I’ve finally had a chance to look at the feedback from Isaac Joslin’s students, who played Sans-Papiers a few weeks ago in the context of Joslin’s course on immigration in France.
Of the 18 responses I received, 13 made some mention of the rules being difficult to understand or complicated; 13 used some variation of “interesting” or “fun” to describe play (one instance of “magnifique” is included in this count). A few did not address game play at all, but instead outlined a perceived lesson on the hardships of immigrant life.
Here are some selected comments, with my thoughts:
I think a board for characters to move or land on different spaces would be easier to follow. […] I also think marriage should be random and affect your income. The board could include a get divorced space or an arrest for domestic violence, etc.
This student is essentially describing the Game of Life, upon which Sans-Papiers is not based. The Game of Life is not an interesting game, nor is it a good model, so I certainly don’t want Sans-Papiers to move in its direction. But Life is a popular board game; I remember playing (and hating) it a few times in my relatively board game-poor childhood, so I’m not surprised to see that students who are not game savvy have also experienced it. It’s normal to want new things to be more like familiar things, and to want challenging things to be more like simple things. The solution for this problem, it seems to me, is to increase exposure to new things. Once students have played many more kinds of games, they will more easily differentiate a role-playing game, which is driven by player choices, strategy, and probabilities, from the casual “game of chance” with a superficially-similar theme.
Je pense que this game would be very fun, had we maybe gone over the instructions beforehand. It’s always interesting to play games that incorporate real-life situations like this, but one needs to know how to play.
An excellent point, and one that brings me back to some thoughts I’ve had about designing pre-game games. Before a large test or a deep activity, teachers often administer shorter, simpler tests or activities designed to prepare students for the more demanding task to come, and to make that task seem more intuitive. When gearing up for a game that will seem foreign to many students, a short pre-game game that can be played at home in just a few minutes may help them understand the new framework and make it easier to learn more sophisticated rules in class, come game day. I will talk about this more in a future post.
This was a very entertaining game and it effectively demonstrated the frustration and difficulty of being an immigrant.
Only a few students made no mention of the game’s rules being complicated or difficult to understand, which suggests that this student may have played Dungeons & Dragons or another tabletop RPG in the past and thus had a ready understanding of the game’s mechanics. When my own students played Sans-Papiers for the first time, many of them took some time to inspect the unfamiliar non-six-sided dice, while one student excitedly explained that such dice are used for Dungeons & Dragons, which she had played once. This feedback suggests to me that, with adequate preparation, students will have the kind of challenging, thought-provoking play experience the game is designed to deliver.