The Place of RPGs in Education
by Scott McDonald — California State University, Stanislaus
February 05, 2015 – 10:43
I’m not convinced that electronic games, such as those created by Jumpstart, are practical in the classroom. These games for children have practical applications in the home and older learners may be able to do well with more complex games where developers have math and logic problems more subtly woven into the game. However, I remain unconvinced that electronic games have a place in the classroom. Instead, I would suggest the development into gaming pedagogy focus on the opportunities presented in table top games. For the purpose of this response I will address role playing games as I believe for them to hold the greatest opportunity for learning in the sciences and the humanities.
Gaming pedagogy tends to focus on math and logic in games. There is ample opportunity for this especially in games requiring basic math skills, elements of probability, and developing strategies. Role playing games have an opportunity to return to some of their roots by introducing history to the classroom. Role playing games originated with war strategy games and reenactments of famous battles in history. This would allow students to become more familiar with wartime history and gain an understanding of what would have been required for those battles to occur i.e. political environments, troop deployments, weather, experience of commanders, etc.
More modern role playing games focus on each player controlling one character instead of battalions and armies. Playing such games would allow students to explore and to think within a different perspective. Students would be encouraged to not only develop motivations for their characters, but to explore questions like what socioeconomic environments might help produce their character, what psychological components from family dynamics may have encouraged certain choices that guided characters, and so on.
Many games already exist in fantastical worlds, distant history, and potential future history. These games contain probability elements allowing for students to make decisions based on what goals they want their character to achieve. Students would be able and even encouraged to create their own games where they would work together to develop rules and guides to ensure smooth gameplay and levels of human choice mixed with random occurrence. As they play these games they will practice their math and logic skills along with role playing in cross cultural situations and even potentially ethically ambiguous situations.
The greatest difficulties with the role playing games are initiating interest and appropriate age levels. We still live in a time where games in the classroom are generally discouraged. Because of social stigmas it would be difficult to convince entire classrooms, and administrators, to devote time and energy. It may be more effective to have students participate in after school or other extracurricular programs, but this would be unlikely to interest students who are not already familiar. In order for role playing games to be effective learning instruments, they would have to be carefully guided to remain on task. The games involve a large social element and can easily result in distractions. It would be suggested that a teacher only introduce role playing games in the classroom at secondary educational levels. This would allow students to have a greater grasp of the logic required of playing as well as a necessity for having some seriousness to their play.
Games have the potential to help students understand principles of education that can be introduced subtly, but it is possible that it still remains less effective than more traditional pedagogical strategies. Further scholarship and research would be welcome in a field that is growing so prevalent outside of the classroom.