Educational Live Action-Roleplaying in the Classroom
by Sarah Lynne Bowman — University of Texas at Dallas
February 02, 2015 – 11:55
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.