ARTICLE BY SABINA BELC | 17 OCTOBER 2023
THE POWER OF GAMES:
game-design based learning
Game-based learning has become popular over the last years and has an important role in youth work. Games offer an immense variety of learning experiences and vary from being very simple to very complex. They enable us, the youth workers, to bring different learning outcomes, from cognitive (mental skills) to affective (feeling and emotions) and interpersonal (social skills).
Games provide us with experiences that can be reflected upon, and any newly gained insights can be applied to our reality. We can choose games that fit our learning context and use debriefing to extract the learning. In addition, we can also use ‘serious games’, a term coined by Clark C. Abt (1970), which means games designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. These have educational components already integrated into the game design.
In this blog, I will go beyond the playing of games and make a case for digging deeper and using the game design process for learning. We will scratch the surface of the potential of game design as a method of working with youth groups, possible games we can create and invite you to explore more if you are interested in bringing it to your work.
GAME DESIGN – POTENTIAL USE IN YOUTH WORK
If we simply use games in a youth work context, we keep the young people at the level of consumers as we choose and prepare the whole learning content and process. By moving from games to game design, we create a situation where young people become the creators and the main actors in their own and others’ learning. Game design-based learning differs from game-based learning by substituting the usage of games with the process of designing games, which results in games created by young people.
WHY USE IT?
Taking the game design approach means finding possible creative ways to encourage civic participation and making it fun. Game design is a youth-led and oriented process that can unite diverse groups of young people who learn by building. The roles in game design are numerous, they include storytellers, architects, and quest masterminds. Everyone can find their role based on their interests and/or talents. This process offers an immersive and engaging learning experience, produces high levels of ownership over the final product, and has a powerful impact on those involved.
Game design is adaptable as it can be applied to different environments and many (social) topics. Through the experience, participants develop 21st-century competencies such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and social skills. They can deepen their knowledge by researching the game topic of choice. When the subject is transformed into a game, it captures relations between relevant stakeholders and power dynamics and helps players to get the bigger picture of complex social topics.
The process of developing any game consists of several stages:
- Start with playing example games.
- Continue with research and story preparation.
- Transform the ideas into the type of game you are using.
- Disseminate and share the game with a broader public.
When a game is produced through this process, it encapsulates the topic in a youth-friendly language from a youth-relevant perspective. It can serve as a tool for the peer-to-peer transfer of knowledge.
WHAT TYPE OF GAMES CAN WE CREATE?
The most commonly used games in youth work are escape rooms, board games, and live-action role-playing games (LARP). Each of these examples has some advantages and disadvantages. When choosing the type of game, the most important thing is to ensure that it is something the young people can connect with. It is also important that the youth worker has some experience with the selected type of game, as this will help to optimise the process of game creation.
Escape rooms are straightforward to create and are widely popular. They are very inviting as an option for creators and players. They tend to have a limited capacity for educational components that can be incorporated into the design, so they rely heavily on the final debriefing exploring the learning messages. Commercial escape rooms are expensive commodities, so with free access to your own creation, you can provide accessible entertainment (for education purposes) to young people, especially disadvantaged young people who would not ordinarily be able to access commercial escape rooms. Escape rooms can also be designed as a pop-up experience, enabling collaboration with partners in different geographical areas as well as providing a learning experience for young people in different locations.
Board games have more capacity to capture the complexity of any social topic that you are exploring. It is vital to do adequate research on the chosen topic, as you can show a lot of social dynamics through diverse game mechanics. Creating a good game that can be used later with different groups of young people as didactic material is a lengthy and complex process. It should involve rapid prototyping, which means testing it often and improving it based on feedback. The young people creating the game must persevere to bring it to the finish line. You can support them by playing or remixing commercial and educational games beforehand to get game mechanics ideas which can be applied to their game.
Another option is LARP. In these games, role play presents enormous potential as you can explore the topic through a first-person experience. When someone puts themselves in somebody else’s shoes, a level of empathy can be built, heightening their understanding of what is behind specific actions and happenings in the game. Designing a LARP involves a lot of storytelling and creativity in devising the world, the scenography, and the roles. This complexity brings a lot of invested time before the final result. It should also be remembered that playing roles and improvising carries vulnerability and is not everyone’s cup of tea.
INTRODUCE IT TO YOUR WORK
Game design-based learning has immense potential in the post-corona period when youth work is left with disintegrated youth groups. It provides a meaningful learning experience and an attractive process that invites and engages young people. In addition, the young people take pride in the results of their work and are transformed into peer educators and ambassadors of change. It allows them to learn about participation by experiencing it.
Undoubtedly something worth a try!
SABINA BELC has been active in youth work since 2008. She started her path in the Scout organisation. Since 2017 she has been a youth worker (project manager, youth trainer) in an organisation for youth. Her main passions are game-based and game design-based learning (escape rooms and board games), civic education (emphasis on media literacy), and in recent years digital youth work.
By moving from games to game design, we create a situation where young people become the creators and the main actors in their own and others’ learning..
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