When I was in high school, we had social studies, which in our neck of the woods was called ‘Knowledge
of the World’ (Connaissance du monde).
One day the teacher, a young bespectacled man with unruly, curly hair, gave us an assignment. That announcement alone made us teenagers gasp with desperation.
We could choose the topic.
Ah, things were looking up!
I don’t remember all the suggested topics, but they were along the lines of ‘Pick a current affairs subject and present it to the class’ and other similarly ‘worldly’ subjects.
One topic made me look up: ‘Invent a game and teach it to the class’.
Hah! I didn’t even have to think about it twice. That was going to be a piece of cake. Easy choice. Mine!
I found my sparring, or should I say ‘gaming’, partner and we were scheduling a few trips down the local café to brainstorm our game over a coffee or beer (this is Europe in the 80ies, ok!).
After our first session, it became clear that inventing a game is not an easy undertaking.
With a current affairs subject, all you had to do was collect the information, zoom in and write the story you wanted to tell. But at least the material was already there! Here, we had NOTHING to start from. What kind of game? Using existing game elements or coming up with a completely new environment? How many players? What goal?
At our third bar session – we had moved from coffee to beer – we started to get desperate. We were not making progress and the deadline for presenting was coming dangerously closer.
Back then we had never heard about creative thinking, exercises and tools for generating ideas, but let me tell you, we would have killed (or at least paid a round of beers) for them!
So we broke the task down into small doable steps and decisions.
- Depart from an existing game? Yes
- Which one? Board game. Checkers/chess.
- What strategy/goal should the game have? Sort of cat and mouse hunt.
- What pawns/objects etc? Sugar cubes and matches (well, those were props readily available in the bar…).
In the end, we had our game ready on time and taught it to the class. They loved it (which was probably mostly due to the funny character of my gaming partner – thanks René!) and I remember getting a good grade for it.
We took the easiest option thinking, wrongly, that we’d get off easy.
We swore a lot, stressed a lot and learned a lot.
And that alone is why in the end we were happy to have made this ‘easy’ choice.
So next time you think you have an easy path: take it!
It may or it may not be easy, it may not be what you expected, nice or even fun, but you will always come out having learned something.
And as my grandma (who bore 15 children and died at age 93) always used to say: never go to bed without having learned something.