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In a previous blog, we looked at how role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) could be used as therapeutic tools. Adding those with social difficulties and offering a safe space to explore various experiences and situations which could prove challenging in the real world.
With this piece, I’d like to briefly look at how role-playing experiences can be used within the world of education. Role-playing games (RPG’s) have an inherent flexibility and narrative framework that lends itself well to use within education, as it offers an easy mode and process for interdisciplinary learning.
What an RPG offer’s most importantly, and this applies to any age but is most likely best understood within the context of K-12 learning, is that they are narrative microcosms of the real world. Whether it is therapy, as we’ve seen, or education or business, being able to teach and practice useful life skills within a long-term, consequence-free environment is an incredibly useful and powerful tool that should really be utilized more.
Having played D&D with friends for a while, I’ve come to appreciate the unbelievable flexibility that a role-playing experience has. Regardless of whether it is a fantasy setting such as D&D or a more real-world framework such as the Moerae Model for group work, an RPG has a multidisciplinary deliverable that can easily be used within an educational setting.
At its core an RPG offer’s, in no particular order, 4 main points:
A well-designed narrative scenario, or campaign to use D&D parlance, incorporates all 4 of those points and the variations upon them. It need not be a fantasy setting but can also be a historical setting. Let’s use the point of Creativity and imagine a campaign for ourselves as an example of what a K-12 RPG could look like and what it can incorporate.
First, we need a theme, a structure, let’s use a historical setting, one that everyone has some inherent knowledge about perhaps, how about the Second World War? That’s our setting, now we can build a narrative around it, maybe using a specific event will help us narrow down what we want, let’s take D-Day and the landings at Normandy, France. Already we’ve added historical events and geographic elements that students will learn about.
Second, we’ll need to personalize it, ensure that the students have a vested interest in the narrative. For ease and safety, we’ll choose characters within the Allied invasion force that will plan and eventually land on the beaches of Normandy. With that we’ve given the students a sense of responsibility as well, as you take them through the narrative and the events of the lead up to D-Day, they will need to learn about the planning that went into it. This can involve thousands of aspects, the meteorology of that part of Europe, it’s geographic uniqueness, the mathematics is required to determine the correct, the logistics around transporting that many troops, the level of communication required, and so on.
Thirdly, and finally, for now, as you lead your students through the events, they will research and need to produce their own narratives (imagine essay’s and a course in academic vernacular). With that writing and reading is incorporated, as well as literary knowledge. And if you are so inclined you may add other variations on top of it, such as ethical issues of war, hypothetical situations, and others to bring across what is required of a school’s curriculum.
That quick, and loose, example of how an RPG experience can be used illustrates the ease and power of it. Some readers may look at and feel that it is maybe not suited to an education environment, though certain educational systems such as the Waldorf schooling system use something similar in terms of the holistic presentation of education. Though the RPG experience takes it one step further, by making the student personally involved and responsible within the narrative. In essence, more value is placed in because they now have a character that needs to make it through to the end, and along the way, they “accidentally” learn something as well.
Beyond the direct educational use of RPG’s for the individual student, systems such as D&D and the Moerae Model, also offer a strong framework for social interaction between those individuals. Each system will have a Game Master (GM) that guides and illustrates the experience (e.g. a teacher), but beyond that, the students must work together to overcome obstacles and learn about challenges to beat them.
Within these groups’ frameworks, students of all backgrounds and levels can learn to effectively communicate with each other in various settings. Not only learning the material but also learning from each other. And learning valuable life lessons, such as knowing when to ask for help, how to work under pressure and have difficult conversations with each other. In the example of the WW2 scenario, one student could have chosen to be a high-ranking officer in the military, and within the narrative, they must have a difficult conversation with a fellow student, who in the scenario is a lower ranking soldier. The conversation could take the form of needing to explain why a mission must be undertaken for the greater good, despite its low chance of survival.
It is examples like that of why experiences such as RPG’s are great at taking abstract concepts, such as morality, ethics, logic, and making them easier to understand within a specific context. Games by their very nature use metaphors to explain complex concepts in simpler terms. Though do remember to debrief your students and discuss with them the various aspects of such events, so that they are aware of it and receive more learning from it. Letting a difficult conversation like the one above pass as a mere role-play side note would be a loss in their educational development.
In short, the role-playing experience is versatile and formidable in its potential. Its strengths lie in its multidisciplinary possibilities, but also in what is possibly the most important of any educational experience, and that is feedback.
As an RPG is a real-time, continuing narrative experience, it offers the incredibly valuable aspect of immediate feedback to its participants. This immediate feedback is possible due to the fluid nature of the confined and imaginary narrative space that the students are in. The students, or players, can experience the consequences to their actions as soon as they take them and see the repercussions of their decisions. As long as the Game Master aids to place it all in context, this is true of any age, but possibly more so for the younger student.
With all that, I hope that you also come to have a greater appreciation for the potential of role-playing experiences as a tool within education. I for one believe in their power, both online and offline, face-to-face analog or digital interaction. Be sure to also check out the piece on role-playing experiences as therapeutic tools and as a tool for business management and leadership teaching.
I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.
Please do check out the other posts on æStranger.com, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.
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