Monday, June 25, 2007

Game Instruction: How to Make a Learning Game a Positive Experience

I work at a FLGS and, as a result, I find myself teaching lots of games. I've already posted on how to teach games effectively. Now let's look at the things a person should do if they are learning a game.

1. Show up on time

If the learning game is a prescheduled event, please be on time. A "learning game" will already take a longer than average amount of time anyway. There's no need to make it any longer than it has to be.

2. Make sure you have enough time to finish the game before you begin

Don't sit down to a table to learn a game without figuring out if you have enough time to finish it. Having to a leave any game (what's more - a "learning game") in the middle pretty much wrecks the experience for everyone else.

3. Please turn off your cell phone..or at least don't answer it.

For some reason, some people just don't understand the idea that their phone conversation puts the entire game on hold as it halts the game explanation for everybody. If you're in the initial stages of a game explanation and you receive a very important call that:
-Can't be ignored and
-Will take some time ..
..then do the noble thing and withdraw from the game so you aren't holding it up for everyone else.

4. Be willing to fail

My motto with learning games is this:"The purpose of a learning game is to learn the rules, not to win."If I happen to win then that's great. However, it's important to just try things out and not to worry so much about trying to play a perfect game the first time. Otherwise, what happens is a person takes way too much time on each turn and it makes the already long learning game even longer.

5. Choose your game instructor carefully

A bad teaching experience can taint one's experience with a game - thus causing a game one might otherwise enjoy to leave a negative first impression. There are some people that I honestly would not want to learn a game from as I know their inability to explain things clearly will result in a frustrating experience for me. There are times when I may still press forward because I want to learn a particular game and I'm willing to deal with a sub-par explaination - but I try to avoid it when I can.

6. When possible, be selective about who will be learning the game with you

If I'm debating about whether to sit down and learn a game, often it is the group of people involved that can make the decision for me. I try to make sure I avoid learning a game with "rules lawyers", "chronic APers", people who "have to win at all costs", or people for whom the game would not be appropriate (ex. if I want to learn a heavy game and I see that the table is made up of people who are primarily party gamers who don't usually like "thinking games", then I'm probably not going to join so I don't have to put up with their inevitable attempts at getting attention, making jokes, and trying to "lighten" the situation up once they realize that the game requires more thought than they anticipated).

This point is not about being mean. It's about knowing your limits and being realistic about other people. If a person is known for being a "rules lawyer" then they are probably going to do that during the game. Am I willing to deal with that or am I not? If I join a game where a rules lawyer is learning as well, I do so with the understanding and acceptance that there will be some accompanying baggage. If I'm not willing to deal with that, then I shouldn't sit down at the table and then proceed to get upset at the other person when they start doing what they are inevitably going to do. In other words, don't try to "force" the learning game into being a better experience. Rather, accept the situation for what it is and make an informed decision about whether or not to join.

7. Be respectful of the instructor

If someone is going to go to the trouble of explaining a game to me, the least I can do is make sure I'm not overburdening them in the process with excessive distractions. I occasionally like to joke around when learning a game but I try to be mindful of the situation and of whether or not it is reaching the point of annoying the instructor. Too much distraction can make an instructor really feel like they are "working" to explain a game - and that's just rude to do that to them.

8. Ask questions (but be willing to wait for the answers)

If you have a question, it's okay to ask it but remember that some questions, to be properly answered (or for the answer to make sense), you will have to wait until several further aspects of a game are explained first before you get your answer. Remember that patience is a strong virtue when learning a game.

9. If you find that you are not liking the game, try to maintain a positive attitude

This is the one I struggle with the most. If I'm not liking a game, it's usually obvious to everyone around me. However, the proper thing to do is to maintain a positive attitude because, after all, someone else was willing to spend their time to teach you a game. You don't have to lie and say you love the game but having a bad attitude makes it much less likely that the person who taught you the game will be willing to teach you other games in the future - which leads into my last point.

10. Be sure to thank the instructor for taking the time to teach you the game

Even if you hated the game, always be sure to express some gratitude to the person who was willing to teach you the game. Teaching games can be hard work. We should be grateful learners.

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