Making it ‘Real’

As owners of a games shop we are honour bound to play games at Christmas! No really, we do love them. So, Val, Katie (13) and I played a game of Risk. Now Risk is not so PC overall but, well, when you have made an alliance with the mass armies (in this case of the evil of middle earth) and they have attacked your opponent on your behalf and your turn comes round and you now realise you can renege on your agreement and wipe them out … well that is tough. Emotion, scruples, morality all bound up in tough decision making. Now I think you really (up to a point seriously) do have to debrief after a game like that, but is sure is that you are in the situation making the decisions … a history lesson for sure but not just discussing the issues cold.

I had a chat with a journalist who had worked with PFEG and he said the trouble with a lot of the materials they promote is that it’s all very well doing school activities exploring how to make better financial decisions, but you don’t make them cold like that, you make them in tough circumstances, where emotion, desire, temptations, scruples, … are battling for attention. Look at today’s story about selling someone a £430 fridge for £1050 by exploiting their inability to buy it outright. I remember playing The Trading Game 25 years ago, before I went off to Tanzania to teach. This was produced by Christian Aid to get people to understand the inequities in world trade. Everyone gets to play a world region, and resources and processing capacity are distributed accordingly. So the less developed world simply cannot win. It is achingly frustrating. But, I won’t forget the experience.

Playing immersive, character and scenario based games takes time. The rules have to be sufficiently sophisticated to capture the essence and dynamics of the setting in a realistic way. Stuff has to happen which is really believable and you have to care. They also have to work as games and keep everyone involved and come to a successful conclusion. I hope that the financial literacy and enterprise games I have designed do exactly that. People who’ve played them say they do. It is quite dramatic. In web wheeler dealer, you build up sets of collectibles to sell on the internet. When you make a trade you can get 50% more or 50% less of the asking price, due to the vagaries of web auctions. So, after you buy a cheap set and sell it well and then you complete a really valuable set and are ready to get the target £1000 to win the game, that last spin of the web spinner, is a heart pumping moment. In To Your Credit, you take a character through the years from end of school to start of career. Save up to pay course fees, get fit, go on holiday, … you cannot win without balancing your needs, but you get much better jobs if you are well qualified, but they take that much longer to get and then the spinner says you’ve crashed tour car, and their are fees to be paid. Keeping saving borrowing, wants and needs in balance is tough, and you have a lot to think about, to win the game.

I’ve written about the need to spend time doing things in a way that captures real maths. The fantastic thing is that when you do it, you see how efficient it is in school time terms. So much maths comes up whatever you investigate that a whole terms worth of content is covered. Same here. Combine time with business courses, Citizenship or PSHE and the amount of applied numeracy justifies whatever time the maths department puts in and the effect on Financial Literacy and Enterprise is in a different league. As a bonus, playing games is (a) social, (b) group working (c) great fun!


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