Roleplaying as an Educational Tool
I have a firm belief that new gamers can be found anywhere. A great example of this theory can be found in the work of Shaun “Jim” Low. He's an educational therapist who works with students typically 10-17 years of age, many with learning disabilities. Jim's educational therapy program uses roleplaying games to teach skills and subjects his students are having problems understanding.
I recently took in a new student let's just call him — J — who's fast becoming one of my favourite students. J is a bright fellow, but he has an impulsive and rather rebellious nature (basically a youth at-risk), so we spent the first few lessons just talking and getting to know each other.
I often like to use games and RPGs to teach concepts, so I figured I'd use one with J. I decided I'd start our first term together by showcasing genre types outside of the norm to broaden his view of the world.
Thus, we watched Mad Max Fury Road (which he loved) and played Atomic Highway.
Our first session, to my surprise, was a hoot. One of the best things about RPGs, in my experience, is that it often brings out the innate traits of a person, and with J, it was no exception. Underneath the tough guy exterior was someone wanting to do right and straighten out wrongs. Not only that, but I got to see some absolutely creative problem solving even with the odds stacked against him.
After that session, he just couldn't stop asking me when our next session would be. For someone who had never played many games in his life, and was always more of a sporty, extroverted kind of person, J was surprisingly very much into the game.
In fact, since that day, he's always been motivated to come for class. We don't always play (our next session is scheduled to be on the following week), but that first game had opened up a lot of opportunities for incidental learning.
This is not my first success story in using games for therapy, but perhaps one of the most notable ones, as I had had doubts it would work. The exterior is what we as adults usually see, but what's inside can be different. I've always believed RPGs to be an effective tool in mirroring the innate qualities of people, youths and children included, and this little anecdote certainly did help further that belief. What are your opinions? Do you have any similar stories? I'd love to hear them.
If you are an educator with an interest in Jim's methods, be sure to follow his blog at Swords & Stationery.