A Player of Games

Ian_M._Banks_2005Iain M. Banks, science fiction writer, is my spark of inspiration for the Gameducate project. His 1988 novel The Player of Games imagines a future society, The Culture, that colonises through non-violent diplomacy and technological influence. The plot follows the Culture protagonist Jernau in the playing of a fabulously complex game for the title of Emperor in a rival society.

The game in Banks’ novel, Azad, is played in the Empire of Azad to determine social and political standing. It is multiplayer, multidimensional, deep enough to encompass the whole social fabric of the Empire within a simulation. Sub-games contribute to board position in the higher stakes rounds and the various stages test strategic capacity as much as political influence. It is the only game in Azad, the foundation upon which the entire Empire is built. Essentially a game as big (and important) as the Empire itself.

Like the very best science fiction should, The Player of Games started me thinking about the value of games in the present day. Entertainment? Distraction? A means to an end? Valued by a subculture but not by society? Banks had constructed a credible world that rose and fell upon the playing of games. The critical distance between his world and the “real” world made me realize that games held more social, educational and cultural value than many people ascribed to them.

A game as big as the world: MMORPGs, Minecraft, Civilizationeven tabletop classic Risk all qualify. A game critical for career advancement: professional poker, Magic: The Gathering or any other e-sport make it clear that games are life for many. I didn’t have to look far to find that Banks’ ideas were prescient observations only barely disguised as fiction.

Spoiler Alert! In The Player of Games The Culture attempts to overthrow the Empire of Azad by exposing the influence of political forces on the outcome of the great game of Azad. Banks cleverly weaves ethical and moral dimensions into his game narrative. Ethical and moral forces are similarly unseen in the games we play today: they are more often context than essential fabric, but I don’t believe that this will remain so.

I’m taking The Player of Games as a mission statement, a “What If…?” to guide my exploration of games and their unrealised potential in education. Be part of the journey? Leave me a comment or check out the collaborations section to work with me.

Note: Iain M. Banks also published gritty Scottish crime fiction under the name Iain Banks. My favourite is The Wasp Factory. He passed away in 2013.


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