Educational Live Action-Roleplaying in the Classroom

Sarah Bowman's picture

Educational live action role-playing (edu-larp) is a form of experiential learning that engages students on multiple levels, including cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Similar to drama pedagogy and simulation, edu-larp employs scenarios in the classroom in which students enact roles and engage with class content. Although edu-larp arises from the leisure activity of role-playing games, the practice affords similar benefits as other forms of experiential learning. This short response includes sections from the findings of my recent secondary literature review on edu-larp in the interactive storytelling journal, The Wyrd Con Companion Book 2014.     

Just as video games have risen in popularity as leisure activities, so too have role-playing games, including larp. Role-playing games offer many benefits specific to the form, including community building; tactical and social problem solving; and identity exploration. In addition, current literature on role-playing emphasizes its strength in encouraging empathy and self-awareness. For example, the Nordic larp movement has used role-playing in order to raise social consciousness on important issues such as homelessness, immigration, and imprisonment. Even within more traditional forms of role-playing, such asDungeons & Dragons and World of Darkness larps, the form encourages spontaneous, co-creative participation and intrinsically motivated “as if” thinking.

Role-playing offers many potential benefits over traditional education, including increased self-awareness, critical ethical reasoning, and empathy. Educational role-playing research often focuses upon the experiential medium as potentially intrinsically motivating. Our traditional learning method promotes a certain level of passivity, as students are expected to receive and assimilate information from the instructor, whereas the open, participatory nature of games lends to a higher degree of active engagement and participation. The role-playing method may also improve feelings of self-efficacy and perceived competence through goal setting and achieving, as it allows individuals to contribute their personal talents to the success of the group, which may increase the student’s sense of agency and empowerment. Therefore, role-playing is often used as a method of increasing leadership skills and team work.

Although the method is diverse enough for educators to apply to any field, edu-larp is especially suited for social studies, including history, religion, government, and economics. Edu-larp is also exceptionally useful in the study of Language Arts, including public speaking, secondary language acquisition, and the exploration of literature. While Michał Mochocki critiques edu-larp’s effectiveness in science education, other educators find the form helpful to teach science and math. On the professional front, simulations are often applied in military, health care, business, and psychological training. While psychodrama and process drama are not learning styles in the strict sense, practitioners have used these forms of drama in learning contexts. We can consider these forms cousins to edu-larp. Finally, role-playing is useful in pedagogical training itself.

Interest in edu-larp has received significant recent scholarly attention, such as at the Role-playing in Games Seminar (2012) in Finland, the Living Games Conference (2014) in New York, and the Edu-larp Sweden Conference (2014) in Gothenburg. Several examples of edu-larp exist throughout the world, including the ELIN Network; the all-larp Danish boarding school Østerskov Efterskole and the larp-oriented Efterskolen Epos; organizations such as the Swedish LajvVerkstaden; the Norwegian Fantasiforbundet; and the American Seekers Unlimited and Reacting to the Past. Various other outgrowths exist in countries as diverse as Finland, Brazil, Poland, Russia, Belarus, Taiwan, and Korea. As edu-larp researchers, we hope to raise awareness of the pedagogical potential of the form and contextualize larp with other established styles of experiential learning.


Joe Weinberg's picture

making edularps work


  This is a fascinating post. I'd really like to know more about how these larps work. Are they continuous over the course of the semester or limited to one or two class periods? I wonder if it is possible to design an entire course based around a larp, and if that would be pedagogically helpful.

Your suggestion that it is best used in history and social studies seems to make sense, but I wonder if it might also work for psychology or even public speaking. Any thoughts on that?

Sarah Lynne Bowman's picture

Making edu-larps work

Hi Joe,

Thank you so much for your feedback on my post. The larps range depending on the wishes of the curriculum and program. The edu-larp non-profit for which I serve on Board of Directors, Seekers Unlimited, runs custom larps for requested subject matter, such as science, social studies, history, etc. These larps usually last 1 day to a week during a particular class period depending on the demand of the school. However, schools like Osterskov, which I mentioned above, use larp all year long as their primary method of pedagogy. While some traditional lecturing and studying is worked into the scenarios, they attempt to frame all subject matters and all lessons as edu-larp. Here is a documentary on the school (only 12 minutes) if you are interested. There are also groups that use edu-larp to increase empathy and raise social consciousness. These scenarios are less "game-like" and more of an experience, such as the Norwegian Prisoner For a Day scenario, in which high schoolers live through a day of imprisonment and hard labor modeled after prison camps elsewhere in the world. Subject matter knowledge is not the focus of these exercises, but rather they hope to inspire greater understanding of social issues and political engagement.

Ultimately, I think any subject can be taught through edu-larp given clever design, but clever design takes time to test and perfect. Also, the success depends on the willingness of the teacher and of the class and the competency of the facilitator.

I hope this response answers your questions!


Maury Elizabeth Brown's picture

Connecting edu-larps to educational theory

I appreciate the global perspective and the list of all the Scandinavian schools that incorporate edu-larps. As someone who shares your interest in edu-larps as well as the Scandinavian style of education that focuses more on play, creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration, and less on testing, homework, and competition, I am excited about the connections you make to so many disciplines and educational learning outcomes, both cognitive and affective.

I'm curious about the distinction between role-playing (which has been researched as a type of experiential learning) and role-playing games. The difference seems to be structure: rules, mechanics, boundaries,  planned for contingencies, win-conditions, and a delineation of time and space. I'm interested in exploring the distinction between an edu-larp, and structures such as Model United Nations, Model Congress, students cosplaying literary characters, or teachers re-enacting a scene from the Civil Rights movement with their students.

I'm also interested in how edu-larps align with the Flipped Classroom movement of giving agency to students by using class time for creative, kinesthetic, collaborative problem solving — active learning— and having students prepare for these interactive sessions by reading and mastering ore content ahead of time. Presented as a game, with objectives and with a character to recreate may incite the kind of engagement with course material that allows flipping the classroom, as students must come to class sessions fully prepared for it to work. It seems that considering the teacher as a Game Master (GM) who creates quests for students and arbitrates as they attempt to solve them is a model for a flipped classroom. In addition, edu-larps seem the perfect venue to explore all three educational domains: cognitive, affective, and kinesthetic. Larps, with their embodied nature, possess the potential for the kinesthetic learning that bringing video games or table-top games into the classroom do not.

There has been a lot of recent attention to videogames in learning; I am looking forward to more attention to analog games in learning, and edu-larps in particular.