Jenga: a lesson in structural integrity 

Learning fundamental scientific concepts is often a matter of intense study, where principles are memorized and tested against in experiments to observe them in action. Few experiments create as lasting a memory on the pupil as the analogue game Jenga!. 

The games begins with a balanced and stable structure, which players must remove blocks from in order to build the structure higher. Since the lateral forces applied to the structure are minimal and the vertical force is consistent the structure can grow in height dramatically through the course of the game.

Over the course of the game the structural integrity begins to decay. As the structure grows taller, the players begin to alter the weight distribution through block removal and by knocking the structure with their hands.

Players compensate for this structural deficiency by practicing exacting methods of block removal to ensure they complete their turn.  These techniques are learned through trial and error. The game’s results are black and white, either the player fails on their turn or they succeed.

The structure is a reflection of the games increasing difficulty over time. Likewise there are no winners or victory conditions only an inevitable loser and an end condition; the tower’s dramatic fall. The tension comes from the need to stay calm in the face of an increasingly perilous situation.

The beauty of the game, and what it represents as a merger of play and study, is that within its gameplay lies a fun physics experiment. Whose lessons are internalized by the players and retained as a permanent memory of structure, balance, and force.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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