In my previous articles (Why people play games and What are RPGs) I briefly described a phenomenon of Role-Playing Games and shared the reasons for which people play games – and enjoy it. Today, I want to demonstrate similarities between teaching and playing RPGs which will help me prove why RPGs can be the ultimate answer to Game-Based Learning approach.
By the end of the article you will realise you not only already played a RPG, but you unknowingly took a role of a Game Master!
Game Master is the person who holds the strings, who’s behind the curtain, who’s – that’s my favourite comparison – a Merlin to the group of new knights of the Round Table… and that’s exactly who a teacher is, at least to my mind: a person who sets goals and makes students reach them, but only by encouragement, not by direct passing them the Holy Grail of knowledge.
I will try to show you seven aspects actually making teacher a Game Master:
Just like a GM before a session (a meeting where people partake in an RPG adveture), you need to pick a set-up, a theme and general idea for a lesson. You choose the areas your students will roam in pursuit of their goal (e.g. understanding the beauty of Present Perfect), and you decide on the goal itself by determining a lesson aim.
As Gail Godwin said, good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre. It’s exactly the same with game-mastering. You need to prepare stages of the lesson/session along with some props, like music, handouts, multimedia tools etc. We want the participants, be they players or students, to have fun, enjoy and – yes, why not? – admire the adventure we’ve planned for them.
Yes, I know there are GMs who don’t use any props, but then there are teachers who love Dogme approach, so things even out.
One of the universal truths of the world is simple: you must gather your party before venturing forth. It’s important in RPGs where you usually create a team of heroes embarking on the same quest (and yes, there are games for one player only, just like 1-2-1 classes), but creating a relationship with fellow students is also vital in a classroom environment. And while not all teachers find team building as their responsibility, having a proper team to teach is way funnier and more pleasant – and RPGs may teach you how to make people cooperate.
Role-Playing Games are designed to have fun with friends, but since one of the main characteristics of games is a clearly stated set of rules understood and accepted by all participants, there must be someone to impose the rules, interpret them and make players act accordingly. Isn’t it just like a teacher in a classroom full of enthusiastic students who have fun until the first disagreement?
And believe me, naughty teenagers can be little angels compared to adult RPG players – I’ve seen friendships ruined over an unfortunate interpretation of rules.
Both in a classroom environment and in an RPG session there are certain misunderstandings that are bound to happen sooner or later. An adult player may sulk after an unlucky dice-roll just like a little pupil who’s failed his first test. We have arguments between students, accusations of cheating, various moods affecting the whole lesson – and it’s surprisingly similar during an adventure. It’s a teacher, or a GM, who has to smooth things out and teach what the compromise is.
I’ve already said that my favourite parallel of a teacher’s (or Game Master’s, to be honest) role is the one of Merlin. He is the one to set things in motion, picture the Holy Grail as the ultimate goal and suggest the idea of the Round Table Knighthood. But he doesn’t participate in the quests himself – he occasionally helps those in need, but mostly he’s behind the curtain, glad to observe the adventure unfold and only sometimes enjoying an episodic role.
I feel compelled to write a separate article on this simile as actually this is the concept that made me think of teaching as yet another RPG setting. But for now, let me clarify this: wise as we may be, we only show the goal, never lead the way.
Role-Playing Games are designed to have fun, and playing them should be fun not only for the players, but also for the Game Master. Just like teaching – although most students don’t find it overly exciting. As you see – there are so many things a teacher and a game master have in common that actual incorporating RPGs into our lessons will not change much in our approach to educational process itself, but it may be a huge change to our students, who will find it way easier to enjoy their lessons.
Sounds good? Great – because in my next article I’ll show you how to start!