Crime games: Carrie Mier and her use of board games in Criminal Justice course

Crime games: Carrie Mier and her use of board games in Criminal Justice course

This Faculty Feature series highlights innovative teaching and educational engagement at IU East, and connects content to interesting library resources. Our first profile is about Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice, Dr. Carrie Mier. Her teaching and research areas include drug issues in criminal justice, violence and victimization, and criminal theory. Mier applies experiential and service learning in her courses. We interviewed her for information to highlight the use of board games in the Criminal Justice “Theories of Crime and Deviance” (CJUS P200) course.

Why use board games in the classroom?

Mier’s interest in board games began about seven years ago, with the Pathfinder series. Her collection steadily grew over time until now there are more than 50 games of all shapes, sizes, themes, and difficulties. Mier notes that there is a body of academic work that conceptualizes using games in the classroom as a form of active learning for students. She explained that “Theories and concepts that are abstract when being talked about through lecture suddenly make sense when an objective, strategy, and tangible meeples are added to the equation.”

Length of games for classroom use

There are a lot of crime and justice themed games like Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game, Chronicles of Crime, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. Mier shared that “I’ve always wanted to bring my love of board games into my classroom. The problem is that these games take place over long periods of time and are harder to integrate into a classroom setting where we only meet a few days a week for short periods of time.” So for the P200 course, Mier focused on a theme in criminological theory – rational choice – and created a game week aimed at reinforcing decision-making, choices, luck, and strategy. She selected shorter games that could be played during the 75 minutes of scheduled class time.

Students’ response to games during class

Students responded positively and enjoyed playing new games they didn’t know like Sushi Go!, Get Bit!, Unspeakable Words, Dragon Farkle, and Epic Spell Wars. The first day of Game Week Mier focused more on easier games that did not have much strategy to them – instead luck and quick decisions were the way to win. For the second day of Game Week she focused on harder, more strategy-filled games where choices were definitely important to success overall and had to be made carefully.

Games for fun AND learning

Mier observed that students enjoyed most of the games used during Game Week but that a few standout favorites were Smash Up!, Unspeakable Words, Jenga, Dragon Farkle, Epic Spell Wars, and Unstable Unicorns. She explained, “I think the games that got students competitively engaged in strategy and pushed them to make decisions aimed at winning were the most successful. Though it took much more preparation and instructional support, I believe the second day with the harder games was more instrumental to helping students understand choice and consequences as well as choice structuring which is all part of criminological theory.”

Mier’s favorite games tend to be cooperative (coop) games where working with teammates is needed to win the game. This includes games like Pandemic, Zombicide: Black Plague, Legendary: Marvel, Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Dead of Winter. She also enjoys well- illustrated games, such as Wingspan and Parks.  Role-playing games (RPG) Mier enjoys at home are Lords of Waterdeep, Roll Player, Dice Throne, Gloomhaven, The Legend of Drizzt, and Pathfinder: The Adventure Card Game.  She especially likes figuring out new strategies that are different from the norm of everyday activities.

Tips for implementing games during class

Mier recommends starting small and being familiar with the games you’re using – either having played it yourself or knowing the rules enough to answer student questions.  Having assistants is helpful also. Mier’s Teaching Assistant Caysey Farmer was there during implementation, along with Humanities and Social Sciences Library Liaison KT Lowe.  They interacted with students to answer questions, as well as playing the games with them.

Mier emphasizes being flexible and explained, “I had a plan in my head before I started Game Week of what games I wanted to play because they really do a great job of highlighting choice, decision-making, and consequences. But once I saw that some of my students struggled with the “simpler” games that were not as difficult or complex, I knew I needed to revisit my own choices and make sure that the games I selected were a bit easier to implement and digest for students who were not as familiar with board games as I was. I also made sure I was readily available to answer questions during gameplay, and I reminded students that they were most likely going to mess up due to the games being harder, but the most important thing was to have fun and think about the decisions they were making!”

Recommended resources

To learn more about the theories and practices of using board games in college courses, Mier recommends the Teach, Play, Learn conference. It is an IU-wide event that highlights the use of games in the classroom and can serve as a helpful introduction.

The website Board Game Geek (BGG) is a comprehensive resource for all the different types of games available. The rating systems, reviews, and tutorials provide support for those who may be wondering how games work and how they may fit into their curriculum.

The YouTube channels for Watch it Played, Dice Tower, and Shut Up & Sit Down demonstrate how games are played, and help one learn the rules.   The 15-minute “How to Teach Board Games like a Pro” video could be a useful starting point.

Mier also suggests visiting a local gaming store and noted, “It is an eye-opening experience in itself, as there are tons of games that can fit into any medium you’re teaching about. There are staff knowledgeable about game content who can aid you in finding a fun, out of the box, active learning game for your course.”

Learn more about board games in college classes

The IU East Campus Library has many sources of information to learn more about using board games in college courses. Some highlights include articles focusing on games that teach about social class stratification, scientific reasoning, and pediatric medicine. You can read about perceptions of benefits by students experiencing Game-Based Learning (GBL) methodologies, how games are used in business marketing courses, and understanding reactions to risks through playing board games. And lots more! If you need assistance, just Ask Us!   

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