In a room filled with the sound of laughter and crunching chips, visiting REU students from all over the world are participating in a cultural and educational experience: gaming night. A mixture of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students are participating in this week's "Discover IU" event by rolling dice and working out solutions to the mysterious disappearance of three diplomats in a secluded kingdom.
Discover IU is a program sponsored by the Center on Security Informatics which gives visiting REU students opportunities for cross-cultural experiences, exposure to opportunities that one would have as an IU student, and group building experiences that will last with the students even after their summer has ended. Students previously visited local maker spaces, the Kirkwood Observatory and attended a night of music at the Jacob's School of Music.
This night, gaming night, is being held at the Internet of Things House which is an IoT Research Lab built from a residential home and in which student researchers test IoT devices for security concerns and holes. As a residential home, it is the perfect setting for a night of dice and danger. As a group opportunity, it provides far more to the students than just a chance to meet others and relax.
As Ph.D. student Jacob Abbott, tonight’s game leader, points out - there are a plethora of reasons for students to play role playing games that extend beyond relaxation:
The game requires participants communicate and work together to problem solve as a group. In a security environment there are tons of emails, and other forms of disperse communication, but rarely do you meet in a group face to face and work together. During the game, personality traits come out and problem solving skills get improved. This helps with bonding, group building, and communication skills.
Jacob leads regular groups and has found the time well spent despite his tight schedule and long list of responsibilities. He is not alone - many of his fellow gamers are also research students who find the experience to be a beneficial part of their week.
Joining them this week is also CSI's Project Manager, Joshua Streiff, who also speaks positively of the efficacy of role playing games in the educational environment.
Group building, problem solving, resource management, and the vital ability to see situations from eyes and angles that are not your own - these are all done in the gaming environment just they are done in business development classes or psychologist's offices. This version is free, fun, and full of new people you get to meet and make all sorts of safe mistakes with, sometimes even while working out parts of your own personality like assertiveness. You can see introverts ‘play’ as extroverts, which can then show up in real world, group work.
This week the players' efforts to save the diplomats were successful despite troubles at the border, on the river and in a creepy inn that ended up being a trap responsible for the diplomats’ disappearance. Fire, steel, and laughter brought the team through despite many mistakes, missteps and miscalculations. In the end, it was their group work that was the key to success, just as it will be in their research labs.