Role-Playing Games: An Interpretation

1st ed.
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Recently, I have been very interested in role-playing games and their potential benefit to education, acting, problem-solving and increasing imaginative strength. I am not talking about RPG (role-playing games) video games or internet “play-by-post” games, but am talking about pen and paper RPG’s, the kind where the players have to envision the unfolding scenario and work together to solve the “game world” problems.

When I was a lot younger than today, I used to play the 1st edition “Dungeons and Dragons” modules with friends. The beauty of the game lies in its openness and its collaborative power. While video games allow me to visually craft a character and perhaps choose some facets of the character’s personality, a video game fails to build the image of the character’s personality in my mind. Visually, it may be stunning, but imaginatively, it is lacking. With pen and paper RPG’s, it is necessary that the player imagines his or her character for, and this is where the creativity comes alive, the bulk of the game (aside from rolling dice and changing stats) is narrative.

While the game master may have worked out a certain kind of quest, it is also a game of surprise in that the characters need not strictly follow the game master’s plan. With the right game master (a game master with masterful imaginative capacities), the game world can come alive in ways that a video game cannot. Also, of course, an imaginatively strong group of players is also recommended, or at least a group of players that aren’t afraid to share their imaginative vulnerabilities. This kind of game relies on the ability to improvise, to act (to “get into” character), to problem solve and to recognize the forces of luck and preparation.

Finally, another great thing about the old “pen and paper” RPG’s was their bulk. Unfortunately, as we live in an era where, as one student told me today “simple is best,” we may get smirks and giggles for being seen reading a 200 page “Player’s Handbook” when we are used to 30 page video game manuals. Nonetheless, and again, I am primarily speaking about “Dungeons and Dragons,” the reliance on the written word, on understanding complex rules through reading and understanding is a most worthy skill that carries children on well into adulthood. The old D&D books were thick (and still are) and demanded a lot of attention to detail. In the right hands, such detailed guides might illuminate the path to more reading and the reading of more advanced and “difficult” books.

Perhaps, we should reinterpret RPG’s and imagine what they could be and how they could be used to our advantage. Also, are video games more fun simply because of the amazing graphics (as the stories seem to revolve around similar tropes year after year)? Do you think that these “old school” style role-playing games could be beneficial to education? If so, how?

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