Gamify It #1: Coureurs des Bois/Voyageurs

Like many Canadians, as a kid I saw this historical spot on TV for years and years:

It’s a fascinating chunk of Canadian history, and for that matter, I think it could be a fascinating sort of concept for a game. These days, I’m thinking more about TRPG games, but I got an interesting idea about how the voyageurs concept could be applied to a mass game for kids in the context of an EFL camp, while typing up a response to a teacher soliciting ideas for Quebec-related teaching activities:

You could probably make up an amazing mass-game exercise called Coureurs des Bois Voyageurs: have kids trading “fur” for “goods” (and dealing with things being in demand in one place, and not in demand in another) and traveling from one side of the building to another, “rowing” all the way. Fun costumes, too: tying a scarf around their waist for that courer des bois look. You could have multiple levels of trade, too: some kids are trappers, some man the forts, some transport the furs east, some buy them down east, and some sell on to London and Paris. Teachers control the supply chain on either end, and it’s everyone’s job to maximize their own profits.

Which sounds, as I noted in the post, a little bit like The Kid’ Own Intro to Capitalism, but then, helping kids understand the system they live under isn’t exactly a bad idea, is it? I suppose the problem with that is that you don’t necessarily want to naturalize the system we have—since it has so many unnatural aspects to it, and things that ought to be changed—but it’s hard to teach that the system is artificial and subject to change or resistance by its participants… since, well, the evident route to change or resistance in this particular scenario is hard to map out without some kind of violence, and since the kids participating—like the participants in the real system it models—are so motivated by personal or local gain that they’re unlikely to be interested in that side of things.)

"Quetico Superior Route, Passing a Waterfall" by Frances Anne Hopkins. Click to see source page.
“Quetico Superior Route, Passing a Waterfall” by Frances Anne Hopkins. Click to see source page.

That said, it’s an interesting concept, and it’s just the kind of thing we used to do at summer and winter English camps years ago. You get kids to develop a little strategic competency (learning vocabulary and expressions useful for the exercise), you get them to dress the part a little (which they often like, even if it’s just putting on a paper hat or tying a scarf around their waist), and you have a lot of moving around (which tires them out a little) as paper “furs” get transported down the supply chain, and money and goods get transported in the other direction. Plus there’s the fun of having kids learn to adjust their strategy/approach, as supply and demand causes the terrain to shift under their feet… that is, as fur gets “too common” or “very scarce” at any given point during the game, and as particular buyers get overstocked and the price plummets, all stuff you can engineer into the game if you set it up carefully enough.

Oh, and I guess I mixed up the coureurs des bois, who were more explorers, with the voyageurs, as the correction above suggests. That said, the game could include both roles: voyageurs doing the transporting, and the coureurs des bois doing more exploration… which would be especially great if you had a big space (a whole building, or a large open-air area) to work with: kids could set up trading posts in surprise locations, and the coureurs des bois need to explore, find them, and return to their home base and dispatch teams of voyageurs to carry out the trade and transport.

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