Academics rejoice! I have found a use for those hard-earned skills of yours that seem completely unimpressive when talking to your (or somebody else’s) children. Kids don’t care that you can ask a follow-up question with no less than three parts (plus one that’s more of a comment than a question). They don’t care that you have mastered the art of looking someone straight in the eye and muttering, “That’s a really interesting question/suggestion”, when what you really want to say is “Are you *Bleep* kidding me with this?” Or “Why don’t you write the book you want to write and I’ll write the book I want to write.” Nah… kids are a difficult audience to please. But, fear not scholars. There is a use for your academic skills that is sure to please kids of all ages—designing board games!
My journey to this happy discovery started with Monopoly. My daughters (8 and 5 years old) are huge Monopoly fans. They are also huge Harry Potter fans. So naturally they were quite disappointed (as was I) to find out that a Harry Potter Monopoly doesn’t exist! There’s Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean Monopoly, and many others. But no Harry Potter Monopoly. We had no choice but to take matters into our own hands and make our own Harry Potter Monopoly.
What initially seemed like a weekend project turned into a major project requiring a lot more time and effort than we had initially anticipated. However, armed with years of practice developing new course syllabi, I was more than ready for the task. So what is it about being an academic that helps with taking on such an endeavor? Here are some of the similarities between developing a new course and developing a board game.
- Background Research: When developing a new course, you might look at what others have done in the past. We too, looked at some examples on-line of what other people had created for Harry Potter Monopoly. However, just as you might critique other syllabi or find inconsistencies or omissions that may be hard for you to accept, we too found plenty of room for change.
- Reading List: Just as one of your first tasks when developing a new course might be to think of a reading list, our first task was to come up with a list of properties. And just like your first stabs at a reading list, my daughters came up with a list of properties that was about twice as long as what we needed—a comprehensive list.
- Sticks and Carrots: Academics are masters at this! Our syllabi usually have a system of rewards and punishments built into it. Similarly, most board games require you to be able to figure out what will be rewarded and what will be punished. This skill came in very handy when designing our Community Chest (Felix Felicis) and Chance (Owl Post) cards.
- Developing Sections and Sub-sections: When developing a course, you need to ask yourself: Is this a separate topic or a sub-topic of another? Does it merit its own section in the syllabus or does it fall under another section? One glaring mistake in many of the home-made HP monopoly sets we saw was that the properties were not mutually exclusive. So for instance, one version had Diagon Alley as a property but then also had Ollivanders as another property. Now all of us HP fans know that Ollivanders is in Diagon Alley, so if you own Diagon Alley, you own Ollivanders! Or that Dumbledore’s office is in Hogwarts Castle, so you can’t list both as property items. After a quick lesson in Venn diagrams and mutual exclusivity, we decided to narrow down our list by getting rid of all properties that were not mutually exclusive.
- The What and the Why: When developing a syllabus, you need to figure out what makes a reading important. You need a justification (even if it’s in your head) for why these particular readings and why in this particular order? Doing so, gives the syllabus a coherence that may not be apparent to a random viewer but is important for the creator. It turns out that you can’t answer that question of “Why these?” without having a consistent vision for the course which ties all the readings together. That is, before you answer the “Why?”, you need to answer the “What”: What are the central themes/questions of this course and how do the readings help address these themes/questions? If a reading does not fit within the vision of the course, then no matter how many other people use that reading, it should end up on the cutting floor.
And so it was with our HP Monopoly. We needed to figure out the justification for having a set of properties in a particular order (their relative worth). After a lot of conversation and unlike any of the examples we had seen, we assigned relative value (mostly) based on the main characters’ depth of emotional ties to the place, whether it served a critical function and/or helped the characters during important times (we left room for the whimsies of a 5 and 8 year old mind). With this master plan, Malfoy Manor got cut and The Burrow (the Weasley’s home) became one of the more valuable properties. This was a decision that made us all very happy.
In the end, the Harry Potter Monopoly we produced was nothing like what we had seen others do (although it borrowed elements from some of them). But it was “ours” and that made all the effort worth it. And along the way I discovered why academics are well-suited to the task of developing board games. As I think about the possibilities, I wonder what will be next? We could work on inventing an entirely new board game. Or we could start with new versions of old classics. College Clue, anyone? Was it Professor Plum, with an iPad, in the Registrar’s Office? Muwhahaha . . . you’ll have to play to find out . . .
Curious about the final product? Here are some pictures: http://www.flickr.com/photos/99456927@N03/sets/72157634820792800/
Here are some of the Harry Monopoly board games we looked at on-line: