For the Love of Games

I don’t know if you heard, but Whose Line is it Anyway? is back. I grew up watching the show, so I was glad to finally have the time to sit down and watch the few episodes. I also noticed that the show had many of the same people — producers Dan Patterson and Mark Levenson, and of course Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles, and Wayne Brady.

In other words, the show is on a new network, and has a few other changes like a new host, but it is back by popular demand. Whose Line became a part of classic American TV.

This got me thinking. From baseball to improv and beyond, games are a crucial part of the American culture. More and more companies now are using approaches like gamestorming / gamification to grapple with the challenges of the field; solving problems, building connections, and discovering as-yet-unthought-of possibilities. The American entrepreneur is one who is edgy, creative, and surprising — and in today’s world that means that the entrepreneur plays games.

Anna Prishinskaya wrote in ArtsFWD on “Gamification in the Arts: Fad or Future?” The same gamified approaches taking the business and tech worlds by storm are carrying over into the arts and culture sector. (Personally, I’m biased for this trend. I’ll be writing more about my own use of games in a future post.) Games are being recognized as a natural, intuitive, and immersive way to interact and create solutions at work and in our communities. It seems only natural that games-based approaches should team up with people who dabble in theatre and dance, right?

There’s all kinds of research supporting the value of games like this — digital or not — to help not just with work problems, but in our development as children. In certain schools, teachers are working on Gamifying Student Engagement — that is, using games and game models to teach math, science, history, and beyond. For those teaching artists out there who use arts integration, you also know how using an art form to infuse and cofacilitate learning can mean deeper, more authentic engagement. Right now those places are the exception and not the rule, but the research backs them up.

I see the growing body of evidence, and the trends for using creative games as a good sign that we might be getting somewhere. As I said, it is something that in some ways is supported by our culture.

Here’s the part that troubles me: despite benefits, recess for many students is restricted. Arts programs of all kinds are being cut too. We know already that games are being used in businesses and non-profits, and they are supported strongly in TV with shows like Whose Line. Organizations of all stripes are looking for people who can be adaptable, creative, negotiate dynamic boundaries, and collaborate across multiple spectrums. That training should begin with school. So why, with the rising trend for games in our society, are we also willing to deprive that from our children?

While schools are cutting time allocated for free, creative play of some kind, companies are calling for more of it. So far as I’m concerned, it falls to the teaching artists, arts entrepreneurs, and teacherpreneurs of the world to bridge these gaps. The same children that watch shows like Whose Line should play games in school. While the child with a talent for baseball or soccer has access to her game, the child with the affinity for theatre or music should be given the same opportunity. Teaching artists already are stepping up to create programs where otherise there wouldn’t be any. Let’s make sure we also consider that it’s likely the programs we create will be preparing our young students for work in the coming decades. For the love of games, let’s make sure that our children grow up ready to play, to act, and to innovate.

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