit of time pressure drives people crazy at first, but can make wonders for motivation.  The games were really good!

And thanks to our Special Dissemination Team (play your own musical cue appropriate to the task, or click here) we will make sure to keep track of the fantastic results produced as a consequence of our course, and have the games ready to be shared in their final form.

All in all, it has been really an inspiring experience. We worked hard, but I personally got back so much in terms of satisfaction and motivation, that I want to develop more and more work in this field. It’s relevant, it may have great consequences, and maybe more importantly… it’s fun!

The good news is, our follow-up project is going to happen soon. Peace Games (surprising name, uh?) is already due for August 2018, in Czech Republic. And who knows what next? Maybe it will be you, dear reader, to host our program next time. Just contact us and we will be more than happy to support you.

Thank you everybody! And may the odds always be in your favor.

 

 

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