Throughout time, people have played games. There have been many scholars study this in a professional setting, studies done to define the words "game" and "play", but these are terms that must evolve as society evolves. So what does it mean to me in my teaching world?
In Man, Play, and Games from 1961, a game was defined by six characteristics: free, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, and make-believe. I find it to be rather disturbing that the term unproductive was used and defined as: "as opposed to disconnected from material interest — his point is that nothing is produced in play, though money can change hands." Nothing is produced? Nothing? Not problem-solving skills? Not communication skills? Not strategy, or perseverance, or good sportsmanship? Another point I find myself challenged with is the make-believe because I'm coming to believe that a game can be just as real as real-life.
Isn't managing finances in a way just a game? I have a job, and I earn money, in the form of numbers on a piece of paper. Not ever have I held the full amount of my paycheck in cash or anything of concrete status. The numbers on my check abstractly represent my earnings (points) and then it's my responsibility to stretch those abstract funds on the most important resources and requirements in my life. Every week I can watch my balance drop lower, but this again just numbers... could be anything besides money for all I know. The game is me reaching the next paycheck before my money runs out, while also living my life and being happy. It seems just as real as a game- however, the consequences to "losing" are much less "make-believe".
Next, the word game used to have a negative connotation attached to it for anyone except a young child. Games?! In school?! They are supposed to be educated, not entertained! Your teenager is playing a game?! Instead of preparing for a career? Ridiculous! But, just as cinema and movies were once never studied in school, now every major university offers cinematography because people and society have evolved. Now "game" is usually defined a little more loosely. An example from Bernard Suits in Reality is Broken (2011) is: "Playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”
So game has consistently required rules or limitations, it has consistently been voluntary (with an exception to maybe the Hunger Games :) and consistently involves conflict to overcome. These qualifications seem to make it fit an educational world beautifully because some of the hardest teachers have to manage are: rule-breaking, stubbornness (or students who refuse to do the work), and problem-solving with others or tasks that are thought too difficult. If there was a system that fixed ALL these problems, wouldn't it be a no-brainer?!
To me, the connotation for play will always remain a positive experience. Even when it takes hard work, focused thinking, or a lot of sweat and tears... to play, is to have fun.
While trying to wrap these definitions and ideas into my own world of teaching, I have experienced enough now to be a true believer in the world of play and gaming integrated into an effective educational world. To play a game in my educational world means: to voluntarily accept a role that enters a journey of willing learning and enjoyment, within set boundaries and requirements, that leads to a final outcome of new knowledge. I believe that the willingness to participate and journey on indicates it is "play" and the boundaries and requirements indicates it to be a "game". There will be pleasure from choices and interactions, the natural consequence of enjoyment from learning something new, and added sense of accomplishment when it felt more of an independent learning vs. someone telling you everything you needed to discover. The final outcome of new knowledge indicates it to be a truly educational situation as well.