I love tabletop role playing games. I was telling a friend of mine recently that there are three things that I wish I had gotten into at a younger age; lifting weights, Doctor Who and Dungeons and Dragons. To gather around a table with friends, family co-workers or whomever and tell strange and exciting tales set in favorite genre's such as fantasy, horror and sci-fi while playing the parts of those stories protagonists is an experience that might be difficult to understand for those who haven't known the joy of it. The memories that never happened, in places that never were can last a lifetime and be fondly recounted for years to come; there is power in anything that can arrest the imagination and lift the spirit in such a way.
Along with being a gamer, I am also a councilor who utilizes tabletop role playing as a means of teaching and strengthening interpersonal and various other life skills amongst a transition age young adult population. Tabletop RPG's are an amazing tool for skill building and acquisition as they provide a facilitator the ability to craft scenarios that exemplify and test the skills which they mean to teach. For example, if wishing to teach positive interdependence and individual accountability to a group of participants; a game facilitator could design a dungeon based scenario with puzzles, traps and encounters that test the individual strengths of the participants characters (a rogues lock picking skill, a clerics healing, a fighters strength, a wizards knowledge of lore etc.) making forward progression contingent upon those individual strengths, but the overall success of the party dependent upon each character playing their part effectively toward the groups shared goal.
Tabletop RPG's are driven by the collaborative storytelling process which consist of an exchange of challenges presented through the story narrative by the games facilitator and the participants in-character responses. Depending on how the participants respond, the story can go in any imaginable direction. By presenting challenges to the participants which test their current understanding of pre-designated skills, a games facilitator can teach those skills through the events which take place using the participants in-character actions to draw examples of both effective and ineffective skill use. As another example, if the skill to be taught was effective negotiation, then a game facilitator might choose to present the participants with a situation where they find themselves in a desert city seeking to reach a destination on the other side of the wastes. Bandits have been attacking caravans traveling between the city they find themselves in and the destination that they seek, so price of travel has risen beyond their current resources. What do they do?
The participants could decide to go about the city looking for quests to undertake seeking to acquire more funds. They could offer the caravan additional protection on the trip across the wastes. The caravans driver might have a message that needs to be delivered or some other quest, but can't find the time to do it personally. Regardless of how the participants approach resolving the challenge, the exercising of negotiation skills in an effort to resolve the challenge creates an in-game situation by which a lesson can be drawn.
The lesson of a story is in its moral. A moral comes at the end of a story acting as summation of events and drawing attention to the key points; the take away message. At the end of a game session designed to teach life skills, it's important to set aside some time to look at the events which transpired in order to find that take away message and derive those lessons so as to bridge the events in game with those of the participants lives out of game. Integrating the lessons learned in a role playing game works much the way one might seek to when finding the moral or lesson in a fairytale, legend or myth. Though the events of fairytales such as Little Red Riding Hood are over the top and clearly not meant to be given literal interpretation, most can easily find the take away message which many of us still live by. Be cautious around strangers. Tabletop role play is often full of strange and unlikely events and, like the events of a fairytale, those events can be trimmed away to a very real and valuable message. The bonus to Tabletop though is if the participant playing Little Red made the choice to talk to the wolf in the woods, the outcome would be theirs to own for good or ill; as would the lesson taken from the experience.