Should Roleplaying Be Taught in Schools?

Do you think that the education system would benefit from roleplaying being taught to junior high and high school students? This week I want to explore the potential benefits that roleplaying can bestow upon all of us as well as the types of skills and proficiencies (puns intended) we can teach to our real-world students.

When I first started roleplaying at the age of fifteen, I had very little experience in working with a group of people towards a common goal. I hadn’t been a part of any sport teams and I wasn’t involved with any regular extra-curricular activities (not uncommon for kids from rural areas). Most of what I knew about teamwork, cooperation, and communicating within a group I had learned in school. Unfortunately, this was usually packaged within projects, presentations, and group assignments which, let’s face it, are often chaotic and sometimes counterproductive. So, when it came time to learn about roleplaying and how to put a functioning team of characters together, I was very behind in my development.

These key elements mentioned above: teamwork, cooperation, and group communication are essential in roleplaying and are usually the premier lessons that a player learns on their way to becoming adept at the game. Interestingly enough, they are also key skills required in many of today’s workplaces. Employers are constantly looking for people who cannot only do their job well but are also good at working with the group as a whole at the same time. With that kind of obvious benefit, why wouldn’t you want to expose youth to roleplaying in school and begin to forge those skills early? Furthermore, with extended time and experience, roleplayers can also develop an amazing range of other skills and abilities; many of which are already taught in schools in different ways. Here are some examples which I have divided into three basic categories:

Social Skills

(Diplomacy, persuasion, storytelling, forming a positon and arguing points, empathy skills, decision making skills, and public speaking.)

There is no doubt in my mind that regular roleplaying improves a player’s real world social skills. A lot of the barriers that people face in everyday social situations can be avoided in a roleplaying game. That is to say that assuming the mantle of a character or avatar can take away the burden people feel as to their place and shortcomings in the real world.  This frees them up to take bigger risks, try new things, and express themselves in ways that they never would have attempted without the safety net of “just playing a game”. Eventually, a player will fall into a comfortable rhythm with their characters and many of the player’s self-reservations will melt away. This is part of the reason why so many socially awkward people are attracted to these games. For the most part, it provides them with a safe, non-judgmental environment to express themselves.

D&D and other roleplaying games provide an excellent venue to not only play a game but to also have discussions, arguments, disagreements, and form broad opinions on a wide range of issues both real and fictional. In turn, many players will often take these roleplaying experiences and adapt them into their real lives in small yet significant ways. And while I will admit that some of these changes can be negative, I also believe that the overwhelming majority are positive and aid the player in countless ways. I find that a player’s ability to explain their thoughts and ideas become much clearer; I also find that they become better listeners and have more empathy; lastly, I believe that regular roleplayers become better at adapting to unpredictable situations and they are more accepting of the unknown or unfamiliar. After all, many of them have had multiple experiences with these same types of situations in game and the crossover effect can be much stronger than one would expect. Remarkably, many of our junior high and high school students struggle to attain these same abilities and perhaps roleplaying might be a new tool to improve on this area.

Practical Applications

(Reading, writing, grammar skills, research skills, basic math, basic accounting, leadership, and strategic/tactical skills.)

Whoever said you cannot learn anything useful from a game, never had to calculate THACO; or had to keep the balance sheet for a group of players; or had to plan out a complex combat situation; or had to comb through chapters of a handbook for the answer to a question. I can tell you from personal experience that my current reading, writing, and research skills would have never been as good as they are without roleplaying. In addition, I know some players who would never pick up a calculator or do figures in their head without gold pieces and/or treasure to divide. Not to mention those players who lead their groups into battle and dungeons unknown every week but would rarely have had the opportunity to show off those leadership skills in the real world.

All of these practical applications of roleplaying are subtle if you just look at the games generally; however, if you take the time to see a player develop over a few months or even years, one would often notice some major positive changes. Also, many of these changes are the same outcomes that educators are looking from their students and I believe that students could, under the right circumstances, respond better to using these skills in the fictional world of a roleplaying game as opposed to the abstract methods used in many of today’s classrooms.

Miscellaneous

(Wealth management, resource management, cartography, map reading, improvisation, time management, ingenuity, and creative thinking.)

In this section, we get into a vast range of skills that cover multiple areas but are still very valuable. During the course of my roleplaying career, especially on the DMing side of things, I’ve had to take on tasks and develop talents that I never would have stumbled upon otherwise. I’ve created maps, dungeon layouts, city blocks, and even entire countries both drawn out by hand and using computer software. I’ve created plotlines, adventures, riddles, traps, puzzles, and countless obstacles for players to overcome. I’ve also been responsible for keeping hundreds of gaming sessions running on time, running smoothly, and also maintaining a balance between giving the players what they need and what they want (which is usually everything they can get).

All of these skills come with a wide range of applications in the real world and I know that developing these skills have personally aided me in my professional life. Roleplaying can help develop key workplace aptitudes such as time management, group management, creative thinking, and resource management. All of which are preached in the education system with, what I think are, mediocre results. And this is not a critique of the teachers or the students involved, but the material with which the educators work. The education system has tried valiantly over the past decade or so to incorporate new and innovative methods to deliver their knowledge and, while I commend them for doing this, I feel as though they have not gone far enough. Using tools such as roleplaying that cover such a wide range of topics, skills, and learning methodologies are, I believe, one of the keys to the future of education.

Do you have an opinion on roleplaying as it relates to education? Leave a comment below!

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