Sunday, June 24, 2007

Game Instruction: The Ten Essential Characteristics of a Quality Game Instructor

I used to have a job where I was essentially teaching other people how to teach - which was a great experience. I have noticed that the problems I found in people's teaching methods while I had that job are all too commonplace in the arena of boardgamers who try to teach a new game to someone. It's pretty amazing at first that someone who knows the rules of a game in, out, backwards, and forwards can so astoundingly botch the explanation of those same rules. However, awareness of the principles in this list can help a person see a little more clearly why so many people are so bad at explaining rules. Also, even if someone is a skilled explainer, their attributes/characteristics can be problematic if they are lacking in some particular areas. So, what follows are the Ten Essential Characteristics of a Quality Game Instructor.

1. A quality game instructor is familiar with a wide variety of games (different types, different levels of depth, different group sizes, etc.)

This is important because it's not all about teaching the game well. In many cases, it's about selecting the right game to teach in the first place. If one is familiar with a wide enough variety of games then one can recommend or select a game that will work for the particular situation at hand. No matter how good of a teacher you are, if you have the wrong game for the wrong crowd, you probably won't have a great experience.

2. A quality game instructor is familiar with the rules of the particular game he or she is trying to teach.

3. A quality game instructor takes an “active learning” approach to teaching.

What this means is that the instructor explains things while encouraging people to participate in the process. Instead of reading half the rule book out loud or spending a large amount of time explaining the rules verbally before beginning the game, a quality instructor tries to get the players into the game quickly so the rules are explained within some kind of context. Without context, too much information flow leads to an early saturation level at which point the learner will simply shut down and any further explanation only has the illusion of effectiveness. A classic example of someone making this kind of mistake is the person who tries to explain what every single building does in Puerto Rico before any of the players have even selected a role or started the game.

4. A quality game instructor is aware of the responses of his or her learners and can recognize body language. (Ex. spaced out look = not understanding what’s going on).

5. A quality game instructor is flexible - particularly in two main areas:
a. The instructor can vary the speed or depth of the explanation to fit the needs of the learners
b. The instructor knows how to explain concepts, rules, and mechanics in several different ways (not just one way)

6. A quality game instructor clarifies the meanings of specific game terms and other jargon before using those terms as part of explaining the rules.

This is the principle I see violated perhaps more than any other on this list. It's probably the most easy failing to suffer from for a person who knows a game really well because they have used the game's terms for so long that they have simply forgotten that new players don't automatically know what those terms mean.

7. A quality game instructor clarifies potential misconceptions while explaining rules (ex. “this rule means that you can do A, B, or C but you can’t do X, Y, or Z”).

8. A quality game instructor is patient in that he or she is willing to explain a rule again, willing to re-explain a rule a different way, and willing to answer questions as the game progresses.

This is a big one. I've seen people who know the rules of a game really well become quickly irritated just because someone asked a simple clarification question. Another context in which this principle is violated is when a gamer who is experienced with the game at hand is playing with new learners but where someone else is the designated instructor. Too often, the experienced gamer will impatiently chime in and try to answer questions from the new player instead of letting the designated instructor do their job. What results when this happens is that the new player becomes hesitant to ask any more questions because it results in getting scattered answers from several people all at the same time.

9. A quality game instructor let’s the players play the game (i.e. doesn’t get in the way by offering too much unsolicited or unwarranted advice).

This is perhaps the second most violated principle on this list because gamers tend to have this really bad habit of insisting on trying to discuss lots of strategy with someone who is simply trying to learn the rules of the game. This hearkens back to principle 3 of this list in that trying to discuss lots of strategy without a firm context in the learner's mind yet results in a saturation point where all of the extra talk becomes just that - extra talk.

10. A quality game instructor has an attitude conducive to a learning atmosphere - meaning they:
-like to teach
-consistently reinforce the idea of “this is just a learning game” to take the pressure off of newer gamers when teaching a new game
-genuinely enjoy gaming

No comments: