This semester marks my fifth iteration of teaching writing using games as both inspiration and text, and I am still discovering new dimensions to the gaming world that I can use to support the growth and development of my students. New elements I entered into the mix this semester were role-playing games and the social contract and already I am overwhelmed by the impact.
As a class we played two RPGs in the first two weeks and I am in love with role-playing games. I love how interactive they can be, allowing us to tap into our creativity. We can return to childhood games where we made up all the rules and characters of our game. I wish more of our play (inside and outside the classroom) helped us reconnect with our inner child. All of humanity would be better for this type of play, but at the very least I can encourage those in my little corner to engage in such play.
As a teacher of writers who is interested in building a community, I find role-playing games are a wonderful tool for connecting us as humans and learners. Three weeks into the semester we have shared experiences and stories and we each know a little bit more about each other as individuals and as a collective. That positions us perfectly to enter our first writing workshop where this developing trust and knowledge will make the feedback process easier and more powerful.
Again, as a teacher of writers, I love how we watched our social contract play out and evolve in real time. We collectively built our world and our story, weaving in threads introduced by other players as we went, and that is a skill we could all benefit from developing and exploring throughout our lives. RPGs for all!
Perhaps one of the things I love best about RPGs as a tool for teaching, learning, and connecting, is that many RPGs (including the ones we played as a class) do not require winners and losers. We were just in it for the fun of it. Finding joy in simply playing together. How much better would we be as a society, a nation, a global community, if more humans of all ages spent more time just joyfully playing together?
Role-Playing Games and Writing
The two RPGs we played as a class were inspired by James D’Amato’s Ultimate Micro-RPG Book. I was inspired by the Post-Match Interview game to share first post-game interview and then a day at the zoo (influenced by my recent exposure to zoo life via Noah Mascle’s internship at Louisville Zoo). My initial RPG selection was a game simple enough to play within a class period (start to finish we were under 45 minutes in both cases and closer to 30 in the second). I also wanted a game with a lot of roles because there are 19 students in my writing classes and no one would be allowed to sit out. After both RPGs were over, we spent time reflecting about the experience and both sets of reflections were incorporated into our weekly community conversation and low-stakes writing work.
Week 1 questions (post-game interview):
- What do games teach us about the Social Contract (formal or informal moral and political rules of behavior)?
- What did today’s role-playing game and the choices made by yourself and your fellow players teach you about the social contract?
- In what ways are social contracts important for living, learning, and playing?
Week 2 questions (day at the zoo):
- Tuesday’s Ted Talks taught us to think about play as social glue that helps us connect as humans and feel empathy for others. How did today’s role-playing game support this idea? In what ways is playing together making us a community?
- Tuesday’s Ted Talks introduced the ways that play helps us explore our worlds. How did today’s role-playing game invite us to use/hack our existing knowledge and experience for our own twisted purpose(s)?
- Tuesday’s Ted Talks reminded us of the importance of play to support our creativity, adaptability, and whimsy. In what ways did our role-playing game (preparation and/or play) challenge you?
I have noted before how playing and studying games sets up some serious rhetorical reflection and RPGs took those thoughts to the next level. I was so impressed with the thinking and writing taking place with this inspiration. I cannot wait to see what comes next. Does your class theme do that?
Social Contract Theory and Writing
I fell into RPGs accidentally. As I was thinking about this semester I was drawn into an exploration of the idea of the social contract as an useful tool for thinking about writing that could in turn inspire some interesting argument essays (the major assessment expected for my Writing II students).
Social contract theory, nearly as old as philosophy itself, is the view that persons’ moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live.Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
With apologies to the social media discussion (which has now been lost into the ether) that originally sent me in this direction, I loved how social contract theory connected with game play, writing, and living/working in community as humans. I am all about harnessing the power of ideas that do multiple things in my classroom and social contract theory is a winner! As my students now embark on their first essay of the semester, their notebooks and minds are filled with notes about their personal experiences with play (both in and out of class) as well as research and theory about the role of play in helping us understand life, learning, and communication. I can’t wait to read their narrative arguments and I continue to love teaching writing using games as both inspiration and text. Social contract theory may be the newest addition to my toolbox, but I love the dimension it has already added to our thinking and writing.
There are many many many blog posts about my journey Using Games To Teach Writing but this post covers most of the highlights. If you are interested in harnessing the power of games for your own classroom then you should also check out How To Begin Gaming Your Classroom. In addition, playing RPGs as a class teaches so many essential skills and hacks community-building, I heartily recommend this practice to all writing teachers, to all teachers in fact. I repeat: RPGs for all!