Entertainment of the mind

Marcus
photography by Hlumela Mkabile, story by Tope Adebola 

Learning by doing is far more stimulating that trawling through tons of theory. This is true in educational contexts as well as in corporate ones. “We have a biologicla need to play,” explained Marcus Vlaar, chief creative officer and co-founder of Ranj Serious Gaming.

The Think!Fest talk “The Ancient Learning Method of the Future” expanded on the use of state-of-the-art game formats for situations other than just recreation.

“Ranj” is a Sanskrit word the founders felt was a good summary of what they do. “It’s a combination of entertainment and triggering the mind,” Vlaar said.

The company has produced more than 400 games in the last 15 years and for the first five years they battled the stigma surrounding adults playing games. But once companies were convinced that Ranj’s productions were relevant to their purpose they began to use them and refer to them (euphemistically) as “interactive storylines”.

Vlaar’s favourite description of the purpose of games comes from modern philosopher Bernard Suits, who states “playing a game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstances”. When playing golf, for exmaple, the objective is to get the ball into a tiny hole from a distance. “If we did that in the most efficient way, simply picking up the ball and dropping it into the hole, wouldn’t be fun or challenging,” Vlaar explained.

Games are also not random, they have explicit rules and predefined roles that are complex enough to be beneficial for learning. “They’re fun because they’re hard, not easy,” Vlaar emphasised.

Ranj creates for a myriad outfits, ranging from law firms to pharmaceutical companies and even accounting practices. The company’s strength lies in producing narrative games where employees navigate their way through different scenarios using limited time and limited amounts of information. “This is important as it allows you to see the consequences of your actions, which is nice to do in a safe environment,” Vlaar said.

The potential compatibility of teaching and gaming drew William Walters to the talk. Walters is an avid gamer and member of Rhodes University’s Gamesoc, and said “a lot of my psychology research has been based on gaming benefits, like increased problem-solving and improved perception.”

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