In Defense of Games in Education:  Learning through Play

In Defense of Games in Education: Learning through Play

Most any mammal learns through play. Dogs, lions, bears, monkeys: you name it. Play is actually a more sophisticated process than we make it out to be. The time that animals spend with their siblings and the other young their age is a vital part of their development, even in the cold and unforgiving world of nature. It is known widely among dog owners that if you take a puppy away from its litter too early, there are often repercussions for the dog’s social development. Aside from being overly dependent on their owners, these dogs may have trouble with biting and are often poorly behaved.

To be fair, no other animals build skyscrapers or drive cars like humans do. One can argue that humans have simply transcended their animal category and have pioneered into something new. However, we still eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. These are essential needs to keep our body working and healthy. But let me ask you this: Do humans need exercise? Of course they do. You can argue that you can feed someone and give them water and they will survive, but with no physical activity, the person not only will become weak without developing muscle and possibly overweight from not expending fat, but restless as well. This is the definition of incarceration. That restlessness in us is our body’s need for exercise and stimulation. We need to get out and go or else, along with physical ailment, we are more prone to anxiety and depression. I want to suggest that our idea of ‘human needs’ is much more varied and complex than the simplistic ‘bread and water’ view of life.

This value of play is truly essential for every social animal that operates in a pack/tribe/pride/community from lions to monkeys to dogs to humans. Through socialization we share notes with one another: These are the experiences I’ve accrued, these are my abilities (this is how fast I run, this is how smart I am), this is how much I admire and/or apprieciate your abilities. It sounds very trivial when spelled out like this, but it really is one of the things we take for granted because it has become so integral to our psyche. We crave identity, and ultimately we identify by comparison. Don’t agree with me? Check your social media again.

Play is a valuable access way into this! Games like football have been such an integral part of our upcoming as a species, surely stemming from our ability to hunt in packs, communicate, and work together. Board games find their roots all the way back to our infancy, even before humans were writing. They were playing games everywhere from Ancient Sumeria to Medieval China. Yes, our body requires maintenance by moving and stretching to stay active, but we there is also a mental appetite that needs to be fulfilled to keep our brains sharp. Strategy and learning rule sets are essential anywhere from trade, to business, to teaching, to investing, to salesmanship.

People try to say that games are a waste of time and they can’t be bothered with silly arbitrary rule sets, but they still carve time out of the day to go to the gym and run in place and pick up heavy things. Of course that’s silly, but, as a hunting-gathering human living in a concrete jungle, you are able to see the results of such a silly activity. They are more attractive and more confident, they tire less easily and are viewed as more healthy individuals. I am not criticizing it.

But I want to turn it on you now that just as we can’t let our glutes atrophy, there are parts of our brains that should be taken out for a walk once in a while. The ability to problem solve, and size up situations is vitally important along the career path. How many people criticize cards and board games, but still need to count simple math on their fingers? When was the last time you implemented a multi-point strategy against competitor? When was the last time you built or created something and saw its capabilities in a real life situation? I know this is not true for a lot of people, but there are a lot of upstarts out there who worship self-help and guzzle effective business strategy books, that poo-poo on DnD players for wasting their time.

In our modern industrialized world, we pay woefully little attention to our mental and emotional health. Our workplaces are getting smaller and more cramped and our living spaces are getting more expensive. The path to success is to work hard and stick to your studies. And that is still true. But you need to maintain yourself as well. Burn-out is real. If you run any machine high enough and long enough, you’re going to damage it. Humans are a very well built, highly sophisticated machines, but we are still subject to the same rules and restrictions. Lighten up and play some cards with your buddies. Football is not for brainless jocks. Let your kids go play a couple hours a day.

I will wrap this up with a story. My brother started a business back in America and one of his business expenses that he set aside was a set of golf clubs. When I told him that was wasteful, he replied and said golf is an essential part of business. I asked was it because wealthy people liked to play golf, and he said yes, but then he asked if I knew why they like to play golf. I said because it was a game that old people can play. He laughed and agreed, but he also said it was a necessary part of business to compete with your boss and your colleagues. Healthy competition brings you closer and makes us strive to be better. Through competition, you get to see into people your work for and work with. Are they good winners? Are they sore losers? Are they competitive-type people or not? How easily do they get frustrated? Do they cheat? A good game can tell you more about someone than an interview if you know what you are looking for. Games come from a place deep within us, right along side art, language, reason, and music. And what is life other than a very elaborate, very high stakes game?

Thank you for reading. Cheers.


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