The Multiverse: It’s What’s Missing from our Education Systems
Nerds, scholars, parents! I have a conundrum and solution to share with you: The universe and the multiverse are one in the same. And you might be like, “What? Who cares?” And, well first of all, I do. And secondly, I’m like the Lorax: I speak for the kids! I was a kid once and through thick and thin, I have held on to my inner child, to help guide me to figure out what the hell was missing from education. The missing link is the Multiverse.
I have this idea that Role-Playing Games in Schools is an actual academic discipline. The missing discipline that links all the others.
The discipline that helps students explore the multiverse. Not necessarily this idea that we are in a kaleidoscope of different universes that lead us paradoxically down a bazillion rabbit holes, but rather the idea that there are all these worlds of creative metaphors and symbols (for the younger gen: memes and tropes) that help us establish meaning between each other as individuals and collectively as human beings and earthlings (anything living on the Earth).
Human belief sets us apart more than anything else and can also bind us to the level of fanatics. Failure to understand each other’s value systems can lead to systematic destruction of life. Success to establish meaning between each other is where rule of law, justice and civil rights come from. We are in one single universe, but we use myth, legend, superstition, symbolism and stories to understand each other’s cultures, interpret history and make big decisions moving forward as try to connect with one another.
Instead of leaving certain story lines, personality types, and forms of expression on the fringes or oppressed, by allowing multiverse-thinking we not only allow an opportunity to critically dissect narratives, we establish the opportunity for learners to explore their subconscious minds and become comfortable with expressing themselves by which ever means suits them.
It took me three decades to realize that the multiverse — that is all around us — is not yet, but could be properly represented in our schools.
No one has made the connection that the thing that binds us all — the grand metaphor of metaphors : The Multiverse— is what’s missing formally in our school system.
And at this point we all know that the testing system, stress, pressure, competition, lack of support for exploring identity, inauthentic lessons, and explicitly boring teaching is not engaging, is not sustainable or does not make anyone thrive. And all we have to do is think of the opposites: self-directed learning, empowerment, calm, team-work, support for identity exploration, authentic learning, and implicit teaching to see that we have nothing that binds all of these things so we keep trying, but as we try to integrate descrete lessons of mindfulness, wilderness or new tech into our schools, we are just hoping that this new thing will be a silver bullet to get everyone a little less stressed and a bit more focused so we can continue with education as usual. And there are the charter schools and the new very special self-directed learning schools like Bright Works, Green School and others.
We don’t really have a word for this big scramble of stuff that we and our children are existentially processing. We like it, because we constantly crave input — from TV, internet, books, graphic novels, blogs, memes and chitchat. Those of us who go on to actual play characters inside these different worlds provided by role-playing games are going to the next level.
We want more kids to join, because they get excited, refreshed, confident, resilient, and they learn. They learn about themselves, others, patterns, motives, metaphors, motifs, relationships, skills, science, math, art, history, coding, languages, technology all inside a storytelling engine. This is the multiverse and it is what is missing from our education systems.
There are few children by the age 11, in my experience, that do not know what a ‘time paradox’ is — perhaps not by name — but they have heard about time-travel and know that if you went into the past you would alter the present or future. Through literature, internet, art, memes, plays, games, magazines, commercials, tropes, films and other forms of media children have heard about alternate histories and paradoxes, franchise universes, origin stories, game universes.
If a child has read or watched Horton Hears a Who — and any number of Dr. Seuss books they have had an introduction to the multiverse. However, what is providing children with any perspective on the multiverse? How are they processing it? The kernels and springboards are starting up all around us now in the informally coalescing Teacher-Gamer Revolution
There are few resources in school that clearly organize and model how to use our faculties of perception. Learners are told to look and watch, but rarely are they guided to see. There are some moments of literature and media studies that give youth some perspective. But how is it really doing to help them gain objective perception about the world? What is there in school to give learners complex awareness of multiple-perspectives? Some high schools have philosophy, mindfulness, and wilderness adventure programs, but by-in-large by the time learners have reached college age, public schools have not delivered the cognitive challenges to nourish their minds and profoundly explore their identities.
In higher education, with such books as Michio Kaku’s Parallel Worlds and Amit Gaswami’s The Self-Aware Universe, there is more access to consciousness, quantum physics and multiverse studies. I propose we implicitly help our youth develop the rudiments of the multiverse while they are discovering it through media, family, literature and art.
