Because Gaming is an activity that can exercise Mind, Body and Soul – II
By: Diego Vásquez
While doing research for this series of articles about the benefits of Playing in Education, I found myself enthusiastically hopping between a myriad of books and papers. One of the documents led me to Johan Huizinga‘s work Homo Ludens, that starts with the quote “Play is older than culture”, this allowed me to realize the obvious: my sight was actually too narrow, playing is such an innate activity, it is deeply embedded in our instincts as living beings and most importantly, it’s benefits are not exclusive to learning. Games have been always a natural part of growing up, physically, in character, in our social interactions… In his book Huizinga develops many concepts around how playing is important, to us humans of course, but even to other intelligent creatures. It is indeed essential, and to us also integral in our culture. He synthesizes elegantly when he adds that “… animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing.”. Like these, I collect and group below some of Huizinga’s ideas and how I perceive they apply to young people today when they engage in playing and gaming.
Games that help Growth
Without much thought one quickly realizes that playing is useful for spending extra energy, to obtain satisfaction by achievement or imitation or simply to relax and release stress. Going a bit deeper, playing also can be more consciously engaged to exercise the body as in sports, the mind in the form of puzzle-solving and our social abilities when simply playing together. The assumption that play is by nature for more than just play turns then into apparent reality.
Games with a Second Purpose.
The reality of teaching in the family and school environment can often be characterized by its unattractiveness due to the arid nature of traditional education materials. On the other hand, playing is essentially a voluntary activity, especially for kids it needs no kind of previous invitation. It is essential to understand this the moment one starts to think about games with the objective of educating: when playing is done by instruction it automatically becomes a lower imitation of itself, more ornamental, less natural.
For adults on the other hand, playing is often perceived as superfluous: taking advantage of leisure time where enjoyment is called for, adults often find educational games too shallow and boring. As an example, in Game-Based Learning, all the emphasis that is put into the usefulness of the game will inevitably sacrifice spontaneity and sheer entertainment, making it less attractive and more difficult to achieve whatever purpose is intended. This and the idea of spontaneity above are however essentially the same and influence the same way with respect to how games are designed with the main objective of learning other than only the “spirit of play”.
The Boundaries of Play
Any healthy playing activity should be clearly delimited in location and time, where and when it begins and ends. When the temporal or spatial limits of playing are violated by the player, it can quickly become a destructive activity, risking the possibility to destroy attention, skill and drive of the player. From the perspective of the game designer, If a game appears to extend forever and everywhere, it loses focus and purpose, it is diluted into being more of a simple past time.
In addition to boundaries, the internal structures of games have repetition and replication, but this must always include enough variation, alteration and growth for the game to remain attractive and constructive.
As games invariably include rules and limits, there is an inherent affinity between play and order. When a player skips or trespasses rules, he is immediately labelled by others as a “cheat”, avoiding being perceived as false is a strong incentive to remain true to the game’s boundaries. Even when playing alone, cheating usually only starts to take place when the player becomes disillusioned, the game itself is no longer valuable and the challenge of discovering ways to exploit the game replaces the game itself.
Skill and Competitiveness
Closely connected with games is the intention to win. When one is playing alone, winning means exercising good ability to reach an objective. When playing together with a partner winning is about shared goal, finally, when there are opponents it’s about showing greater levels of skill, energy and determination than the adversary. Why people wants to win, the winning instinct goes beyond the realms of playing, but specially in the case of sports, a good part of the drive to play, and to play to win comes from the possibility to be able to show, to communicate one’s achievements over others.
The social element of gaming is manifested in two ways: the real-time interactions between players during the game (i.e. teammates and opponents) as well as the relationship with the greater game community that includes other players and the audience. A healthy playing environment enables participants to share experiences inside and outside the competitive environment, develop communication skills, empathy and sharing. The community tends to become permanent even after the game is over, and the feeling of being part of something important, a togetherness that is typical of gaming groups.
Games as Art
Being such multifaceted creations, in only a few human activities is Art more ingrained than in making of games. Even the most mathematically, scientific or literate games require strong elements of creativity and aesthetics: Board and card games compensate the slow pace with artistic images and shapes, pencil/paper and word games are generous in prose, playground games are often accompanied by verse and singing. Even in some like Figure Skating, the line between art and sport is invisible. In many of them the creativity is needed not only when the game is created, but while playing as well. It is probably in the complexity of modern electronic games where the seamless integration of many forms of art and craft is ever present.
Closing (for now): That playing is an essential part of us is both a hidden and an evident truth. One has only to thoughtfully observe kids at their earliest age when they start engaging in the simple but joyful activities through which the world around them is presented to their avid minds. Parents and educators have been successfully leveraging games as a tool to get young people engaged. For many years play-enhanced learning, development and growth has been applied by many crafts and professions, more recently by industries like media, sports, entertainment and of course the gaming. Electronic and otherwise, I will continue analyzing these fascinating subjects in future articles, I hope you found this one entertaining thought-inducing as it is was for me writing it and, if so, stay tuned!