Games. I wish I could count how much time we spend on them in our life.
In my life, surely a lot – and I do not regret a single minute of that time.

While I am going back home after a week-long training course which took place in my beloved venue of Sermugnano, lots of emotion, memories and insights are coming back: it has been a week dealing with games and/in education, with a brilliant participants’ group and a lot of achievements.

Seems like me and my partners-in-crime Carmine and Mafalda really delivered an interesting training course. You could see this in the outreach of our posts on social media: lots of people do care for games nowadays. And I mean adult people, people making a life out of it, designers, professionals or even fans, parents, interested ones. 

You could also see this in the satisfaction on our participants’ faces, after having designed and prototyped five different educational games. These prototypes were then tested in the Orcs’ Lair gaming club in Viterbo to get valuable feedback from local game enthusiasts.

games in viterbo

Viterbo looks quite amazing, definitely.

During these days, we made our participant experience lego, board & card games, videogames of many different sorts. We provided knowledge on game visuals and components, on how to design dynamics and mechanics of a game. Finally we concentrated on how to create a narrative which fits the mechanics and is thus fit to the game itself. We also had a lot of fun while delivering the various sessions, and most of all, the… nerd-meter peaked top values many times everyday 🙂 due to mass references to Star Wars, Galaga, Dungeons & Dragons etc etc.

Games and values

Anyway this couldn’t have been a training (crash) course in designing games for education… without wondering which connections and possible relations are to be found between the two. We invested quite some time in reasoning with our participants on how to make an impact, proposing the theory of Basic Human Values by Shalom H. Schwartz as a framework for defining what we should focus on in every educational activity, which values we would promote trough our games and how.

games and basic human values

the basic human values according to Shalom Schwarz

It is always amazing when ideas turn into something tangible, but it is also a hard job to pick the single most important idea that you may want to promote. Our designers worked hard to identify and focus on their main theme, but in the end the keywords that you could hear in the design groups were engagement and participation, collaboration, better resource management, getting rid of borders, empowering local communities… so a lot of seeds for a better world indeed. They surely paid much attention to the influential Jane McGonigal TED speeches on games which we proposed. Here they are for you all:

Reverse-engineering games

If you are reading this blog, you should know that I am a strong supporter of active methods of education. So I couldn’t stand to give lectures on game dynamics and mechanics without the fabled hands-on approach which I learnt from computer hackers in the past century 🙂

Exactly to pay tribute to these… game-changers 8) I designed a session on reverse engineering of games: different groups of participants picked a game known by all of them, and described its theme, narrative, dynamics, mechanics, visuals and components. I have to say that they had quite long discussions and came out with precise, complete definitions of every requested ingredient. And, sometimes I allow to myself to admit, I was quite good in setting up the whole thing this way.

We discussed all sorts of games’ ingredients and aspects, using examples from chess to Galaga, to underline again that every good game is based on the same components, no matter which platform it will rely upon to be played.

games and ingredients

Galaga bonus screen: my favorite way to explain effective games feedback systems

It was very satisfying to see that participants then managed to identify narratives, dynamics and mechanics in different games of their choice, thus paving the street to the process of game designing and prototyping. Five different games were designed and tested during the final night in the Orcs’ Lair gamers’ club in Viterbo.

Moreover, all the games were designed to tackle different social issues and problems, from collaboration for a better resource management, to involving local communities to solve political issues etc. – we will take care of disseminating the games trough our social media platforms to ensure a wider impact.

War Games

This training course was called War Games, after the famous (?) movie from the 80s in which a guy risks starting World War III while playing online “Global thermonuclear war” with a supercomputer. Being the 80s, “online is obviously meant in the old, basic form of modem-phone connections, that was the only “online” available back in those times, and the game itself is played almost only on text-only screens.

And, I always get emotional when retro computing is involved 🙂

war games

“what about a nice game of chess?” No, let’s play global thermonuclear war instead… (Facepalm)

Point is, almost nobody among the participants knew the movie or watched it before.
Apart from making me feel hopelessly old once more, I think this really marks a difference in how people remembers the 80s. It has been stupid clothes business and pointless plastic music fashion and pop culture for a lot of people, while for a few others… well, it was hacking and video gaming at their birth, and we were making history without knowing it.

That’s why I was particularly fond of the session on video games that I delivered, talking about eSports (we already covered this topic here some time ago…) and making participants experience not-the-usual games: we had some hours of playing games such as This War of Mine, Papers Please, 1979 Black Friday and other titles that we already covered with previous posts here and here.

games at the hostel

Sermugnano hostel turned into a gaming club for a while…

Often educators and trainers share some bias towards video games. Probably many of they have not played videogames so much, or could not see the potential in them. The same could be told for many parents: that’s why we decided to open up a discussion on what is the biggest part of the game industry nowadays: video games, indeed. The infographics here sums up what participants had to say about the light and the dark side of video games:

good and bad in video games

My pal Carmine did a very good job summing up all the discussion in this infographics

The topic is controversial indeed, and we wanted to offer different angles of the worldwide ongoing debate on this part of the games world. You can share your opinion in the comments!