Jiituomas (jiituomas) wrote,

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Book Review: Playing the Learning Game.

The short book, Playing the learning game: A practical introduction to educational roleplaying, edited by Martin E. Andresen, is a layman-friendly guide to the basics of edu-larping, in a very hands-on manner. Born out of the Larpwriter Challenge project, it gives example scenarios, a few experience reports and some practical ideas for people interested in either using such games or just reading about them. What it does not provide, however, is any sort of an educational science framework on game-based learning, and in many ways seems to represent black-box thinking on that part.

Nevertheless, the fact that it's based on actual experiences and well-tested games means that it can be trusted as a guidebook for actually functioning ideas. The editor's excellent introduction outlines that point well. Of the short essays, of particular interest to me was the one by Malik Hyltoft, which while quite blatantly advertising role-playing pedagogy also remained wisely critical of it. In turn, Aarebrot and Nielsen, presenting the intriguing edu-larp "Prisoner for a Day" provide an excellent example of the necessity of proper post-game anchoring in order to avoid harmfully situated learning. Some more language correction would have done each of the pieces good, however, as small but frequent linguistic errors may make the book seem amateurish to some readers, and it most certainly is not. While it may be down-to-earth in style, the authors are notable experts in what they write about.

Included are also three mini-larps and one jeepform game. Two of them are inspirational, two directly educational, yet the inspirational ones can be used for education, too, and the edu-games played without educational goals. In the first category goes the brilliant "Family Andersson" by Nolemo & Röklander, a game about dividing an inheritance that uses shared character ownership. The other one is more an outline than a complete game: "Hostage" by jeepers Fritzon and Wrigstad functions as a system of scenes, which can be played in multiple ways. It's very powerful, but left me wondering if it's really as beginner-friendly as all the rest of the material in the book. Then there's my own "The Tribunal", which has now been run more times than I can count, in a dozen countries, with a wonderful new illustration next to it. The fourth is the winner of the Belarusian Larpwriter Challenge, Sergey Loparev's amazing "1942: The Police". Sharp historical drama and commentary, packed inside a smartly streamlined, stylish and brutal mini-larp.

Rounding up the package is a set of tools, with discussion on debriefing, workshops and warm-up. Quite elementary, but all the more suitable for use by beginners as well as reminders for experienced organizers. All in all, while not very complex (excluding the game designs), Playing the learning game is practical, useful and oftentimes also impressive. It's the kind of user-oriented larp theory that critical voices from outside ivory towers have been clamoring for, so I seriously hope it finds the right audiences - the people who will put it to good use.

The book can be purchased from Lulu. It's a bit pricey compared to its size, but I nevertheless recommend it for any serious enthusiast of edu-larping.

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