Boardgames with the right license could change the world

20 September 2018

“Developing countries need to catch up to speed with the first world.”

Sure! This statement was justified if first world was just an uptown neighbourhood developing countries had to move to. In reality, the kind of effort needed for this ‘catching up’ is nothing short of discovering a ‘portkey’ out of sheer luck(or extraordinary efforts) to get to this far off planet in another galaxy, called ‘the first world’.

Portkey from Harry Potter series -

Primary Education Challenges in Developing Countries

Quality education still gives us hope to someday discover that ‘port-key’ though. And for countless unaccountable reasons, it is always education sector that takes a hit. Many blame a developing country’s’ corruption for it’s poverty and misfortune, but only if it had been that simple a dynamics to state any such notion as a fact!

While this argument could consume a lot many words and still give a perplexing result, that’s for another time. But to be certain, this equation of poverty, misfortune and corruption in a developing country, garnished with the perils of ‘democracy’, social stigmas, caste privilege and gender privilege(boys first), certainly have wounded the primary education sector bad enough to call for critical measure. If ignored for long, this problem will make these countries crumple with various demographic problems, being flooded with unskilled and ill-educated population.

“Indian children at school” by José Antonio Morcillo Valenciano is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The teachers recruited for primary schools often act as a carrier of cultural stigmas and instead of enabling the students to frame an opinion about the world around, they end up passing on their own propagandas. Most of the biggest causes for the poor education quality lie at such a root level in the society that any process oriented approach to tackle them shall hardly ever yield. The solution needs to be organically propagated for a lasting effect. Quality primary education might not be answer to all the problems, but it is to most of them, and provide the base for those for which it’s not.

Education and Tabletop Games

In his approximation of Huizinga’s (a historian with considerable and admired contribution to play theory) work, Hector Rodriguez illuminated two aspects of education where ‘play’ can be of use. It could either serve as a vehicle to facilitate the dispersion of education - when the teacher adopts playful methods of engaging the students while teaching, or, the content itself could translate into an act of playing, hence illuminating the primary nature of the subject itself.

Theoretical as it may sound, games have proved to be amazing tools for education. Tabletop games have the power to provide a geographically defined context supported by descriptive situations, characters in play and areas of intervention via roleplaying. This act of immersion tends to make the player live the narrative and closely discern the factors affecting the decisions. Through games, students get to live the story as one of their own. Conventional teaching methods could never hold a candle to this approach.

The board games industry mostly caters only to a niche population willing to shell out money on these expensive cardboards, marginally extending its reach to organised communities or groups that share the resources to make the interest affordable. There are also a handful of pitfalls that game designers/manufactures have to look out for, that could potentially take away points of credibility from their game:

  • Let’s talk about the first euro-game lying on the 2nd shelf of the 1st aisle in you nearest board game store. It will incontestably have a beautiful story to tell. The narrative, settings, character and conflict sound perfect to compose an interesting game. Now think of playing the game for about five times. Would the story retain it’s potential under the burden of sustaining replayability? More the level of play-test and feedback from a wider audience, more interesting the content gets.
  • There’s hardly ever an army of designers behind creating an indie tabletop game. If it ain’t a one man show, the highest possible strength of the involved team could only touch the mark of half a dozen, with no assurance of diverse participation. This makes it a practically inconceivable idea to expect them to capture a rich array of distinct perspectives.
  • To make the maximum profit out of selling the board game, one has to make sure to take care of market penetration through outreach and advertisement. If only the game designers(indie or not) could afford a highly paid service to begin with. This leaves internet as the only viable option for them, with the ‘outreach’ further getting limited to the group of established board game enthusiasts.

Let’s converge

Tabletop games hold a possible solution to the challenges faced by primary education sector in developing countries. Unfortunately, board games are not produced with an intention to even remotely make it’s way to such an audience. They have to fly in the face of their own set of struggles when it comes to market performance and getting decent feedback for content refinement.

Possible Solution

CC Licenses. A licensing system that was probably never designed keeping in mind tabletop games, but if utilised well could revolutionise not just the gaming, but also the education industry. This licensing system provides a set of options playing with the combination of distributing, remixing, tweaking, and building upon your work (even commercially).

Cards Against Humanity by Brett Jordan - Licensed under CC-BY 2.0

The best way to explain this system is with a real example. Cards Against Humanity is a card game that was backed on Kickstarter and uses BY-NC-SA 2.0 license, which allows a user to use, remix, and share the game for free(without being able to sell it). Anyone could download the files for the cards online, prepare a deck for themselves, even add their own content to the game and share further, as long as they don’t sell it. Because of this model, CAH penetrated into the depth of the market that other popular games with copyrighted content could only dream of. Besides the popularity, the games also received contribution from all around the world in terms of the content, making the game even more fun. After all, a team of designers sitting inside a room in their best days could only achieve so much compared to thousands of contributors with a variety of perspective, background, knowledge, history, contributing from across the world.

This approach could massively help board games potentially carrying educational values. Students and educators from across the world could use the content and contribute their additions back to the core design, making it available to the rest of the world to leverage from, and vice-versa. This in-turn would help the game in gaining eyeballs and offering a richer game to the conventional board game buyers. The only difference is that, in this case the impact would be ten-folds, as eventually the education industry would benefit, thus making the world a much much better place to be.