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Today’s piece is a bit more of a general argument for why including games and play in our daily lives is important and beneficial for everyone.
I live in the Netherlands and a few days ago I was watching one of the evening talk show-variety programs and the topic was broached about how Dutch society, and to an extent, Western-Modern society is focused on having a culture of conformity. A culture where everyone is placed into what can only be explained as a committee decided averaged out cubby hole.
This “averagisation” of humanity is leading, or in all probability has already lead to a crushing of the human spirit. Boundless creativity isn’t really rewarded and tried & true methods that “everyone” uses are promoted far more. And if you’re thinking that this is only true for either young people or only for older people, then you would be wrong. This kind of mentality is endemic across all ages.
One thing you must understand and remember though is that averagisation is not the same as equality. Averaging people out to a common denominator is not the same as equal treatment for all. When a society creates averages it is removing originality, innovation, and creativity. But when it promotes equality it offers everyone, regardless of gender, race, age, the same opportunities to express their own uniqueness, innovation and ability to create.
The question then is, how does a frame of mind based on games and play than help us move away from this horrible trend of averagisation is our societies?
Well, we’ve touched upon one part of it already, creativity and engagement. Games and the ability to play are engrained to the core with mechanics, rules and understood preconceptions that they should be fun, engaging and tap into our creative imaginations.
A product of attempting to creates averages for everything is the that many activities become rote repetitions of themselves. Without targeted experiences, everything needs to be lowered to where supposedly everyone is able to do it. On one hand, everyone is able to do the activity but on the other, no one is actually learning anything useful for a complex and everchanging environment. Repetitive average learning is great when nothing ever changes.
Granted that certain abilities require repetition to truly get the hang of them, but when we use tools such as games and play, we are able to better target, tailor and especially contextualize the activity for the learner. I’m sure not one person is a stranger to the repetitive nature of a school lesson and setting there wondering how this would ever be useful in the real world. Context is how it becomes relevant to the individual, lack of context is how it becomes mundane for the group.
But the group must not be relegated to the side in favor of the individual. The beauty of using games and play is that they have the inherent requirement that they are collaborative, while still targeting specific skill sets within varying individuals. And you may say, well what about single-player games then? Well unless you are truly cut off from the world, which would be sad, you will still talk to friends and family about your experiences in the game. You still seek advice in person or online on how to do certain puzzles, actions, interactions, etc. At no point should you ever really be alone, struggling.
What you need to grasp straight off the bat is that encouraging individuals and encouraging individualism are two different things. This really needs to be spelled out as too many people do see this as one and the same. Encouraging individualism neither promotes nor combats averagisation, what it does do is create a belief and mentality that everyone should rely entirely on themselves. And what this breeds is isolation and anxiety within a population. The outcome then is that these lost individuals will likely go in search of something that makes them like everyone else, and the will inevitably conform to whatever group takes them in.
Encouraging an individual, allowing them space and freedom to discover their own individuality in relation to other individuals around them, helps support cooperation, original thought, and discovery. This mentality can be enacted at any time to be honest, in any situation but what makes games and play attractive for this exercise is that their inherent open contextuality allows a player to freely embrace something else and discover something new about themselves.
A game and playing, therefore, fosters originality in an individual in a safe environment that makes sense for that activity. As long as we as designers and facilitators effectively relate the learning that the individual received within the game space to real-world contexts inside of a comprehensive narrative, then we have succeeded in promoting an individual, rather than promoting the selfish nature of individualism.
Teams or groups, or communities or any collective noun for a gathering of relatable individuals is at the core of using the framework of games and play to battle avergisation. But yet again we need to combat another thought that spawns from conformity and that is the statement that surely placing people into a group means they conform to the overall mentality of that group, therefore averagisation occurs, and individualism is the right path after all.
This thought process is, as you may suspect, a fallacy. Taking the concept of how to encourage individuals to discover what makes them unique, allowing them to explore their own distinctive skill sets and creating the opportunity and environment for this to be done within a group setting is what using games and play is all about.
What we want as individuals to build teams together, to create communities, collaborating, understanding each other and relying on each other, all working together towards a specific goal. As each person is inevitably different from the next person, they shouldn’t be standardized into a homogenous group with sub-par skills. But equally, isolated and relying on no-one is also a sub-par method. Working together, leveraging each person’s strengths and supporting their weaknesses is the goal of a gamified world. All we need then is the story.
Recently I went to the European Gamification Conference in the UK. Its first keynote speaker was Jeff Gomez, who talked about the Collective Journey as the modern alternative to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. This concept struck and absolute cord within me, it opened my mind’s eye and made me realizes all the contrivances that many modern narratives create to allow for a singular individual’s “hero’s” story.
As I’ve had time to reflect upon this concept, I believe that to combat averagisation lies somewhere in between the Collective and the Hero’s Journey, just like it lies somewhere between the individual and the team. I believe this because the individual still wants to be the hero of their own story, and I doubt that will ever change. But they cannot be an effective hero of their own story without the help of heroes from other stories. Essentially one could say that Marvel’s The Avengers is a brilliant parable of this concept.
On one side of the coin we need to create tailored personal narratives, unique hero’s journey’s for individuals, the promote the self, confidence in the self and to improve self-actualization. On the flip side of the same coin, we need to create collaborative narrative environments that bring together the individual stories, so that we can effectively promote collaboration, self-realization in relation to that of others and ourselves, and to continue the growth of self-actualization.
This type of new framework using games and play will only work and make sense if the learning activity is contextualized within a comprehensive narrative. And if you are wondering how exactly this would look like, then I would suggest that you take a look at what was once seen as the geekiest activity you could do, playing Dungeons & Dragons. The role-playing element in a Tolkienesque fantasy may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I would recommend researching and looking into how narrative and players interactions take place within a D&D setting. The interplay of a Games Master (we the designers) and the players, in creating and weaving an immersive narrative, while leveraging the individual abilities and elements of each player, to create an experience that is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
Hopefully, this gives you some food for thought of how the tools of gaming and game playing can lift people out of the drudgery of conformity and help boost individuals to shine with likeminded people.
I do want to mention a few things though, not everything should be made into a game. Simply because not everything lends itself to the mechanics and dynamics of a game. But we can gamify and add games and play into our daily lives and activities. It will in all likelihood make us happier individuals and help us get along with our fellow human beings better.
Our duty as creators and players is to find the balance between all of this so that we can all grow and improve together.
I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.
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