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  • Andrew Davidson

Game Are Ubiquitous

Introduction

Chess teaches foresight, by having to plan ahead; vigilance, by having to keep watch over the whole chessboard; caution, by having to restrain ourselves from making hasty moves; and finally, we learn from chess the greatest maxim in life - that even when everything seems to be going badly for us we should not lose heart, but always hoping for a change for the better, steadfastly continue searching for the solutions to our problems.

–Benjamin Franklin, On the Morals of Chess, 1779


1.1 Games are Ubiquitous


In the premiere episode of ABC’s hit show LOST, characters play the abstract strategy game GO[1]. In a climactic scene of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry, Hermione, and Ron are required to play a game of chess with larger-than-life-sized pieces to defeat the antagonist. Throughout The Big Bang Theory’s ten seasons, its lead characters are shown playing board games such as Settlers of Catan, Elder Sign, along with the fourth edition of Talisman. The 1985 cult film Clue takes its name, premise, and characters directly from the incredibly popular mystery-style board game of the same name. Jumanji revolves around characters playing a fictitious board game—a game that comes to life when players land on squares and read narrative text aloud.


Board Games are well-recognized in cultures around the world. Signs and symbols within Monopoly are recognized not only by just adults but by children as well. In fact, according to Beaumont Enterprise, Monopoly is the number one most recognizable modern board game in the entire world; moreover, why not? At the time of this writing, there are 1,298 iterations of Monopoly—from Cereal-opoly to Elvis-opoly. Every year millions of people from all over the world vet for the coveted championship title of the Monopoly World Tournament. We see Monopoly’s iconography and semiology in every retail store which hosts a game section, on shelves at the local library, even on our beloved McDonalds Big Mac and French fry cartons.

Narrative tabletop games such as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) are also growing in popular culture. Creator of Community, Dan Harmon, hosts an internet show where celebrities play D&D. Actor Wil Wheaton hosts an incredibly popular YouTube series where celebrities play board games. Unlike previous decades, the acceptance of nerd culture within modern society is rising. With the success of TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory and Community, the popularity of nerd culture is growing to ubiquitous levels never seen before. Both programs feature episodes where the main characters play games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Elder Sign, Settlers of Catan, and Scrabble. With both of these programs airing on major networks—Theory on CBS and Community on NBC—make no mistake that it is cool to be nerdy. Donovan writes:


Also, geeky is popular, nerdy is popular. These things have come into the mainstream. So in the seventies playing Dungeons & Dragons may have gotten you into trouble with your parents and teachers and labeled you as very odd and made you an outcast. Now it’s on TV and everyone seems to love those sorts of subcultures (Donovan 6).


In the middle of these social constructs of subculture, counter-culture, internet fatigue, and nerdy acceptance are board games; “board games have done more than survive,” they have endured and grown (Donovan 7).


1.2 Gamification


Although relatively new, gamification has massed in popularity. Gamification is the use of game mechanics in a non-game context. The purpose of gamification can be nebulous; however, fundamentally, it is to drive human interaction or change behavior patterns. In Taking Gaming to the Next Level, Per Hägglund’s definition of gamification states:


[However,] in everyday life, we are often presented with activities we dislike, whether it is boring chores or stressful work. By introducing game mechanics into activities to make them more game-like (rewarding and desirable), people would possibly want to take part in these tasks proactively and continuously. This process is called gamification. (3)


The bottom line: Human beings work better when entertained; they crave the ability to mask tasks with entertainment—which explains the ubiquitous nature of gamification within society.

David Harms, a high school history teacher, uses the basis of Diplomacy—a game of pure tactical negotiation—to teach his class about World War I. In Diplomacy, groups of students take on the role of European countries in 1914. Each class period represents a single year within the framework of the game. Every year Harms’ World War I simulation is the talk of the school. By implementing an idea as simple as a game, Harms sets himself apart from other history teachers in the district.


Ryan Pitcher, an instructor at Bismarck State College, uses familiar game show type games to teach course information. Games are an essential tool within education because “a good game can mask and excite the otherwise known unexciting learning process” (Pitcher).

Timmy walks six blocks home from school every day. To distract himself from the long walk, he creates a game to play. In the game, Timmy is a courageous adventurer traveling around the base of a volcano. The cracks in the cement represent cracks in the ground where hot lava is exposed. The goal of Timmy’s game is to travel the distance as quickly as he can without stepping on any hot lava.


Stacy Kemnitz, a single mother of six, uses an online role-playing application called Chore Wars to keep her family productive.[2] In Chore Wars, siblings create a character, join a “party” (which represents the other members of the family), and gain experience points by completing housework or other special projects. Kemnitz takes on the role of the dungeon master (DM) by adding new adventures and tasks for her children to complete. Awards are given every month based on two different criteria: The adventurer with the highest experience points (leaderboard) and if the party meets the adventure goals established by the DM. Chore Wars is one of a thousand illustrations of gamification in modern society.

[1] Go uses black and white pieces to represent the different player pieces and, in the scene, is being used as a metaphor to show the conflict between good and evil. [2] http://www.chorewars.com

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