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Throw the dice to learn about volunteering!

Colorful slips of paper are lying all over the floor.  A huge plush die is under the table and the people in the room are staring at a peculiarly gesturing fellow man. What on earth is going on?

There is an explanation for the chaos described above. All this started in February 2018, when I started working for the Jeesaan project at Kansalaisareena. This served as training for my studies for a Bachelor’s degree in Social Services. The goal of my training was to get experience in applying and using different methods of social services. My goals agreed perfectly with the Jeesaan project´s effort to make volunteering a part of studies in Vantaa high schools and vocational schools through functional methods. So, we combined our forces for the spring.

Those three months in training taught me, among other things, that things are not necessarily as chaotic as they appear at first sight. For example, in the situation described above, a volunteering game developed by the Jeesaan project was being tested and everything was totally under control. Gesturing in a strange way was the result of people facing very diverse tasks during the game: presenting volunteer activities as a mime, performing audio description, producing ideas for a volunteering project, or considering the challenges of different situations while volunteering.

First steps towards the legendary game

As designing a volunteering course for educational institutions started with the project leader, creativity blossomed immediately. Ideas started flying all over. Particularly, we fell in love with one of them immediately: let’s create a volunteering game! What would be a more effective way to get students involved in learning and to combine different opportunities and methods? Moreover, just any game isn´t good enough for us; of course it will be a game playable on a classroom sized game board!

We were full of excitement and first we went to buy a big plush die. We soon realized that the development of a comprehensive game needed more than just enthusiasm and a die. We needed a vision about what all we wanted to cover in our game, and how could we do it in practice. To find such a vision took a surprisingly long time. Especially in our situation, where the idea was being tackled by two over-enthusiastic game developers.

How to recognize an enthusiastic game developer?

You can recognize an enthusiastic game developer from the fact that he or she sees possibilities everywhere. When you walk through a railway station, he or she dreams about setting up the game in that environment. When you walk to Tokmanni, it is possible to come up with a purpose in the game for nearly every product on the shelfs.

We made a habit of asking each other the question ”threat or an opportunity?”, when we got new –  and sometimes a little crazy – ideas.  You can recognize an enthusiastic game developer also from the fact that he or she sees opportunities instead of threats around him or her. An enthusiastic game developer´s hand print, however, can be recognized, because at some point the clarity of the game begins to suffer from the fact that every idea – even crazy – must be included. That is when the enthusiastic game developer must look in the mirror, swallow his or her disappointment, and put some of the brilliant ideas back in the back pocket to wait for the next game development project.

So let’s play!

The moment of the truth was when the first official test game was played in April at Tikkurila high school. About ten students had enrolled in the volunteering course. The game was played during one of our three meetings. When the high school teacher for the first time heard about our intention to familiarize students with volunteering through a game, the comment was: ”Oh, I wish someone would develop a game for every subject we study!”.

The students also accepted the game gleefully. Our course was assessed in the feedback forms for example with the words ”cool course”. Therefore, we came to the conclusion that the game couldn´t at least entirely be ”uncool”. The students also mentioned that it was fun to learn through a game and that in particular, it was useful to hear other players´ views on the issues related to volunteering.

Based on the feedback, we wanted to increase the challenge and tempo of the game. Therefore, the game will keep growing and evolving even though my training is about to end. Our idea is to have the game on the Jeesaan project’s website by fall, so that everyone can freely use it for volunteer orientation. So, it´s worth to keep checking it out!

Text: Hanna-Leena Saavalainen

Translator: Kati Merikoski

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