Around the Classroom in 80 Games: Betrayal at House on the Hill

When it came out, “Betrayal at House on the Hill” was so unlike most other games that one's first play through was astonishing (even if the Haunt turned out be sort of meh…). Even now a decade after it was first published, playing “Betrayal” is still a refreshingly different game experience, two games essentially, a light fun haunted house exploration game until the story pivots, one player becomes the bad guy and we’re in that race to victory where the players are struggling to figure out how they can manage a victory against a classic haunted house trope or villain. It’s not a perfect design. Some of the Haunts aren’t, really, all that fun. Some of the mechanics can interfere with each other in a really unhelpful way. But from the perspective of using it in a classroom, it’s an easy to teach and broadly elegant design that is actually usable in a classroom (unlike something like “Mansions of Madness,” much more complex, arguably no more fun than “Betrayal” and much harder to set up).

I might use “Betrayal” as a learning tool in the following ways:

  • Understanding character and narrative: The creative team behind “Betrayal” offers a dozen different characters with four different statistics/qualities defining those characters. Why? Why not just a handful of characters? Why these statistics? How do they connect to classic horror themes/tropes? Should they connect? What about connecting those characters to critiques of those classic themes? There are all sorts of ways to understand character and narrative.
  • Criticism: Ask players to design a scenario that makes use of the game mechanics but subverts them in some way, like the movie “Scream” did in the 1990s. Because the game is all about tropes, this gives students a chance to treat the game as if it were a film, novel or other source.
  • Decision-making: Because “Betrayal” is a cooperative game, it is a great opportunity for groups to study and assess the nature of decision making. How do groups function? Why do they function the way that they do? What do characters do to shape the way decisions are made?
  • Like all storytelling games, “Betrayal” is a perfect game for understanding on a straightforward level the principles of mimicry that form the foundation of what games are.

And besides, “Betrayal” is super fun - get out there and play!