Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Adventures in the Classroom: Creating Traditional Story-Based Role-Playing Games for the High School Curriculum

Academic journal article Storytelling, Self, Society

Adventures in the Classroom: Creating Traditional Story-Based Role-Playing Games for the High School Curriculum

Article excerpt

Introduction

Role-playing games have been a significant part of popular culture since the first publication of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974 (Gygax and Arneson)-with suggestive synchronicity, mere months after the first National Storytelling Festival took place in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Role-playing is a popular pastime and a subculture that, in its oldest form, commonly referred to as tabletop role-playing, features a form of collaborative storytelling that is worthy of attention from story-telling scholars. These games appeal to young adults-their target group-offering not only entertainment but also a sense of community. The game world itself changes from game to game, presenting a variety of options based on literary genres such as mystery, fantasy, science fiction, mythology, and historical fiction. Players can immerse themselves in any imaginary environment of their choice through telling stories together.

Tabletop role-playing games (TTRPG) can be defined as a form of emergent interactive storytelling where a group of people collaborates in creating a story. The group usually includes a Game Master (GM) and players. The GM is responsible for setting the parameters of the game world and acting as the "eyes and ears" of the players in this imaginary environment. Every player has a playing character (PC) that they are responsible for. The GM narrates the story and presents options at certain points when the players can make the decisions their characters would make. They describe their actions to the rest of the group, and the Game Master describes the results of those actions. This is how the story progresses until a conclusion is reached. Role-playing is not competitive. The group functions as a team, all members working toward the same goal, using abilities, personalities, and skills that complement each other. The only form of confrontation is between the group of players and the Nonplayer Characters (NPC) that represent the villains or opponents in the story, their actions narrated by the Game Master. Role-playing, therefore, is storytelling incorporated in a game format that appeals to people not merely through listenership, but also through creativity, active participation, and a sense of community. As such, it has potential educational benefits that are worth exploring from a storyteller's perspective.

Simulation games have been a part of secondary education for more than half a century; their educational values have been established through research. However, role-playing games based on traditional stories and storytelling are generally viewed as entertainment, rather than activities with real educational values. Several tabletop role-playing games are based on traditional narratives that are also a part of the secondary curriculum, but none of those games have been published with an educational purpose in mind. Using them in a classroom setting would require significant modifications to fit the secondary curriculum. Classroom activities often have requirements such as time limits, number of participants, and learning levels that commercial games may or may not fulfill. Popular role-playing games usually have elaborate rules published in series of rulebooks, and the sheer number of these can be intimidating for anyone who would like to run or play such a game for educational purposes.

The project presented in this article offers an alternative method of gaming that can be learned and adapted in a shorter period of time. My thesis explored the possibility of creating role-playing games with the specific purpose of incorporating traditional stories in classroom activities for secondary education. It centered on the main question: How can traditional stories be transformed into tabletop role-playing games in order to create effective classroom activities that address standards in Language Arts and Social Studies? Following the model of educational simulations, instead of providing ready-made games I would like to encourage educators to develop their own ideas based on their students' best interest. …

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