How games can help you die less

By » Thu, November 24 2011
70204185 3294a79282 450x337 How games can help you die less

Orienteering in the age of Google. (img by Paul Miller)

If you think playing games is a waste of time or just for kids, you’re wrong. People and animals learn important life skills through play. We play the most when we’re kids, but there’s more and more evidence out there that says that adults still play, or at least really really want to.

So next time you’re about to beg off a game of capture the flag near your local college, remember this: Games can teach you to fight, run, hide, and improvise. Games can test your skills and ideas and are a safe way to learn that some of your ideas, instincts, and information are absolute bullshit and might get you hurt. Games can teach you how to communicate, how to know where you are, and make you look at your environment differently.

I think of games in two very broad categories: brainspace games and meatspace games.

Brainspace games, like the mugging game, Persian Incursion, and World Without Oil take place primarily in your head or in virtual space. They use abstractions like cards, text, and computer environments. They’re great for getting you to see the world differently, even to the point of thinking differently about rulesets, gamesmanship, and how to screw over your scrabble opponents like this guy:

Do this and people may try to kill you.

Meatspace games, like Gorodki, Manhunt, and the CDC’s Zombie Apocalypse take place primarily in the world around you… your city, town, or back yard. They have rules, just like brainspace games, but they have way less abstraction. Sneaking past someone in a game of manhunt is very much sneaking past someone in real life. Hell, the CDC uses zombie games to prepare for and think about real world problems.

Most people play at least some brainspace games, but relatively few continue playing meatspace games into their adulthood (sports are a different thing). But think about the skills wide games (like manhunt or capture the flag played on a large, multi-block urban or forested field) can help develop:

Stalking; Following a Trail; Tracking (men, animals, vehicles); the Use of Cover, Camouflage or Protective Coloring; Disguises; Observation; Deduction; Pathfinding; Knowledge of Countryside; Map-Reading; Starmanship; Woodcraft; Weather-lore.

I ripped this list from a scouting website jammed full of wide game information. It’s got rules, variations, specific skills developed, how to implement the games, and (even more importantly) how the first time you play, it’s going to suck. Wide gaming is a learned skill.

So get out and play. Let us know how it goes. And check back every once in a while to hear/see the things I’m learning as I put together some games in my town.

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