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Only gamers read rules - and that's a good thing

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

Over the past 5 years I have designed a number of applied board games aimed at cultivating a contextualised understanding of concepts and terminology in some of the many areas of IT operations and management. The short article below offers some thoughts on the role of rules in the learning experience.

Having hosted many after-work and gaming sessions it is an inescapable truth that virtually no participant reads the rules before sitting down to play. The games that we play are my own IT-themed business development games, designed to educate and challenge the players in aspects of Capacity management and Incident management. OK, so maybe this doesn’t sound like the recipe for a fun evening out but, surprisingly, many return again and again for the sessions, even inviting friends and co-workers to also take part. The thing is, the games are vehicles for socialising and the insights gained on the subject matter are a biproduct of the activity structure itself.

Whilst the games are designed to educate through play and by that education empower the players to improve efficiency and save money back in their organisations, a significant portion of the learning experience is achieved through the process of learning the rules. A typical session starts with a brief outline of the rules, followed by ad-hoc guided discussions within the group and finally with coaching, as needed, during the game-play. I am continually impressed and humbled by how the participants discuss, explain and support each other. It is a collective effort, even though the games themselves are competitive and the players each want to win, they also want their competitors to play the game to the best of their abilities.

In reflection, being a gamer myself, when I first started to host these sessions I found it frustrating that the attendees had not read the rules and that time after time I had to explain how to play the games and then it took maybe an hour before starting to play. In my mind, the game was the whole point of the evening and we were continually wasting time on the rules. This was short-sighted of me as I now understand that the game is only part, albeit a significant part, of the evening. Exploring and learning the rules together is a crucial part of the social aspect of the sessions and of the educational aspect of the games. If everyone came with a full understanding of the rules and sat down to play we would lose a key social aspect of the session; that which creates an inclusive, entertaining experience for friends and strangers alike.

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