There is “history” to help us look back and appreciate the value of hindsight, however it is usually skewed by bias, nationalism and religious doctrine. Only a civic arena devoid of metaphysical policy can afford to investigate history objectively. “World religions” courses may offer some coverage of differing ideologies, but bias/objectivity also depends on the overarching political sphere of the school board. In “philosophy” and “political science” (which are generally offered until post-high school) we consider certain paths of thinking and ways of being, which are arguably dangerous to the status quo as they are meant to generate more questions than answer them — not to mention classes in “quantum physics”, “existentialism” and “solipsism”.
Schools have been discovering that reducing stress and heightening reflection can be accomplished with mindfulness and wilderness education, but they still do not give a full picture into the multiverse. “Arts” and “dramatic arts” can give us windows into other worlds for sure, but they are discrete without the help of processing. And the best schools in the world right now provide an objective blend of all of the above. Yet it is not enough, because there is no blending force or vision. …until now.
Role-playing games interweaves all subjects and disciplines through its natural process of simulating other realities. It has the potential to be the discipline of training perception implicitly. By its very nature it offers students the opportunity to work within temporary parameters of life or death situations. However, the seriousness of the situation and valuation of the team “work” is perceived as “play”, because it is a game and the outcome is not predetermined. The outcome is always live and story is always to be continued so it is a part of living linearly and non-linearly.
Getting perspective and understanding in the multiverse needs to start somewhere that youth can wrap their heads around it. Playing a game in another universe that is a host to other laws, rules, restrictions, limitations and freedoms helps them reflect on their own reality. And the real truth is that they have already been doing it, until we stepped forward with our commercial education mind formatting system (CEMFS).
Children are born in and as agents of the Multiverse
Children are already in their own multiverse playing with imaginary friends and ‘living in their own worlds’ from cooing in the cribs to playing pirates in a tree. Who would argue that? Plus, they even have a magic phase. Anyone who has raised a kid or hung out with one under the age of eight, knows that magic (metaphor for the multiverse!) is real to them.
Then, kids get met halfway and are either exposed to the CEM format system — which is what adults want them to learn — or the multiverse has the chance to prevail either wild without guidance or discretely through media that promotes the child’s mind to develop freely. Dr. Seuss books, for example, send each of us down an imaginative rabbit hole of strange words and images grounded in real words and based in reality. We immediately know there is something silly about the forms of the illustrations and palate of strong colors. Although some stories are mono-chrome (single color), others duo-chrome (two colors) and later multi-chrome, never are the colors blended into shades or gradations.
Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel realized that for his work to be easily understood, in fact, after initial more complex picture books, he took on a more minimal style to create more impact for his readers. His words went from full paragraphs and dialogue with a few strange sounding names, to sing-song rhyming poetry hiding complex concepts implicitly in plain sight mixing them with strange words throughout. His books are so engaging, because they excite curiosity and wonder. They feel wild and unchained.
If Dr. Seuss was the introduction (at home and at school) to the multiverse, role-playing games are the guide to it, picking up where parents left off with telling stories. However, done simply as a hobby between kids or down at a game shop, role-playing games (RPGs) have none of the pedagogy and social emotional cognitive science driving them that has the potential to awaken a person.
As parents and educators work to keep youth engaged and involved with our usual school systems, we miss the partner that is role-playing games. We miss the opportunity for kids to act out their ideas with others. But a strange thing has been going on since lock-down: kids have been getting together and playing RPGs together online.
COVID, Zoom and RPGs, the perfect formula to discover the multiverse in peels of laughter, acceptance and friendship
I absolutely loved the article, Zoom Parties Have Been A Game-Changer For My Teen’s Mental Health by Clint Edwards. In it, Edwards reflects on his son’s experience of finding a place to joke, process, play and connect with friends and deepen their relationship while coping during COVID19 Lockdown. Although COVID might have been the catalyst and ZOOM the interface, it is the hearth of storytelling and agreement to join a role-playing game that is the real facilitation of thriving in an otherwise bleak, confusing and challenging time of quarantine.
However this is not new — it is merely coming to the fore, because of these unique circumstances that our families are finding themselves in. It shows that there is a place for kids to find new resilience from playing and discovering a world of inside jokes. Don’t we want to facilitate this in school? Some teacher-gamers are already doing it.
RPGs may not be for everybody, but like any of our other school disciplines and ‘subjects we feel our youth need to become responsible adults’, it gives them an opportunity to take risks and face consequences, so that they have already had at least one iteration of that risk in simulation before it happens in real-life. Perspective in this case is healthy and a preventative measure.
