This weekend I did some role-play gaming with friends and decided to step back a little and study how the process of gaming provides opportunities to acquire Knowledge(content), Skills and practice Habits of Mind.
Note: GM stands for “Game Master” – the person who creates the role-playing experience, is omniscent about the landscape of the game, and decides on random events (by rolling dice) or non-random events (by virtue of his/her “pre-planning” and systematic revealing of the challenges the players will encounter).
Knowledge/Content – most GMs I’ve known are also history buffs, and most of the games I’ve participated in have involved learning some history. Many I know are near fanatical about getting the details right – because that it what makes the game interesting and more real (much in the way a good props person or costumer would want to make sure everything looks “just right” in a movie). I think a good “learning architect” (the latest term I’ve heard for “teacher” – which I love) will do this when they create their learning experiences – use their content knowledge to make the project conditions as real as possible. I live with an excellent GM, and I’ve seen him researching for hours, making notes, drawing maps, watching documentaries or movies, reading books, etc. to prepare a game that is accurate and fun.
Collaboration and Communication – The players work together, so the entire game is a huge practice in collaboration, with all of the challenges that this entails. Each of you has different skills, personalities, weaknesses, goals – some of them conflicting, some of them compatible. Some people naturally want to take charge, and others want to avoid conflict. Some voices are louder and get heard – some are quiet and are not heard until it’s too late! But I think it’s non-threatening venue to practice communication and collaboration skills because of the persona that is taken on – it’s not YOU, so it’s not personal. You can learn how to communicate with difficult people and know that the difficulties are constructed by the game conditions – not the individual. And we know that teens especially are practicing with personas in general, and that this is a healthy part of growing up – trying out who you are and constructing who you will be.
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving – Gaming is problem solving, pure and simple. There are goals, obstacles, resources, cause/effect, and conclusions.
Habits of Mind –
Resilience – In games, you try strategies, and when you roll the dice, sometimes your strategy doesn’t work out. Everyone understands that this isn’t your fault. (In fact, they usually blame the GM). At this point, you need another plan – you need to quickly reassess your situation and take what you have to create a new strategy. And still you may fail – but you keep trying. Some of the most glorious moments in gaming are when players who are doomed to fail take courageous risks because they have let go of the need to have the perfect outcome, and they just want to do the best they can in the time they have and in the situation they’re in. Here it really is not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that counts. This is what gamers recall when they recap the game – no one cares that you had flukey dice rolls or made some stupid mistakes – how you respond to those mistakes are what make you great.
Empathy – Let’s talk about role-playing itself here. When we take on a character’s role (their strengths, their skills, their health, their abilities), we practice seeing the world from another’s point of view. We see how people would respond in certain situations when they have different goals – perhaps very different from our own in real life. The phrase “You don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”? – here’s a chance to practice that. A good GM will remind the characters when they are potentially being inconsistent with their character’s goals – when they are treading too much in who they are as real-life humans, and not as player-characters.
Sometimes people tell me they are scared to hear me compare education to a “game,” as if I’m perhaps not taking my responsibility to educate seriously, but I think we as teachers can learn a lot from this model of learning. As the student in the No Future Left Behind video stated: “School should be more like a game. When you get it wrong, you start again.”