Learn history through board games: Part 1

I’m going to talk about how you can learn history through board games, but first I want to address the idea that you can learn anything at all by gaming. For many people, the term ‘gaming’ brings these perceptions to mind: 1) ‘Violent video games’ are a generally negative influence on society, 2) board games are boring at best, and at worst, a terrible way to spend time with family, and 3) gaming and playing should be separate from work (or other ‘constructive’ activity) and only engaged in when there is nothing important to do.

I won’t say that these perceptions are completely invalid, but I will show that there are alternatives: 1) Play is more functional than mere recreation, 2) gaming can do more than stave boredom, and 3) there is an entire universe of board games beyond Monopoly and Life.

1. Playing is important for your brain!

Dr. Stuart Brown is a psychiatrist and has devoted most of his career to studying the role of play in nature, and in human development. He first discovered a correlation with the absence of play in the early development of homicidal perpetrators. He has since found that play has many forms (body, object, social, imaginative, narrative, etc.) and it occurs in both nature and human society. One of Dr. Brown’s particularly striking findings has to do with the connection that a mother makes with her baby when they first exchange social smiles. This is the first form of play that a baby experiences, and is crucial for human development.

My description barely scratches the surface of what Dr. Brown has to say about play, but if you are interested in learning more, check out his fascinating TED talk and his website:

Stuart Brown TED talk

National Institute for Play

2. Gaming doesn’t have to be a circle of Hell!

Gaming is a form of play that can be particularly constructive, and it can become an event in life, rather than just some stage of purgatory. Although it is not always social, most board games require more than one player and more interaction than another common social place-holder: Going To A Movie. (I go to the movies alone more often than with other people – because, for me, the purpose is to take in the movie, not interact with people.) In terms of learning and socializing, playing a board game provides at least an hour of dedicated face-to-face interaction and is more kinetic than most classroom or reading experiences (especially classes based on the lecture format). In this way, we learn about each other, we learn from each other, and we interact physically with the topic.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we dispose of classrooms, books, or even lectures. My point is that board games have a lot to offer as a supplement to learning and social interaction.

To that end, one specific aspect of gaming intensifies its educational mode: The effect of the game’s goal/objective on the players’ personal investment into the learning experience. When the game, serving as the learning platform, gives you a reason to get from point A to point B, you will pay closer attention, and the social interaction will be more intense (here, care must be taken to keep the interaction positive). This hyper-aware state is seldom experienced in any but the most dynamic lecture halls.

3. There is a world of board games!

The best website for learning about board games is www.boardgamegeek.com. That site has a database of more than 70,000 board games. I’ll pause for a moment to let that number sink in…

Ok. To make the discovery of games easier, the site (often referred to as BGG, or ‘the Geek’) broadly categorizes them as: Abstract, Customizable, Childrens’, Family, Party, Thematic, Strategy, and War games. I’ll dive into more description of the categories in Part 2, so for now I will leave you with this inspiring TED talk about how gaming can help us understand nearly any topic:

TED: Gaming for understanding

If this article was interesting to you, please take a moment and share it with your friends on Facebook, then go play a game!

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