From Professor to Entrepreneur

by Raymond A. “Ray” Kimball, EdD (he/him)

This week we welcome Dr. Ray Kimball, founder of 42 Ed Games Coaching and Design, and a long-term advocate for games-based learning.

Like so many NASAGA members, I am “all-in” on using games to promote education and learning. I’ve used live-action role roleplaying and board games in my history courses to get students thinking deeper about historical method and agency. When it came time for me to retire from teaching, I knew I wanted to help others explore game-based learning. Come along with me on my journey from professor to entrepreneur!

Promoting Game-Based Learning, One Classroom at a Time

 I stumbled onto game-based learning more or less by accident. As a junior faculty member in the Department of History at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (USMA)[1], I was looking for options to liven up my section of our first-year world history survey course. At the time, it was a broad survey of multiple cultures over two semesters, notorious for jumping from region to region over the course of individual lessons. What I needed was short games that could be easily contained in a single lesson and focus on a narrow set of topics. I started with our lesson on Greek philosophy and created a simple, role-playing activity. Students, working in groups, had to play Golden Age Greek philosophers or schools of thought to convince me how to educate my (then) four-year-old son. It generated a wonderful level of engagement, and I was hooked. My classroom would never be the same.

As the course evolved from a broad survey to a two-semester set of regional histories, I had to evolve my classroom with it. I decided to double down on live-action roleplaying, this time focusing on more fully-fleshed out individual historical roles that students would inhabit. I still had to use games that could be played out in individual lessons, because the course pacing remained rapid and daunting.

The Outcomes

The outcome of that effort was a pair of games that emphasized the collision of elites with the challenges of early Western modernity. Cuius Regio[2], a simulation of Reformation-era politics in a German principality choosing the religious authority for the region, came first. I mimicked that game’s structure for After Catherine, where students vied for authority in late-18th century Imperial Russia. Both were consistently cited in course evals as the high points of my class sessions.            

I’m embarrassed to admit that I did all of the above without drawing on any external resources. Although my department was incredibly supportive of my work, I was wholly ignorant of the vast array of professional educational gaming resources available to support me. Had I known about groups like NASAGA or the Reacting Consortium,[3] I probably could have avoided some initial pitfalls and missteps in my early games.

Five Years Later

Fast forward to five years later, I enrolled in the Doctorate of Education in Learning Technologies program at Pepperdine. I had the good fortune of taking a class on game-based learning from NASAGA’s own Mark Chen! They showed me the why of game-based learning: why some things work and other things don’t, and why game-based learning is so effective as an educational tool.

That course, coupled with some fantastic work in learning theory as a whole, inspired me to become an advocate for game-based learning when I returned to USMA as a senior faculty member. I also had the good fortune to stumble on Reacting to the Past while attending the Games, Learning, and Society conference at the University of Madison.

Refning Ideas

  Now, I had the tools I needed to really advocate for game-based learning and a community to back me up. I found enthusiastic support from the leadership of USMA’s Department of History for experimenting with Reacting games in the core history curriculum. In my own classroom, I refined the games I built previously and added to my library. Thanks to feedback via the Reacting Faculty Lounge, I added a co-author for Eyeball to Eyeball: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962.

She expanded that game from a simple East vs. West showdown to a more nuanced treatment of multipolar actors in a nascent global media environment. I also used my exposure to matrix games via the U.S. Army War College’s Department of Strategic Wargaming to create my first tabletop game. The Mongol Matrix Game served two purposes in my Russian History survey: it was a simple introduction to role-playing for first year students early in the semester and it gave me a way to set the stage for more complex games later in the course. The games continued to be popular with the cadets and enormously fulfilling to run.

Founding a New Pursuit

  When it came time for me to retire, I knew I wanted to help others share and implement game-based learning. I founded 42 Educational Games Coaching and Design[1] (“42EdGames” for short) to help higher ed faculty who want to use game-based learning in their classes, but aren’t certain where to start. For the cost of attending a conference, I can find off-the-shelf games that are a good fit for that educator’s classroom and, in a few weeks, create all of the necessary supporting documentation to execute the game with minimal hassle. Custom game design is also an option for educators with more resources and time.

 Members of NASAGA, of course, need little coaching on game-based learning. But I hope that 42EdGames will be a resource for your colleagues who haven’t started that journey, and I’m happy to explore options with them. In doing so, I hope to bring more members and advocates to the community that has been so inspirational and helpful to me.

42 Ed Games logo

About the Author

Ray Kimball, EdD, is the Chief Executive Officer of 42 Educational Games Coaching and Design (“42EdGames” for short). He is an education professional with years of experience in game-based learning and collaborative professional development that meets the needs of diverse teams. Ray founded 42EdGames in 2020 so he could continue his dream of serving higher education faculty by helping them harness the power of game-based pedagogy. 42EdGames is for every college educator, whether they have experience with game-based learning or not. We urge clients to ask questions and share their ideas. With 42EdGames, nothing is too nerdy, silly or outrageous! Contact Ray at ray@42ed.games or via @42EdGames on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn


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[1] This article is not endorsed by and does not represent the official position of the U.S. Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

[2] The title comes from the Latin phrase cuius regio, eius religio (“He who rules chooses the religion.”)

[3] The Reacting Consortium is an alliance of colleges, universities, and individual faculty committed to developing and publishing the Reacting to the Past series of role-playing games for higher education and providing programs for faculty development and curricular change.

[4] The “42” comes from Douglas Adams’ famous answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

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