Logic and Dice: Table Top Gaming as a Pedagogical Tool
by Joe Weinberg — University of Minnesota Crookston
February 09, 2015 – 11:09
In a table top game, the best game masters make sure that the adventure is exciting, challenging, and more than a little dangerous. But the goal is not to defeat the players. In a good table top game, the goal of the game master is to lose, but to make that loss important. The goal is to reward clever solutions, to accept when players go off track, to adapt and prepare, all with the primary goal of making sure everyone has fun.
While having fun playing, gamers end up developing skills of their own and learning a fair amount that has nothing to do with the game itself. True, after years of playing D&D, players will memorize rules and obscure combinations to allow them to have more powerful characters. But there is more to be learned than just the rules of the game. Playing table top games teaches people how to think.
Long ago, it felt like playing table top games taught higher math (THAC0 anyone?), and while the progressive simplification and increased cohesion of rules systems has eliminated much of the mathematics, what has not changed is the logical and lateral thinking that gaming teaches.
Whether playing with miniatures, which adds an element of logistics and strategy to combat, or playing a more deeply political game where actions can have far reaching consequences and secrecy is more important than success (such as a game of Vampire), or planning out an activity and planning for contingencies (such as in Shadowrun), table top games teach people how to think.
Players learn to analyze situations, to understand the audience of NPCs, and creative methods of solving problems. There is an old adage that tells game master that if you think of 22 different ways to solve a plot, the players will invariably find number 23.
These skills aren’t just adapted to education; they are directly mirrored. The students are the players, the teachers the game masters, and each class an adventure. Students who analyze the situation, who understand the assignments and what the teachers are looking for, and who approach problems laterally in new and creative ways tend to do better. Those are the students who perform best, who participate most, and who are most likely to understand the overarching ideas of the course.
This is not to say that all the best students are gamers. But –for the most part – gamers make the best students.