teaching · turgid institution

Guest Post: The game’s afoot

Getting my blog fix this cool but lovely fall weekend, still a little high after Calgary managed to elect as our mayor Naheed Nenshi. Racism, homophobia, Islamophobia definitely raised their ugly and omnipresent heads during and after the election, and yet…I feel that collective pride in a job well done. Many of my students wore their purple t-shirts and tweeted non-stop @nenshi.

There is a but coming, and you know it.

However, when I take stock, as I frequently (over)do, of my academic life in all of its contexts, I know that my impatience this year overflows at work. And why? I have designed an ace course (“The ethics and politics of gaming”) and the students are, gamely, attempting to work out all of this inquiry-based stuff and perhaps have some fun too (this weekend, watching them try to complete a tournament, has been a blast, which again gives the thoughtful pedagogue in me pause: when did I stop having real fun with students? did I ever? do other professors have fun? perhaps I am not a fun kinda gal, just plain prone to grumpiness). In my older-middle age, aka wisdom, my recent and more frequent fits of mini-lashings out, polite refusals, strategic-if-not-always-clever complaints—as well as inner sighs and eye-rollings at many twists and turns—are triggered by how increasingly and dauntingly our academic lives are slowed down by processes of numbing inefficiency, form-filling (paper, in this day and age?), be-there-or-be-square organizing (sure, I can make that meeting at sunrise), querulousness, posturing and (hear it in this post), defensiveness.

In the end, I worry politically about the inculcation of these values in the first-year students I feel both protective towards and so deeply frustrated by (hear the old cry of the inquiry-teacher: where is their curiosity? their drive to find things out? their connectedness? their gratitude?). Well, duh. Where has ours disappeared to in this place of performance indicators and whoever gets most bums in the seats wins and have we survived the term yes or no? My most memorable moments from the last two weeks have been to hear what is usually unvoiced in our carefully-articulated academic free state. “We will do this because we have been told.” “We have to.” Worse, I realized that I fully accepted that logic, and then turned on my heel, entered my classroom and expected students in their first term at university not to, to ask the tough and confusing questions while I chatted to them about structures, rules, liberatory pedagogy, and asked them to play card games without rules. [Wonderful game, Fluxx, for the curious.]

Sure, I am having great fun this weekend, but that overlays my jittery anxiety about an ongoing and increasing trend in an academic game (in its most serious sense) that really has forgotten to ask questions that many activists brought to the academy in the first place. What an irony that women, particularly racialized women, or women with illnesses and disabilities (the list is much longer of course) are being overseen and thus overlooked, a trend that is mirrored in the classroom. Back to playing the game, though. One of my students has completed the quest and the blog is abuzz, if confused. Someone has suggested a games night. Hallelujah!

Aruna Srivastava

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: The game’s afoot

  1. <---student with a disability, a non-obvious one, but one that does directly affect my university career.
    Ironically I get more awe and surprise when I'm not a total idiot. Either that, or they don't believe that I am literally crippled by anxiety and the inability to concentrate on a daily basis, so much so that I actually have to approach certain instructors about when I'm taking new meds so that they don't think I'm going nuts, or think they are boring when I start yawning uncontrollably or suddenly have to leave the class room because I'm about to pretend I just had an entire bottle of tequila the night before.

    (the more I write comments, the more I think I should just actually write something substantial).

    However, although I like it when my prof makes a class fun, I would much rather learn something, because yes, the truth is, I have to take this course to graduate. Whether it is an elective to meet credit requirements, or a core course required to get my specific degree. If I'm spending what is it now, something like 300 bucks a course, I want my monies worth. Perhaps because I have to pay for this education out of my own pocket via student loans and working I am more serious about what I'm doing. Maybe it was that year off in the middle of the degree that let me clear my head and re-prioritize.

    I also doubt its an age thing to be prone to grumpiness…if it is, then I'm going to be the most irate, ornery, fanatical woman when I hit 45. Should be interesting.

    This seems like a random jitter of thought, and it is…but I felt like commenting..
    and simultaneously wondering why I didn't see your course when I was picking my classes this year..I wish I could play games.


  2. Thanks for your response, which (naturally) I got to well after the end of term. I could blog forever on my perception that the course was a failure, and why, but stay tuned for my as yet unrealized blog on living with chronic illness. Indeed, I believe my life in academe is likely more informed by these circumstances than by any other of the intersecting circumstances of race, gender, sexuality that I am passionate about in the classroom and out of it.

    As to your comment, I would suggest to colleagues and to students that fun and learning are not opposed at all (somewhere I read a piece called “Who TooK the Fun Out of Teaching and Learning?” but I can't find it)–and indeed problematizing the word is essential. Indeed.

    If you are paying for education, you want it to be a good one, but our cry (by this I mean some educators') is that education is not a product but a process. How can we be sure that we are getting our money's worth out of a course in a system that has already determined that we *pay* for an education (If you see what I mean. And, who makes the rules? How do we know that one student's or professor's sense of worth is the same as another's?

    I certainly appreciate your thoughtfulness here, since one of the things that critical educators are often working against is a systemic tendency, taught and learned, to passivity rather than questioning. As for playing games, it wasn't all “just” fun for most of us indeed, since the focus of the course was on ethics and politics, but I was surprised after this post went up and was distributed at collegial silence–this has always told me a lot.

    I wrote the blog post mid-term at a high grumpy point, when I felt the class was going to really “work”, before I myself succumbed (great Victorian word, eh?) to a severe onset of another round of one of my illnesses, and have thus lost the orneriness. Irate, ornery, fanatical women have done great things for the world. Thanks again for your kind attention and apologies for my very delayed response.


Comments are closed.