The Great Power of Classroom Games
I am 62 years old and yet one of the events in my life that has created a lasting impression occurred 32 years ago. I use this example to show how games can impact on the lives of adults as well as children.
I was working in a guest house in Marysville, the charming country village in Australia that was tragically destroyed by bushfire in 2009. The guest house sadly no longer exists, but the vivid memory of the event I am about to share is still intact after all these years.
There were several other young adults living and working at the guests houses in and around Marysville. We used to get together socially. There isn’t a great deal to do in a country town so we made our own entertainment. One evening is etched in my brain as a powerful life experience. On an impulse, I suggested that instead of just chatting and drinking we play a game; one I had played with students as a young drama teacher. The game is called “Assassin”. Previously I had played the game with students in a large darkened drama space. Everyone is blindfolded. One person is selected as the ‘Assassin’. The aim of the ‘Assassin’ is to ‘kill’ everyone in the group by tapping them 3 times on the shoulder. The other participants have to avoid being tapped on the shoulder. The ‘dead’ retire to a safe zone outside the playing area until everyone is ‘dead’ or time has run out. On this occasion however we didn’t have a large playing space and we didn’t have blindfolds. We did have a large old rambling country house with many rooms and the capacity to create a reasonably good blackout throughout the house. What transpired was one of the most electrifying games sessions I have ever experienced.
The group of game players started off loud and boisterous. Players ran rather noisily to hide in what were fairly obvious locations around the house. The Assassin’s job was very easy; aided by the many giggles and shuffling and ‘no brainer’ locations like under beds or behind doors but as the night progressed there was a magical transformation.
With each subsequent game players became more and more skilled, more and more focused, more and more attentive to the thinking processes of the ‘Assassin’ and how to avoid detection. It became a game of great strategy. We became in a sense ‘ninjas’. We developed for example a keen awareness of just how much actual light there is in a 'totally' darkened room. Players found that it was possible to become invisible by finding a chink of light in one of the rooms and simply hiding in the blackness where the beam of light became shadow.
Senses became greatly sharpened. Every sound was analysed, breathing became noiseless; the stillness in the house was filled with incredible tension. Players became more and more creative and adventurous in their chosen hiding places. By the end of the evening, ‘star players’ avoided detection by balancing precariously on top of the fridge or between an opened door and the wooden architrave surrounding the doorway. Frustrated ‘Assassins’ passed many times through the opening below oblivious to the potential prey balanced above their heads.
The joy, the laughter, the camaraderie between games played was wonderful. Times like these can’t really be created; they are bright, serendipitous, events that make life rich and full. Though we try hard to replicate them, because we love them so much, they are often impossible to recreate.
The experience impacted the group of people in an inexplicable way. We had shared a very special experience and that experience help to bond us together for the remainder of our time together. 32 years later, though I no longer remember the names of those present, I still remember the event very fondly and with great clarity.
Was there any ‘educational’ value in what we did? Not in an academic sense but as education for life the experience was priceless.
Society and schools understand very clearly the value of sport as part of the curriculum. Yet game playing of a different sort is often challenged as time wasting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Classroom games have their own inherent value. I will never forget observing the joy of self discovery students have when they find themselves able to excel in games despite always struggling academically. Children value games and they value good game players. Students who have never excelled academically, never excelled in sport, sometimes show hidden talents in games requiring entirely different skills.
Some students for example demonstrate incredible self control in an elimination game like ‘Dead Fish’ where they must remain absolutely still and quiet for as long as possible. A game like ‘Wink Murder’, where players have to guess the identity of a chosen killer in the group before everyone dies with a wink, helps develop great powers of observation and the ability to read a person’s face for the slightest hint of deception. In a game like ‘Knee Fights’ students can develop excellent reflexes and bodily coordination while being the first to tap their partner 5 times on the knee. Word games of all sorts train the mind to think quickly and creatively and when combined with storytelling train students to use their imagination in a powerful way.
The possibilities are endless and limited only by the imagination of the teacher. Expand your repertoire of games and you also expand your ability to modify or create games for specific purposes. If you haven’t already discovered it as an educator, I encourage you to explore the great power of classroom games of all kinds.