Serious Fun

Why we should be getting our game faces on…

15 June 2016 | Sophie Tilley | , ,

I’m the girl who never grew up.

Honestly, Peter Pan has serious competition. Alongside a fairly sizable collection of Harry Potter memorabilia (including robe, wand and scarf of course) I have a real addiction to games. Computer games, card games, board games. Especially board games. I have over 50 of various themes, styles, shapes and sizes. Raiding temples, pirate gold, building castles, dragons, wizards, quests for honour. It’s fair to say that my friends and I fall quite nicely into the ‘geek’ category, and if I’m honest we’re quite proud of it. But as we approach our (gulp) 30’s, it’s started to raise a few eyebrows.

“So, you stay in and play board games?” they ask.

“Yes” I reply. “And eat cake. There’s usually cake.”

It’s often quite difficult for people to understand why someone of my age would be interested in what seems like a childish pursuit. For an adult, the board game is often seen as an instrument of torture, something to be endured for the sake of keeping the family peace on a rainy day. Traditionally, games are considered to be just for children and that there’s nothing to be gained by adults playing along.

BOARD GAMEThe buzz around game led learning or ‘gamification’ has been a constant theme in the world of e-learning. Learning designers are creating learning solutions that present material in new and exciting ways, placing learners at the heart of a story and asking them to interact with imagined worlds. However, as an Instructional Designer, I’ve observed there is still some negativity surrounding game based learning, people commenting that it is too childish and potentially patronising for some learners who, it was felt, would absolutely reject learning of this kind. Gamification is a great way to engage but it can only work for a certain demographic. It was the same story I’d heard before. ‘Aren’t games just for children?’

The past four years have seen board game purchases rise by between 25% and 40% annually with specialist game cafes opening up all over the country for players to meet and share their favourite games. A recent study by the Internet Advertising Bureau UK shows that the gamer audience in the UK has now hit 33.5 million, that’s 69% of the population! There are now more people over 44 years old playing games than children and teenagers. In fact, over half of people aged 45-54 have played a video game in the last six months, as have 44% of 55-64 year olds and even a third of 65-74 year olds. Females account for over half of people who’ve played some form of video game in the last six months, compared to 49% three years ago. These figures contradict the opinion that games, in whatever form, are just for children or (dare I say) the ‘geek’ community. They strongly suggest that learners of any age can engage with a game led course. The e-learning community should stand up and take noteI really struggled to believe that was true. I’d seen first-hand the incredibly wide range of people who attend game conventions and events and from my point of view it was very hard to define the typical ‘gamer’, despite the current stereotypes. With board, video and mobile games being purchased by (and designed specifically for in some cases) an adult market, and even the huge popularity of colouring books ‘for grown-ups’, it seems that the scales may be shifting.

We may be limiting ourselves by making judgements about our learners based simply on age or seniority. Of course, game led learning isn’t for everyone, but we often make decisions about what our learners will or will not respond to and perhaps we are assuming too much. Putting learners into pigeon holes could be more detrimental to our courses than we think. Is it time to challenge learners with something new and unexpected, breaking into their comfort zone rather than giving them something we assume they will accept? Perhaps if we conducted more research into what our audiences really wanted and responded to, our assumptions would be challenged and take our learning and our learners to new places.

One of the joys of games, for me, is discovery and believe it or not, learning. 

pile of board gamesOpening a new game involves the ritual of setting it out, seeing what elements make it up (wooden sheep, many sided dice, tiny plastic pandas, you name it, I’ve got them), absorbing new rules and most importantly, putting them into practice. The discovery I love in a new game engages me and motivates me to play and it’s clear from the figures that the majority of our learners, regardless of age, would be at home with a game style interface and engage with this type of interaction. The benefits of game led learning are well documented, challenging learners to absorb and implement new information, solve problems in context and work towards strategic goals. So, why not extend this to all learners? Why should we doom a more mature audience to what we deem to be ‘serious learning’, assuming that they will not accept a more playful, game based approach?

Obviously, we’ve got to be realistic about the nature of the content we’re working with, not everything lends itself to this approach. It’s not often I get asked to write an e-learning course on the basics of tomb raiding and I’m not sure I’d get away with reimagining a health and safety course as an epic magical quest. However, in my work at Walkgrove, I try to bring a bit of that playful nature and into the courses I write. It’s important to us to give learners context in which to apply their new knowledge, taking the new rules and following them to meet an objective. They may not be rolling dice or playing as wizards, but our courses offer them an environment to immerse themselves and try new ideas on for size, risk free. It’s clear that, given the opportunity, there are people of all ages who want to take an adventure with their learning, and it’s our job to help them discover it.

So, who’s for a game? I might even let you win…