No doubt there have been life-skills classes promoting similar ideas, such as cooking, home-economics, mindfulness, personal accounting, first aid, swimming and wilderness survival. In a public-school setting all of these classes are appropriate for graduating high school. Many junior high and high schools have one, some or none of these classes, because there is or is not value in them according to the community (locally or at-large). RPGs explore what having these and many other skills is like: you do not need to know how to swim yourself to experience the results faced on a raging river as a character in a story. And most importantly, the gravity of probability that hangs in life’s balance. The multiverse we are talking about here is the one that allows a student to play a character who has a single linear path of contexts, circumstances, risks, decisions, results and consequences — all inter-blended with the narratives of others. This is not the multiverse of a pseudo-reality that people get worked up about. This is the multiverse of ambiguity and existential responsibility.
Ambiguity? Whoa! Warp out! What does that mean?
Ambiguity can be thought of using the prefix “ambi” meaning having a quality that is both-ness, like ambidextrous or both handed). If you look into the root latin word you see that it comes with “doubt”. However, I like to use Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics of Ambiguity as my starting point, because it gives us the existential idea that I can be both gigantic and tiny at the same time according to perception of context. For example, to a child, a mother maybe the most gigantic thing, however in the context of the solar system that mother as an organism in the space-time continuum is a miniscule organism.
Why this is important to everyone, is that a single gesture that anyone may consider making in public, such as me publishing this article, may feel totally irrelevant in one way, but if it alters the perspective of just one person and shifts how they live their life, the chain of events that could reverberate out in the space-time continuum could have anything from a small to colossal effect.
So in terms of universe and multiverse, that just means, that all the “verses” come from the same thing, the same place, the same rules, the same fabric of time and space. So as one thing, it is ‘uni’ or ‘single’ or ‘one’. We can talk about multi-verses all day long, but it still simply comes from the same one place — the universe. For more on Ambiguity, check out Simone de Beauvoir.
As a teacher-gamer, when I introduce kids to role-playing games (RPGs), like Dungeons & Dragons (my preference is 3.5e) and Star Wars (my preference is 6D system created originally by West End Games), we set out to play in other worlds, where we simulate an alternate reality. You could say we are going to ‘other universes’. And they are integral to themselves, but they are references to our own — because we can’t even have this conversation or consider another world without our own world as a reference.
Marvel Universe as a Reference
‘The Marvel Cinematic Universe’ (MCU) for example — which is it’s own ‘world’, with its own timeline, reality, history, technology and set of fictional characters that exist within an ‘alternate reality’ of our Earth history, has become a Marvel branding and reference tool, because it has to indicate that there are different timelines, due to the published materials by different writers of the different media that represent Marvel and which entities own certain writes to publish and distribute content — including the “Spider-Verse” (whose trailer talks about the multiverse!).
Not everyone likes super-heroes, but the main point here is that talking about ‘verses’ has become part of our modern lexicon. And it is led by brand nerds, gamer heads and kids. So although talking about a multiverse is a departure from reality that considers many alternative universes — which we call the multiverse — is now the way we understand our universe and helps to clarify our reality. However! There is a big asterisk with using the word ‘multiverse’, because there are negative associations with it as some people believe we do not live in a universe, but rather a multiverse, and for some people this is too metaphysical, spiritual and “trippy” which is generally treated as silly. Which we see Christopher Nolan continue to explore from the dream within dreams of Inception to the fractaling fifth dimension alternative realities of Interstellar to the forthcoming (or should I say what already happened in) Tenet,
Multiverse is what I call it.
What I would call this is the multiverse. It interweaves all the existential things we think about with all the things we are made to do, study, interact with, the franchises and advertisements, the spirit world, superstition, the science, the art, the past, the future, the family obligations, the wonder, the experiencing of new cultures, the hallucinogenic trips, destiny, luck, providence, fate and other things we can’t explain. Clint Edwards’ son It feels like this child and children across the world are finding this fellowship, which is what connects us to them, or is connected and we don’t even know about it. That is what makes it a universe and multiverse at the same time.
Role-playing games in schools provides a platform to explore the multiverse.
You can make it an after-school activity or a program for kids struggling in inner-city schools (remember? that’s how mindfulness got started!), but the reality is that we need exploration of the multiverse in our schools as a discipline that helps blend all the other disciplines and subjects as it provides a space for the practical use of academia and iterative development of complex societal concepts like problem solving, identity, strategic thinking, bystander awareness, empathy, failure, creativity and revision.
And don’t worry, if this all feels overwhelming, and you don’t feel like you are a teacher-gamer or can lead as a teacher-gamer, no problem, just open your mind and reach out to a teacher-gamer or a person who understands how to run TTRPGs to help you become a co-teacher-gamer.
Take watching and chitchatting about all these TV shows and Movies to the next level! Figure out how to go into those worlds with your students.
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©2020 Zach Reznichek for Wild Mind Training and teachergamer.com