GAMING FOR A PURPOSE
This is a deeply personal text. I don’t mean to explain how the world works or how we should change to make the world a better place. This is just my approach to deal with what the world looks like to me, and it is my approach to feeling as if am a decent human being.
Games are a waste of your time. You should do something useful and intelligent instead. It would be better to learn and do your homework so that you can get a decent job and make a living.
Many of us have heard statements like that over and over again, and sometimes you get the impression that video games and gamers are still struggling with their public image, even though video games have entered museums and can be regarded as a medium of cultural importance that can easily compare to more established art forms.
I played video games a lot when I was young. I play again, for a few years now. There is less time for it of course, as a gamer with a job, but games are once more very important for me.
Earlier in life, too often I chose the adventures in video games over real-life endeavors like studying or professional development. My adventures in Morrowind almost came at the cost of failing my master’s degree. And if I had to choose between English literature and the latest adventures in Gran Turismo or Halo, I too often chose a Ferrari or to be Master Chief instead of reading Shakespeare or Byron.
But after university, at the beginning of my professional career as a teacher, were years without gaming and without the old habits of escaping the real world for the realms of fantastic, fictitious worlds on computers and consoles. I would rather have read a magazine or watched a TV series that started up my console. You might say I finally obeyed to the rest of the world’s attitude towards games and focussed on the stuff that ‘really counts’ in everyday life, such as work or non-digital pastimes from sports to more “traditional” entertainment.
Gaming seemed to stand in the way of professional success, and that’s why it had to be cut. Seemed all pretty reasonable, at first thought.
But even if you cut out gaming, professional success or even personal happiness don’t come knocking just like that.
My relationship with education had always been a difficult one. Being a stutterer from my early days, good grades were only possible in the years with a protective and supportive primary school teacher. When I left this safe space and had to face the real world with its grades and A-levels and oral presentations, things started to look a little different. Seeing the system fail on me and me failing in the schools led to personal resistance and the deep conviction that something needed to be changed in this failing system. This was one of the main reasons for me to become a teacher – and a good one, as I had all the sympathy for failures and dropouts. This might have saved one or two from actually failing in this school system, because every learning starts with a personal relationship, with empathy and an open ear.
But I quickly realized that I was just another cog in this stifling system that failed for many and made many fails. Almost everyone had a good teacher or two in her own school life, but the good ones just made up for what the rest of the pack didn’t succeed in.
What seemed like another one of these bad decisions in my life actually turned out to be maybe one of the best things that could have happened to me. Because one day it all came together – just by listening to a podcast. I found out about a thing called game-based learning. The deeper I dug into this new thing, the more excited I got. game-based Learning takes a look at what games are best at motivating players to learn and develop new knowledge and skills.
Games bring to learning what traditional schooling often critically misses. Practically everything that is demanded of education in the digital age can be found within gaming contexts, whether it’s new skills – like collaboration, communication, critical thinking or creativity – or financial, technological or social literacy. Games feed on community knowledge and tinkering, they offer a space to be creative and the opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
For me, games show a way to change education the right way. They let us experience complex systems, they let kids send rockets to the Mun and learn from real-life astronauts or let politicians find out what their party programmes actually mean for society. They provide playgrounds, deep and ongoing challenges, platforms to express yourself and a starting point for projects and interesting discussions. They enable people in cities to communicate their own visions of the future for their city to city planners, they challenge innovative teams in a playful manner and dare to ask big and even uncomfortable questions. They offer a space to express opinions and offer a stage for a colorful and diverse indie developer scene.
For me, gaming culture offers a wealth and diversity that can only be regarded as a role model for society. Of course, there is harassment, racism and everything else that we need to overcome in gaming and society, but games are the greatest learning opportunity I know. The best thing for me personally is the playful mindset that can liberate us from societal pressure and go back to education for the last time – finally, games set our approach to making mistakes right. Mistakes are an integral part of personal growth and the acquisition of knowledge, and games challenge us to make mistakes just to fail better next time.